Malcolm Turnbull

Calls for federal government to change laws to prosecute inciters of racial violence

Currently, only the state of Western Australia has what Mr Knoll called an “effective criminal law” to “protect people from being intimidated". Source: AAP

A Sydney barrister has called on the Australian government to pass a national law to ensure those who incite intimidation and violence can be prosecuted.

Barrister David D. Knoll spoke to delegates at Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia’s (FECCA) biannual conference in Darwin about what he believed was a necessary regulation that should be implemented by all Australian states to crack down on violence against people on the basis of their race or religion.

The aim of the conference, he told SBS World News, was to help all communities "take responsibility" for making the country "an even stronger multicultural nation" and to discuss big policy issues.

It follows Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's proposal to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The act makes it unlawful to commit a public act that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person based on their race.

Mr Turnbull sought to alter the act's wording from "offend, insult and humiliate" to "harass" - in what some critics saw as a threat to free speech. The bid was voted down.

Currently only the state of Western Australia has what Mr Knoll called an "effective criminal law" to "protect people from being intimidated and from threats of violence and harassment”.

He said a bill should be passed across all states so that "if a person intentionally or recklessly incites somebody else to harass or act violently towards people on the basis of their race, religion or sexuality for example, that becomes a crime".

He added: "If I assault somebody because of their race, which I wouldn't do, I could be prosecuted. But if someone else incites me to do that act, they can't be prosecuted.

"Very often, we don't want to deal with the person who's actually committing the act, we want to get to the source of the problem.  At the moment, our laws do not deal with the source of the problem.

"I think we have to make sure that when people are intentionally undermining the fabric of our society, that's a prosecutable crime."

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