Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls has introduced legislation repealing the Vagrancy Act, saying many of the offences had no place in today’s multicultural and tolerant society.
“It is almost 200 years old and is steeped in the language and attitudes of Dickensian England,” Mr Hulls said.
“Under the Vagrancy Act it is an offence to profess or pretend to tell fortunes or practise witchcraft.
“But the times have long since passed when witchcraft and fortune-telling represented a danger to law and order, or a focus for criminal activity.”
Other offences included in the legislation – such as escape from lawful custody, obscene exposure, begging and possessing house-breaking implements – will be re-enacted in other legislation.
The Vagrancy Act makes it illegal to pretend or profess to tell fortunes or “use any kind of witchcraft sorcery enchantment or conjuration”.
The law also says anyone who “pretends from his skill or knowledge in any occult or crafty science to discover where or in what manner any goods or chattels stolen or lost may be found shall be guilty of an offence”.
The Pagan Awareness Network Inc has welcomed the repeal of the Vagrancy Act which they say is the last law in Australia to outlaw witchcraft.
Gavin Andrew, Victorian co-ordinator for PAN Inc, said his organisation had long argued that the legislation was outdated and discriminated on the basis of religion.
“There’ll be several thousand pagans in Melbourne celebrating this news under the full moon tonight,” he said.
Mr Andrew said the repeal would prevent people who vilified witches and pagans from claiming the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act did no’t apply because it only protected lawful religions.