MEDIA RELEASE 03 March 2021

Charmaine Clarke and VALS welcome Anti-Vilification Protections Inquiry recommendations

Charmaine Clarke and VALS welcomes the final report of the Anti-Vilification Protections Inquiry tabled today by the Legal and Social Issues Committee. The committee has listened to the experiences of people like Charmaine and accepted their advice.

VALS thanks Charmaine for her advocacy and perseverance in pursuit of stronger anti-vilification laws. The experience of vilification takes a toll on the individuals who are subjected to it and seeking justice can compound those difficulties. The Committee’s report acknowledges Charmaine’s fight and it is an important step towards a fairer Victoria.

Charmaine was subjected to vilification in 2019 while having lunch at a bistro. A young man nearby was loudly making racist remarks about Aboriginal people. When Charmaine approached the man to ask him to stop, he and the group of people he was with continued to speak and behave in a racist manner.

When Charmaine tried to pursue the incident with the police under racial vilification laws, she faced challenges including the police not having the right experience or training and the high legal threshold.

Charmaine lodged a complaint with the Australian Human Rights Commission but was unable to pursue the matter as the respondent’s details were unknown to her and Victoria Police failed to keep a record of them when they investigated the matter.

VALS call upon the Victorian Government to implement the Committee’s recommendations in a timely fashion. We look forward to working with the Government to ensure Victoria has a strong and rigorous anti-vilification system for everyone, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

VALS particularly highlight that the following recommendations:

  • Strengthening and extending the powers of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission.
  • Reducing the thresholds for what qualifies as serious vilification.
  • Funding organisations such as VALS and Victorian Legal Aid to establish a practice in vilification matters.
  • Improving police procedures and training.

VALS has worked with Victorian Legal Aid to support Charmaine in pursuit of justice. Today marks a crucial step towards achieving justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. VALS is thankful to VLA for their support and is committed to continuing to support Charmaine in this important fight.

Quotes Attributable to Charmaine Clarke, Gunditjmara Family Violence Researcher

“Many Indigenous people experience racism and vilification throughout their lives and efforts to seek both protection and remedy to racial vilification was difficult to prove under the former legislation.”

“This led to many cases including my own case failing before the starting post. The threshold was too high and it unfairly burdens the victim. I was left feeling vulnerable and betrayed by the system.”

“So I welcome the potential changes to the laws, giving greater access to legal recourse and broadening the scope of protection from harmful racist behaviour for Indigenous Victorians.”

Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

“I send huge congratulations to Charmaine Clarke. Charmaine has made a tremendous effort to turn her experience into positive change. She embodies the strength and resilience of Aboriginal people in the face of ongoing colonial racism and oppression.”

“I also congratulate the Committee on its report and the recommendations.”

“I am confident that the Victorian Government will engage with stakeholders swiftly in order to progress the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations.”

“The system failed Charmaine. The laws failed Charmaine. The police failed Charmaine. Aboriginal people are continuing to be subjected to vilification without access to justice. The proposed changes provide hope that we can end some of that.”

Media inquiries

Patrick Cook
Senior Communications and Media Officer
pcook@vals.org.au
0417 003 910