The Australian Muslim community has once again united to make a Joint Submission in January 2020 on the Second Exposure Draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill under consideration by the Australian federal parliament.

More than 160 national and state based organisations in the Australian Muslim community are signatories to this submission (list given in Schedule 1 of the submission document).

This submission puts forward proposals aimed at mitigating the chance of another terror event like those that befell Christchurch from occurring in Australia.

On 2 October 2019, a submission by the Muslim community on the first exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (the Bill) was made.

That submission:

(a) Raised a concern about the increasing experience of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Australian Muslim community which extended to vilification and other endangering conduct on the grounds of a person’s religious identity and/or the manifestation of that person’s faith;

(b) Noted the absence of adequate and consistent appropriate laws at the federal level and also across the States and Territories to deal with the conduct of concern; and

(c) Sought for a new civil remedy to be included in the Bill dealing with vilification.

It is apparent that the second exposure draft of the Bill remains silent on the issue of vilification on the grounds of person’s religious belief or activity.

As such, this further submission relating to the second exposure draft of the Bill again highlights the need for some civil remedy to be included in the Bill, to address the real and present concerns relating to vilification, and conduct, which presents a risk or endangerment to the wellbeing and lives of people of faith.

In the second exposure draft, the Government carves out what harmful expression cannot be protected by the Bill. This submission simply asks that this clause work both ways to operate as a shield for people of faith.

Summary of Recommendations in the Submission

  1. The Bill presents a unique and appropriate opportunity to set a legal and policy standard in an area where legal uncertainty is contributing to significant private and public harm. The proposed civil remedy provides a practical form of recourse against extreme hate rhetoric, as well as a form of public reassurance – as demonstrated by the civil remedy that has been a considerable source of strength to Australian Jews in their quest to banish extreme antisemitism from the mainstream. The Government is asked to seriously consider the implications of not acting at this time.
  2. A modification to the reasonableness defence to indirect discrimination that places the focus on reasonable accommodation and adjustment rather than the current proportionality test is also necessary to avoid the diminution of protection already articulated in employment law and international law.
  3. We are aware of the position put forward by the Australian Council of Human Rights Authorities, which supports the recommendation of Dr Sarah Moulds, to introduce the Bill in two stages in order to allow certain parts of the Bill to be referred for more detailed examination. If this path is chosen in the future, it is requested that our proposal for an anti-vilification shield be actioned in the Bill that passes immediately, rather than referred for future consideration. The insecurity faced by Australian Muslims requires an urgent response.
  4. The undersigned organisations also implore the Government to work with the Australian Muslim community specifically in regards to the Online Safety Act12, and to support a channel for this community as a key affected stakeholder in the upcoming work of the GIFCT13. One of key objectives of these interactions is to ensure that social media companies include prejudice-based narratives, used as mobilisation frames within far right extremist movements (see Figure 1), within their definition of hate speech, and have effective measures in place for handling repeat offenders.
  5. It is noted that the joint government industry Taskforce to Combat Terrorist and Extreme Violent Material Online14 formed in the wake of Christchurch did not engage with legal representatives from targeted communities to acquire a bottomup perspective on the effectiveness of current criminal laws. This engagement is crucial and an effective process needs to be established to bring together this advice. It is not satisfactory for police to argue that they know the issues from their quarterly reference groups or community engagement work. A proper policy dialogue is requested.