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Labor’s new hate speech laws will criminalise ‘vilification’ based on race, sexuality, gender, religion and disability

Australia’s Labor government is preparing a hate speech bill that will criminalise serious vilification based on race, sexuality, gender, disability and religion.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus is drafting the new laws, which government sources told The Age would cover deliberate acts intended to cause harm and incite violence, and impose criminal rather than civil penalities in order to enhance federal protection for minority groups.

The new laws come amid ongoing tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities over the war in Gaza, and both groups have claimed to be suffering from rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia respectively.

Pro-Palestine student protests have led university leaders to seek guidance from Mr Dreyfus, who is Jewish, on whether phrases such as “intifada” and “from the river to the sea” fall under existing hate speech laws.

Peter Dutton synagogue hate speech laws
Opposition leader Peter Dutton condemned anti-Semitism in a visit to a Bondi synagogue on Saturday (Facebook)

Mr Dreyfus has consulted with groups representing minority religious faiths, women, homosexuals, the disabled, non-Whites and Aboriginals, and wrote to representatives earlier this year to inform them stronger protections were on the way.

“The Albanese government is committed to promoting and supporting respect, acceptance and understanding across the Australian community,” Mr Dreyfus told The Age.

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

Opposition leader Peter Dutton, who called anti-Semitism a “threat to the Australian achievement, to our democratic way of life, and to civilisation itself” in a visit to a synagogue in Bondi on Saturday, has also called for stronger hate speech laws in recent months.

Shadow attorney-general Michaelia Cash said in January that Labor’s new legislation banning “hate symbols” did not go far enough, arguing they should be reviewed by a “pre-eminient member of the Jewish community” and expanded if deemed necessary to combat anti-Semitism.

A Resolve Political Monitor poll for The Age found that 49% of all voters believed Australia needed “stronger laws to ban hate speech on the basis of religion and faith”, while 28% said no, and 23% were unsure.

57% of Labor voters agreed, compared to 53% of Coalition voters, with 20% each stating they were unsure. Greens voters showed lower support (41%)  for faith-based hate speech laws, with a higher number saying they were unsure (31%).

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese vowed to accelerate new hate speech laws in February, including measures to criminalise “doxxing”, after 600 Jewish members of a WhatsApp group had their names and details leaked by anti-Zionist activists.

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