A recently launched campaign addresses race hate crimes and hate incidents. But in its proposed form it won't be effective enough. New processes and reporting mechanisms are suggested to address this prevalent threat to community wellbeing.
Last month, on 19 January, a new campaign was launched to combat race hate crimes and hate incidents. Its development is the result of a history of research, consultation and collaboration between the community, academics, the NSW Police and Multicultural NSW.
NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Walton, NSW Police Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Commander, announced the campaign, acknowledging, “We know there is a significant disparity between the number of hate crimes that occur and the number reported to police, with research telling us that less than 25 per cent of victims come forward.”
We spoke to experts on race hate crimes to understand the scope of the problem and whether this new campaign is likely to make a significant improvement in reporting, and ultimately prevention, of incidents and crimes.
NSW Police differentiate a race- or religion-based hate crime from a hate incident.
A hate crime is “a criminal offence motivated against persons, associates of persons, property or society that is motivated, in whole or in part, by an offender’s hate against an individual’s or group’s actual or perceived race, religion, [and/or] ethnic/national origin.”
A hate incident follows the same motivations as a crime, but does not constitute a criminal offence.
‘We know there is a significant disparity between the number of hate crimes that occur and the number reported to police.’
As part of the campaign, education and awareness resources will be available online and via the social media accounts of the NSW Police Force (NSWPF). The education component includes a series of animated videos which define hate crimes and hate incidents and provide simple advice to the community about how witnesses or victims can report. Posters, cards and pamphlets in English, Arabic, Hindi, Vietnamese and Simplified and Traditional Chinese will be displayed in police stations, government and council offices, local businesses and other community areas.
The concerted effort, which includes academics and community groups, follows a lack of effective enforcement by the NSW government since the introduction of the Crimes Amendment (Publicly Threatening and Inciting Violence) Bill 2018, which was passed by the NSW Parliament on 21 June 2018. A new indictable offence for public threats or incitements to violence made on the basis of race, religion, sexuality or HIV/Aids status would carry a potential three-year prison sentence and $11,000 fine. In 2021, NSW police failed to follow the protocols in the prosecution cases of two race hate crimes, resulting in the annulment of both convictions based on police error.
A lack of enforcement of racial vilification laws has been a long-standing problem. Until the 2018 reforms, the offence which had existed from 1989 had never been used in a successful prosecution.
Professor Nicole Asquith is the Convener of the Australian Hate Crime Network and Director of the Tasmanian Institute of Law Enforcement Studies at the University of Tasmania.
She says that prosecutors have a really important role in checking that the police are managing the situation correctly.
“[For example, by] asking police ‘is this a hate crime, is this motivated by hate, animus or prejudice?’ Have police collected specific hate crime forensic evidence, such as hate speech, or investigated the perpetrator’s social media to find out if they are motivated hate crime offenders? We’d like to see lot more done in terms of preparing prosecutors and lawyers.”
Criminal legislation has not adequately kept up with the pace and nature of race hate crimes, especially when it comes to digital communication and harassment, Asquith says.
“Australian laws are not overly effective. Apart from WA, most jurisdictions only have sentencing provisions, meaning an incident is dealt with as a standard assault, criminal damage, or whatever type of crime it is, and the hate crime motivation only comes in at sentencing provisions as an aggravating factor. In many cases that is not even considered because the prosecution has not presented evidence in the substantive case to prove race hate motivation.”
Western Australia introduced a penalty enhancement law in 2004, which applies to race only.
Criminal legislation has not adequately kept up with the pace and nature of race hate crimes, especially when it comes to digital communication and harassment.
Asquith says, “We have such a big, dark figure of hate crime: all of that crime which never comes to the attention of the criminal justice system, or even communities, even something like Call It Out or the Islamophobia Register or the Asian Australian Alliance’s COVID 19 Racism Incident register. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry also reports, but we know that [only] 1 in 10 incidents are reported to police and [there are] slightly higher reporting rates to community organisations.”
A 2019 study by the University of Sydney showed that a significant majority of hate crimes in NSW were related to race and religion.
An analysis of NSW Police official records of bias crime between 2013 and 2016 by Professor Gail Mason from the Sydney Institute of Criminology at University of Sydney Law School revealed that race/religion/ethnicity crimes made up 81 per cent of all hate crimes (or “bias crime”) reported to NSW police.
The data indicated that the victims were – according to NSW Police classifications – mostly Asian (28 per cent), or Indian/Pakistani (20 per cent), and that hate crimes based on religion significantly targeted Muslims (73 per cent) and Jews (14 per cent).
Crimes included assault, verbal abuse, damage to property, online harassment, threats, and intimidation.
In 2019, Professor Mason indicated that one hate crime, suspected hate crime or incident was reported in NSW every day, though in most cases the incidents were unlikely to meet the threshold required for a criminal prosecution.
Victorian example a roadmap for NSW
Dr Mario Peucker is sceptical about the effectiveness of the latest NSWFP campaign. He is Associate Professor and Principal Research Fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Industries & Liveable Cities (ISILC) at Victoria University. He has played an integral part in formulating blueprints – or roadmaps – for reporting and combating race hate crimes.
The roadmaps, begun in 2019, have taken the form of three place-based reports (Whittlesea in 2021, Wyndham in 2022, and Casey/Greater Dandenong, to be released in April 2023).
Peucker’s scepticism about the latest NSWFP campaign centres on the fact that it lacks a tailored approach to different communities and it does not enable or encourage networked organisations to work alongside policing, nor does it provide incentives for individuals to report (such as clear timeframes for resolution, or explanations of the consequences for perpetrators).
He says, “It’s great that the New South Wales Police Force is working with local communities and multicultural, multifaith communities to encourage reporting. That’s important in anti-racism support, but it’s limited in effectiveness by a number of factors, including trust.”
Peucker says that engaging with all the key stakeholders and forming a network within a local area is paramount to ensuring that organisations and services can refer the victims of racial attacks, threats, harassment or microaggressions to one another, including police, legal professionals, culturally safe mental health services, and human rights agencies.
“The model of developing locally based, community-led anti-racism support structures, delivered by organisations that are trusted in the local multicultural communities, can be implemented anywhere, especially in areas with a significant level of cultural, ethnic and religious diversity,” he says.
An example of how NSW regions could create infrastructure to enable greater reporting is provided by the City of Wyndham in Melbourne’s south-west. Here Australia’s first anti-racism support network has been implemented. Wyndham is one of Australia’s fastest growing and most culturally diverse local government areas, akin to Blacktown and Maroubra in Sydney.
“It was set up parallel to the launch of the report at the beginning of 2021, coordinated by a large community organisation called Wyndham Community and Education Centre. The network is made up of 1012 grassroots services, which all received basic training on how to respond to individuals coming forward with reports of racism,” says Peucker.
‘Engaging with all the key stakeholders and forming a network within a local area is paramount to ensuring that organisations and services can refer the victims of racial attacks, threats, harassment or microaggressions to one another.’
Part of setting up Wyndham’s network involved engaging on the ground with police and providing training.
“We worked with local police stations that introduced new training modules about the report systems and networks. It needs to be a bottom-up approach from the local level, not just a generic top-down, state police campaign,” Peucker says.
Wyndham’s anti-racism support network, overseen by the Wyndham Community and Education Centre, has an online reporting tool, and a list of referral agencies. The network also holds regular meetings. Peucker’s research showed that the vast majority of people who reported incidents of racism said they didn’t receive the support they’d been hoping for, and most said they’d be less likely to report again.
Reporting that empowers
The NSWPF campaign encourages reporting, but it does not address the reasons individuals are motivated to report hate incidents, criminal or not.
Peucker says, “We have been asking communities what their reason for reporting was or would be. The most common answer has been ‘to raise awareness’ of persistent racism. Reporting can be empowering and strengthen people’s sense of agency after an experience where they felt they had no control.
“But the reporting process needs to be designed in a way that empowers. They want to see that things change as a result of them and others reporting.”
With local data available on where and when incidents have taken place, communities and police can target intervention and prevention measures.
“If we find out that racist incidents happen on a certain bus line, park or in a shopping mall, then we run bystander intervention programs there, and provide training for all the Coles or Woolworths management and staff, for example,” Peucker explains.
He adds, “The NSW campaign prioritises reporting to police. Police certainly play an important role when it comes to hate crime reporting, as no other agency can investigate crimes, but most incidents of racism are below the criminal threshold and are better dealt with by other agencies or community organisations.”