William Bay (file image)
William Bay made the claim in a video posted on Facebook. Image by Darren England/AAP PHOTOS

New bill won’t jail Queenslanders for simply being offensive

Nik Dirga June 23, 2023

Proposed new laws in Queensland will jail people for up to seven years for offending others over their gender or race.


False. The legislation changes the legal classification of some discriminatory acts and increases penalties for crimes involving actual threats of violence.

A Facebook video claims Queenslanders could be jailed for up to seven years for merely offending people over their gender or race under amendments to the state’s criminal code.

The claim is false. It exaggerates the amendment bill’s intent, which bans public displays of hate symbols such as Nazi salutes and increases penalties for hate crimes based mostly on actual violent threats.

William Bay, an anti-vaccine activist and suspended doctor, made the claim in a Facebook video (screenshot here) on June 5, 2023.

“The free speech clampdown is on in my home state in Queensland where they’ve just introduced a bill … where they’re now attempting to imprison people with five years’ jail, and up to seven years’ jail in some cases, for … offending people in regards to their gender or race or other things,” Dr Bay says (video mark 5min 30sec).

A screenshot from the Facebook video.
 A screenshot from the Facebook video. 

The Criminal Code (Serious Vilification and Hate Crimes) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 was introduced to Queensland Parliament on March 29. It’s the result of a report from a 2021 parliamentary inquiry.

An explanatory note for the bill explains it addresses four recommendations of the report through amendments, three of which are the focus of the false claims.

Firstly, the bill moves the offence of serious racial, religious, sexuality, or gender identity vilification from section 131A of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1991, putting it under the Criminal Code, which sets out the general principles of criminal responsibility.

Experts told AAP FactCheck serious vilification as defined in the legislation is far more than just “offending people” and typically involves actual threats of violence.

“The bar for serious vilification is very high,” University of Sydney law professor Simon Rice said.

UNSW Sydney law professor Luke McNamara agreed.

“Serious vilification … is a very difficult crime to prove because Parliament has defined it in such a way so as to only cover very serious behaviour,” Prof McNamara told AAP FactCheck in an email.

“The prosecution needs to prove that the accused deliberately incited hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule AND that they did so in a way that threatens physical harm or damage to property, or incites others to do so.

“It is SO FAR from merely offending someone!”

Under the Anti-Discrimination Act, serious vilification is defined (page 73) as “knowingly or recklessly” inciting hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule towards a person or group based on race, religion, sexuality or gender identity in a way that includes threatening physical harm or inciting others to threaten harm towards a person or their property.

Secondly, the bill adds a new Circumstance of Aggravation, increasing the possible penalties for eight offences.

William Bay (centre) with supporters (file image)
 William Bay (centre) with supporters outside the Brisbane Supreme Court. 

None of these are merely “offending people” – the aggravation description in the bill is given to the offences of going armed as to cause fear; threatening violence; disturbing religious worship; common assault; assaults occasioning bodily harm; threats; unlawful stalking, intimidation, harassment or abuse, and wilful damage.

Andreas Schloenhardt, a professor of criminal law at The University of Queensland, said the video’s claim people would be imprisoned for “up to seven years for offending people” was incorrect.

“For some offences, the new aggravation has a maximum penalty of seven years – note this is a maximum only and rarely or unlikely to ever be imposed unless in the most heinous of circumstances,” Professor Schloenhardt told AAP FactCheck.

“The hateful motivation is not an offence itself, these are aggravating circumstances for established offence.

“The amendment does not create any new offences; it merely provides a wider/higher penalty frame in certain circumstances.”

The bill would also amend the Criminal Code to include public acts of serious vilification for “displaying a prohibited symbol”.

The bill’s explanatory note states it would prohibit the “display of hate symbols, including those relating to Nazi and ISIS ideology, with considered exceptions”.

RMIT FactLab has checked a similar claim relating to the legislation.

Questions have been raised about the bill’s civil rights implications, including a submission from the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties noting its “concerning features”.

The Verdict

The claim a proposed Queensland bill would imprison people for up to seven years for simply offending people about their gender, race or sexuality is false.

The bill changes the definition of some acts of “serious vilification” and hate crimes, which legal experts told AAP FactCheck typically involve acts of violence or threats to incite violence, and puts it under the Criminal Code.

Simply offending people in regards to their gender or race is not prohibited in Queensland.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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