Michaelia Cash calls for focus on antisemitism in Labor’s new hate speech law

michaelia cash calls for focus on antisemitism in labor’s new hate speech law

The shadow attorney general, Michaelia Cash, said the detail of the hate speech law proposal would be ‘crucially important’. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

The shadow attorney general, Michaelia Cash, has queried whether Labor intends to criminalise the use of the phrase “from the river to the sea”, demanding clarification of an extensive new anti-hate speech proposal.

The Albanese government is working on a hate speech bill to be introduced in August that would protect people from vilification and hate speech.

Labor said it wanted a new criminal offence to protect all attributes, including sex, sexuality, gender, race and religion. But the Coalition has called for a focus on antisemitism, signalling it may object to broader protections.

The bill would create criminal penalties for hate speech, beyond the existing civil penalties like the prohibition on offending, insulting or humiliating a person based on race in 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The criminal penalties would apply if the hate speech was likely to lead to damage, violence or fear.

On Monday the shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, said “we will work with the government in a bipartisan way to put forward laws that deal with these issues, in particular antisemitism”.

Tehan told reporters in Canberra that “we’ve seen [antisemitism] sadly grow and grow in this nation”. He took aim at Greens leader, Adam Bandt, for “disgraceful comments” refusing to endorse a two-state solution for the Israel Palestine conflict, which Tehan said “just play into this”.

“And that’s why we need to take incredibly strong action and we look forward to working with the government in a bipartisan way on this.”

Despite Tehan offering no objection to broader protections, Cash said the detail of the proposal would be “crucially important” and the attorney-general has “questions to answer” about the new laws.

“The Fair Work Act treats ‘political opinion’ as a protected attribute,” she said. “Will it now be an offence to criticise someone’s political views on the grounds that doing so is hate speech?”

“Will Mr Dreyfus’s bill now make it an offence to use the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’, or to use incorrect pronouns, on the grounds that ethnic origin, religion and gender identity are all protected attributes?”

The attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, said: “The Albanese government is committed to promoting and supporting respect, acceptance and understanding across the Australia community.

“We are committed to protecting the community from those who promote extremism, hatred or seek to incite violence.

“The opposition leader has offered his full support for strengthening legislation against hate speech repeatedly this year. Does the opposition support stronger hate speech laws or not?”

Separately, the government wants an anti-vilification provision in its religious discrimination bill, which remains stalled because the opposition has not approved it and the Greens want Labor to adopt the model proposed by the Law Reform Commission.

LGBTIQ+ equality groups welcomed confirmation the government aims to protect sexual orientation and gender, but renewed calls for religious exemptions to sex discrimination to be abolished.

The Equality Australia chief executive, Anna Brown, said: “With attacks on the rise, especially against trans people, there is an urgent need for national laws to protect LGBTIQ+ communities from hate speech and vilification.

“We welcome any measure that attempts to properly address instances of discrimination against our communities, but the federal government must also attend to the existing gaps in our laws that allow religious schools to discriminate against staff and students.

“Labor made this commitment at the last election and it’s time to introduce the bills without further delay.”

On Monday the deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, and Labor MPs Josh Burns and Carina Garland attended Mount Scopus College, a Jewish school vandalised by antisemitic graffiti.

“The levels of antisemitism that we have seen in the past few months are more than any that I’ve seen during my lifetime,” Marles told reporters.

“The sorts of words that we saw written on the walls of this school have no place in our society and it is critically important that at this moment, the nation stands up against this antisemitism.

“There is no place for Islamophobia either and there is no place for prejudice against communities in this country.”

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