PEOPLE who incite racial hatred or threaten violence on racial or religious grounds will face six-month jail terms or $5000 fines under proposed State Government legislation.
State Cabinet yesterday approved a new crackdown, linked by Premier Peter Beattie to 1998, when the anti-immigration One Nation party was at its peak.
Mr Beattie said he had heard shocking stories of school children being bashed and bullied on the basis of race or religion and that people had a right to feel safe from violent racism.
"This is respect legislation — tolerance and respect," Mr Beattie said.
The legislation will target all public forms of racial and religious hatred, including speech, writing, displays, signs, gestures, graffiti and electronic forms of communication.
The intention is not to deny people freedom of speech or stifle debate on issues of public importance, but to prohibit acts that undermine the social stability and cohesion of our community.
Multicultural groups and the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Commission welcomed the plans while the Opposition reserved its position pending a reading of the fine print.
Mr Beattie said One Nation founder Pauline Hanson, whose anti-immigration stance caused controversy in 1997 and 1998, would not have been prosecuted under the new laws.
But he said a tiny minority of Ms Hanson's fanatical followers had gone "that extra step" and turned sentiment into threats of violence against minority groups.
Mr Beattie said he knew of one case in which a child's schoolbag was stolen and urinated upon and the child was beaten.
Attorney-General Matt Foley said that under the proposed laws, to go to Parliament next month, the Anti-Discrimination Commission would deal with complaints of vilification with an emphasis on conciliation.
"In the case of serious offences where someone threatens or entices others to threaten physical harm towards a person or group or their property, the matter will go before the courts," Mr Foley said.
The laws would have normal exemptions used in defamation laws with media outlets free from prosecution on fair reports of court cases or Parliament.
Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Karen Walters said news of the decision was music to her ears.
"We're at the coalface and see the damage caused by acts of racist hatred." Ms Walters said. "To have the backing of laws means we're no longer powerless to take action against the evils of racial intolerance. When we witness the disregard by the Commonwealth Government towards human rights, it is comforting to witness the state's fearless pursuit of them."
Ethnic Communities Council spokesman Nic Xynias welcomed the legislation as long overdue.
"We are happy to see that at last people have to think before they use words that could hurt others;" Mr Xynias said. "Freedom of speech is all right but you also have to respect other people's points of view."
Opposition Leader Rob Borbidge said he had an open mind on the legislation but wanted to see the details.
He said such legislation was fraught with difficulties and often caused more problems than it solved.