Two thousand people from across Victoria gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Spring St on Tuesday 8 August to hear 13 speakers express their concern about the impact of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (RRTA) and the division it is causing in the community. The rally was organised by the Coalition for Free Speech, whose aim is to call for the repeal or removal of the religious sections of the RRTA. Speakers ranged from the Liberals to the Greens and from Christian ministers to civil liberties groups.
The rally was timed for the lead-up to the state election. Prior to the rally the Nationals had been the only party with a stated policy on this issue opposing the law.
The most significant outcome of the rally is that all political parties other than Labor have committed to repealing at least the religious sections of the RRTA!
Three MPs addressed the crowd: Peter Ryan (Leader of the National Party); Andrew McIntosh (Shadow Attorney General, Liberal) and Russell Savage (Independent). They were presented with a petition containing nearly 17,000 signatures, calling for repeal of the religious sections of the Act. More than 10,000 signatures have already been presented to the parliament.
The Liberals were reported by the media as changing their position several times. On the day of the rally the media reported that they supported the law. At the rally Andrew McIntosh said they were misquoted and they would repeal the Act and re-write it. The following day he said that the Liberals will repeal the religious vilification sections and then decide what to do: either do nothing or rewrite it or amend particular laws such as the incitement sections of the Crimes Act.
Two senior legal counsels spoke: Peter Faris QC told of how he cannot speak openly about Islam on his weekly 3AW radio program because of his fears of being prosecuted under the law.
Brian Walters, President of Liberty Victoria (a civil liberties organisation) called for the repeal of the whole Act arguing that freedom of speech is severely impacted. He maintained that education is a much better way of creating harmony than forcing people to comply through legislation.
Two people who have had complaints against them under the law spoke about the restrictions on free speech: Cr Rob Wilson and Pastor Danny Nalliah, who read a letter from federal Treasurer Peter Costello, opposing the religious vilification law.
I had the job of MCing the event, introducing speakers and keeping them on time!
This was an historical event. If you missed it, audio CDs are available as well as DVDs. For details, go to the Coalition for Free Speech website at www.coalitionforfreespeech.com.