Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Attorney-General sought to make changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, specifically to repeal section 18C.
Section 18C states that we cannot offend, assault, humiliate or intimidate any other person or a group of people because of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin.
The Abbott Government wanted to get rid of this section by arguing that it restricts “free speech”. Attorney-General George Brandis went further by stating that “People have a right to be bigots.”
We now have a new Federal Government, a new Senate and, alarmingly, a cohort of Senators who are intent on revisiting this issue.
Rather than show leadership, the response of Prime Minister Turnbull was astonishing, describing the call to repeal section 18C as having “worthy arguments” in favour of softening the Racial Discrimination Act but that the issue is not a current “priority” for his Government. This is nothing less than outrageous.
Adopting the proposed changes to section 18C would be a disaster for us as a nation and more so for religious minorities. In fact, the Racial Discrimination Act and Anti-Discrimination Act in New South Wales fails to address the sufferings that religious minorities face on a daily basis.
There are more than 500,000 people in the Australian Islamic Muslim and they need the protection of the law against persistent religious abuse. The abuse is so prevalent that it has become persecution on a collective scale. This collective punishment of the Australian Muslim community must stop.
According to a 2015 human rights report, Muslim Australians experience discrimination, vilification and abuse on a daily basis. In an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on 5 November 2015, Judith Ireland and Beau Donelly stated:
During consultations with more than 130 community, legal, university and government groups this year, discrimination against Muslims was “consistently raised as a significant concern. Many participants labelled anti-Muslim discrimination a daily or regular occurrence”… .
In an article entitled “Religion and the Racial Discrimination Act: Don’t Muslims Also Deserve Protection?” Mariam Veiszadeh noted:
A decade-long national study conducted by the University of Western Sydney found that nearly half of Australians describe themselves as having anti-Muslim attitudes.
Legal protections would only apply to an Australian Muslim, for example, if one was abused as an effing Lebanese Muslim, because their race is identified. Whereas to be abused as an effing Muslim, which is attacking a person because of his faith, will provide no protection.
It has been said on many occasions that the Racial Discrimination Act has a limited ability to protect Muslim Australians. It has no ability because it only covers discrimination or vilification based on race, colour, ethnicity, national origin or immigrant status but not religion.
Muslims are not a race of people but followers of a faith across the racial and language divide. It is therefore critical to add religious vilification offences in the Racial Discrimination Act and Anti‑Discrimination Act. The Government should introduce a bill to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act to address the pain of the Muslim community.
In her article entitled “We need to call out the double standards in Australia’s Anti-Discrimination Laws”, Mariam Veiszadeh highlights the inadequacies in the Racial Discrimination Act and notes that women across the country have been assaulted, spat on, had their prams kicked, have been punched from behind, have had abuse hurled at them, have had hot coffee thrown in their face, have been told to leave an entertainment venue, have been assaulted and thrown off trains, have been verbally intimidated, have had their cars vandalised, and have been forced to restrict their public movements out of fear. This cannot go on without action.
Why are Australian Muslims still not afforded adequate protection under the State and Federal vilification laws?
Why are Muslims in New South Wales, which has the largest proportion of Muslims, left without protection?
Why do the States of Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia, the Australian Capital Territory, and Northern Territory cover religious discrimination in their legislation but New South Wales does not?
Is it because Muslims do not have a lobby group, or the power of big business from which to lobby governments, or is it because they do not have a powerful voice in mainstream media?
Do Muslims not deserve protection?
We as Australians should not sit in silence in the face of continued religious vilification against our fellow citizens.
We must amend the law to provide Australian Muslims with the protections they need.