• Gariwerd, or the Grampians, is a sacred place for local traditional owners including the Djab Wurrung and the Jardwadjali people. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Werkgaia leader says there should be legal reform to better allow for the criminal prosecution of neo-Nazi's who performed Ku Klux Klan rituals on sacred Aboriginal land in Victoria.
Shahni Wellington

5 Feb 2021 - 1:38 PM  UPDATED 5 Feb 2021 - 1:38 PM

Traditional Owners of Gariwerd-Grampians range in regional Victoria have been left in the lurch since a group of white supremacists returned to their communities without repercussions, according to one prominant community spokesperson. 

Gariwerd, located about 230km north-west of Melbourne, is described as central to the Dreaming story for surrounding clans, particularly to Djab Wurrung and Jardwadjali people.

It made headlines last week as images emerged of 38 neo-Nazi's gathered at the National Park, posing in front of a burning cross and displaying Nazi salutes.

Werkgaia Elder, Gary Murray, described the acts as "desecration" and likened the site's significance to the neo-Nazies as having demonstrated on a cemetery. 

Victoria Police maintained no laws had been broken by the group, prompting Gary Murray to tell NITV News that laws needed to change.

"If you breach an intervention order (previously known as a restraining order), you get three years jail," he said.

"Now there's no similar penalties for people that do this racism stuff - this vilification stuff, because that's what these fullas done - they have vilified Aboriginal people by going into that sacred place and putting on their little show, and they need to be punished," said Mr Murray.

Racial Discrimination Laws

All Australian jurisdictions, with the exception of the Northern Territory, have their own racial discrimination laws.

Victorian legislation states it is unlawful to vilify a person or group of people on the basis of their race or religion, but the fine-print can make it hard for prosecution.  

One consideration is that racial vilification is only deemed unlawful if it is considered "public" and not "private," or personal opinion. 

When it comes to recent events with far-right extremists, Gary Murray said there was little chance of justice or ramifications for the neo-Nazi's.

"To do that, the laws of the moment are too weak and inconsistent, and it costs money to get in there and really run it right through to the legal processes," Mr Murray said.

"So it's got to become a criminal matter and the police need to be able to prosecute properly, just like a murder, or sexual assault or anything else."

The process referred to by Mr Murray is an avenue for victims of racial hatred.

A complaint can be filed, free of cost, with the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHR) and is then investigated according to the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act  (1975).

The calls for legislative reform come as the state continues to make headlines, with the high-profile case of systemic racism within the Collingwood football club. 

There is currently a parliamentary inquiry underway into the effectiveness of Victoria's anti-vilification protections, which received 62 submissions. 

A report is due to be handed down in March. 

'Long and difficult process' 

Between 2019 and 2020, the Victorian Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission (VEOHR) received 160 race-based complaints.

The Australian Human Rights Commission received more than 100 complaints based on racial hatred.

The grounds for those complaints range from personal conflict, employment, neighbour disputes, the media and racist propaganda.

While the data tallies the amount of people that are the victims of racial vilification, the number of instances that go unreported would be substantial. 

Human rights lawyer and lecturer at Victoria University, Bill Swannie, says Victorian and federal laws are different in what they prohibit and the experience of Gary Murray is common.

"The process for making a complaint and for having action taken is a very long and difficult process from the point of view of the person making the complaint," Mr Swannie told NITV News.

"Most cases are actually resolved in conciliation behind closed doors without the public really knowing what the outcome is... But certainly, it's true that that they do take a long time to produce an outcome, and then not often the outcome is useful to the person who's making the complaint."

Mr Swannie said it's up to an individual to make that complaint and then use their own resources to pursue it, rather than being pursued by the police generally.

"I personally consider it offensive and I think most people would consider it offensive," Mr Swannie said of the group's conduct at Gariwerd.

"But the criminal law generally only intervenes when there's likely to be harm to a person or likely to be harm to someone's property."

In 2019, far-right extremist, Blair Cottrell, was convicted for inciting hatred, contempt and ridicule of Muslims after he and his supporters filmed the beheading of a dummy at Bendigo in 2015 to protest the building of a mosque.

The number of enquiries received by the VEOHR pertaining to racial vilification in April 2020 was eight times the number received in April 2019, as well as seeing a spike during COVID-19.

Approximately 50 per cent of all reports during the pandemic have pertained to racial or religious vilification and a further 20 per cent pertained to race discrimination.

'Racist rot': Neo-nazi's slammed for KKK ritual on sacred land
There's been calls for urgent action against far-right extremists after a group of white supremacists gathered at sacred Aboriginal land over the weekend.