On 5 September, three far-right activists were the first people to be convicted under the State of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001. Pursuant to s 8(1) of the Act, Magistrate John Hardy convicted the so-called ‘Bendigo Three’ – Blair Cottrell, Christopher Shortis, and Neil Erikson – of inciting contempt, revulsion or ridicule of Muslims.
The conviction was in relation to an incident in 2015 when the three, protesting the proposed construction of a mosque in the Victorian regional town of Bendigo, staged and filmed a mock beheading in front of the Bendigo council offices. The video was uploaded to the Facebook page of the United Patriot’s Front – a far-right, nationalist and activist organisation that essentially opposes Muslim immigration to, and the proliferation of Islamic religious teachings in, Australia.
After being convicted, Cottrell told reporters outside court that the video ‘was aimed at a tenet of a religion, not a whole class of people.’ The prosecution, however, submitted in court that the video was intended to engender ‘serious contempt’ toward Muslims given that it was intended to protest the construction of a mosque in Bendigo. Prosecutor Fran Dalziel told reporters that it was therefore irrelevant whether or not the video had, in fact, changed people’s attitudes toward Muslims.
Cottrell, Shortis, and Erikson were each fined $2000 but have said they will appeal their convictions.