Could hate crime legislation increase risks for others?

Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls is introducing hate crime provisions for sentencing laws:

Mr Hulls said the laws would apply to hate crimes motivated by race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

I’m not sure how the ‘hate’ element is determined in law, but in the media the racist element of attacks on Indian students has usually been inferred from the racial abuse handed out during the assault or robbery.

As yet, however, there is no evidence that the offenders have any particular racist ideology. Indeed, the Indians seem like odd targets for Anglo racists (Andrew Bolt claims that many of the attackers are Africans). English-speaking cricket lovers have more in common with the majority population than do many other migrant groups.

Because there is little history of anti-Indian racism in Australia the surveys on ethnic views don’t have much on Indians, but what polling there is suggests they barely register on the racist radar. For example, in a 2004 Saulwick poll conducted for the federal election that year, just 0.6% of respondents nominated India as a country from which we should not receive migrants. In the 2007 Mapping Social Cohesion survey, just 1.9% nominated India as a country from which we should receive fewer migrants.

The racist abuse Indian victims have received may have more to do with verbal intimidation than with actual racist views, an added element of picking on victims unlikely to fight back.

But assuming criminals have some basic level of rationality, could the prospect of a harsher sentence for picking on a ‘victim’ group make them more likely to pick targets with little chance of providing the prosecution with a ‘hate’ angle? With the Australian-born already at greater risk from criminals, ‘hate crime’ laws could add to their woes.