Liberty Victoria condemns, in the strongest terms, the disturbing scenes outside the Victorian Parliament on 18 March 2023. This follows on from events over recent times where we have seen young men making Nazi salutes in the Grampians, gallows erected outside Parliament, and federal and state election campaigns where some people deployed violent and hateful rhetoric against trans and gender-diverse people.
We stand with trans and gender-diverse people who, understandably, were deeply affected by the rhetoric and actions of both the far-right extremists and the anti-trans activists present at the rally. The hatred and fear whipped up against transgender and gender-diverse people in Australia echoes our shameful past of similar behaviour towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people. LGBTIQ people must be free to be themselves without fear. We note the pivot of many on the far-right from Islamophobia to transphobia in order to try to sow division through hate.
The failure of many of the anti-trans activists present at the rally to expressly disassociate themselves from the actions of those far-right protestors is deeply concerning. There have even been absurd and conspiratorial claims that the actions of those extremists was some kind of ‘false flag’ operation – a concerning echo of far-right conspiratorial politics abroad which ignores the increasing presence of the far-right in Victoria over recent years.
During the last Federal election campaign, when we saw some actors try to use trans and gender-diverse people, including children, as political footballs as a crude form of wedge politics, Liberty Victoria spoke out. Just as we did then, Liberty Victoria stands with LGBTIQ people and is committed to fighting for the rights of transgender and gender-diverse people.
As a civil liberties organisation Liberty Victoria is deeply committed to freedom of speech. We understand that people, at times, have to endure language that they find offensive or insulting. However, that does not mean that people, and especially vulnerable and marginalised people, should be expected to endure hate speech – speech that is designed to intimidate, humiliate and dehumanise.
Consistent with our previous submissions, Liberty Victoria does not consider that criminalising far-fight symbols and gestures is an effective way to address far-right extremism. We must be careful that responses to extremism, however well-intentioned, do not become excuses to expand executive power, state surveillance and censorship. What is used to justify censorship now may in turn be used to justify further censorship in the future. In our view, extremism like we saw on the weekend requires addressing social and structural issues that are fuelling systemic inequality, injustice, racism, as well as a declining trust in institutions, government and the media. What will become a never-ending list of far-right prohibited icons and gestures is, at best, a band-aid solution which fails to address a much deeper problem in our community.
Alongside addressing the root causes of extremism, we strongly support the strengthening of anti-vilification laws, and will defend the rights of all members of the LGBTIQ community to live free from discrimination, vilification and intimidation. This includes by limiting religious-based exemptions from anti-discrimination law and by properly funding the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC) to engage in its vital anti-vilification work. The events at the weekend demonstrate, in the clearest manner, that the Government’s recent decision to
reduce funding to VEOHRC needs to be reversed as a matter of urgency.
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