An Australia far-right group accused of engaging in “public acts of hate speech” against the LGBTIQ community during the same-sex marriage postal survey has failed to front Queensland’s anti-discrimination tribunal to respond to a vilification complaint.
The Brisbane-based LGBTI Legal Service lodged formal complaints with the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland last August against 25 groups and individuals who they say vilified LGBTIQ people in public comments, predominantly online, during the postal survey campaign in 2017.
The first case of those to proceed is against the far-right Party for Freedom, which produced posters at the time equating same-sex marriage with child abuse, The Guardian reported.
But the far-right group and its founder, Nick Folkes, failed to attend a compulsory conciliation conference in Brisbane on Tuesday.
LGBTI Legal Service president Matilda Alexander said the process allowed people who had engaged in acts of hate speech to resolve complaints without further legal action, including by removing offending posts still online, replacing posts with links to support services, and apologising.
“For a party that’s so concerned about freedom of speech and freedom of expression, today they had here a legitimate and lawful opportunity to express their views … and they didn’t take advantage of that opportunity,” Alexander told The Guardian.
The service would now pursue the Party for Freedom under the provisions of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act, Alexander said, with the next step taking the case to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which can impose financial penalties and other sanctions.
Alexander said their aim was not to “punish people” but to ensure hateful posts were deleted and to discourage the behaviour.
“There are consequences, including financial consequences,” she said.
“These are strong laws and it might take a little while for the respondents to realise that, but there are provisions in place to prevent hate speech.
“We thought everyone would be using a fake name to do this sort of activity, but a lot of people weren’t.
“I think that’s a reflection of the fact that people feel an online platform is an accountability-free zone.
“People who are afraid to say something to somebody’s face are not afraid to say it online.”
‘Harmful and destructive impact of vilification’
Queensland’s vilification laws prohibit publicly engaging in hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severely ridiculing someone because they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
Alexander said last August the Legal Service had lodged the complaint on behalf of all LGBTIQ people around Australia who had endured hatred during the postal survey.
“These Queensland laws draw a line between hate speech and free speech, recognising the harmful and destructive impact of vilification,” Alexander said.
“We are taking this action against people who think ‘It’s ok to say no’ means it’s okay to say ‘Burn the faggots’ or ‘Send poofters to their own island’ or ‘You are all getting rooftopped’ or ‘Hitler had the right idea about homosexuals, burn them’.
“These shocking comments are hate speech.”
The LGBTI Legal Service provides free and confidential legal advice to LGBTIQ Queenslanders, either in person in Brisbane or over the phone.
Last July, the service offered free assistance to Queensland men wanting to apply to get their historical gay sex convictions wiped from their criminal records.
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