There was intense political debate over the Religious Discrimination Bill where in a dramatic move, five Government MPs crossed the floor to vote with Labor, Greens and independents on an amendment that would make it harder for religious schools to ban students because they identify as LGBTQI. Soon after the Government pulled the Bill out of Parliament.
For those of us who were engaging with Parliament, it was a nerve-wracking week. We came so close to getting religious discrimination and vilification protections. For some Muslim community advocates, particularly in Victoria, they felt they were close to gaining protections from state laws encroaching on parents’ rights to choose a school that accords with their values.
Here’s a quick explainer: Discrimination is where someone or an organisation treats you unfavourably because of your religion. Vilification is where someone incites hatred against you because of your religion. The Government’s Bill dealt with the former, but not the latter. The Bill also included protections for religious speech, which became known as the ‘right to discriminate’ by many critics and their supporters.
We knew all along that Labor would be trying to amend the Bill. During the week, I was involved in discussions with Federal Labor about the need for an anti-vilification clause in the Bill.
In a positive move, Federal Labor agreed to push the anti-vilification clause, beginning to be known as the “Christchurch amendment.” That name carried a pretty clear meaning of what it was responding to – the of hatred that fueled Tarrant, and continues to fuel many others.
The amendment was put to the House of Representatives in the early hours of Thursday morning. Government (Coalition) MPs voted on block to take it down, winning by one vote. However, one Coalition member, Bridget Archer, crossed the floor in a reassuring act of conscience. We thank her and the independents and greens for standing by this amendment.
We had strong hopes about the Bill being amended in the Senate. But by Thursday lunch, we knew it was off the table.
For me it was an incredible sense of loss. Some of us have been working on trying to get these protections for over two years. Some speakers, like Dr Anne Aly, said that she had been fighting for more than 25 years.
The Government’s handling of this Bill was poor with a protracted public debate that seemed to increase animosity for people of faith and decrease understanding in why enabling diversity of communities, cultures and faiths was a good thing.
So, when the Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese promised that an elected Albanese Government would legislate these protections, including for vilification, many of us were greatly relieved. But for many in religious communities, there was also a question mark about what a Labor Bill would mean for religious schools.
The Government’s Bill contained protections for statements of belief that carved out religious speech that is malicious or vilifies, threatens, harasses or intimidates other people. This set a standard for vilification that many in the Muslim community were asking to be reciprocated in an anti-vilification clause.
It is unknown what a Labor Government would do with the Coalition Bill’s protections for religious statements of belief. Labor made it clear in the House of Representatives debate that people of faith should be able to state their beliefs freely as long as they weren’t malicious, but they didn’t support any existing discrimination protections being overridden. Labor may continue with that provision changed, or leave it out. Faith organisations will be keen to discuss this should Labor win the next election.
In addition to providing discrimination and vilification protections, Labor said it would:
- act to protect all students from discrimination on any grounds; and,
- protect teachers from discrimination at work, whilst maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff.
This part refers to the rights of LGBTQI teachers and students – an issue that caused a lot of consternation on social media nationwide – but also students who might be discriminated on other grounds, for example, gender, disability, religion.
To prove its true support for religious freedoms, the Coalition must match Labor’s promise on anti-vilification protections. It is in their political interests. Pleasing some members in the hard right of their party takes away their chances with a majority of voters, who overwhelmingly want to see Australia move forward in a positive way from Christchurch.
At least for now, we can be assured there are many members of the Labor Party that know about the legal gap when it comes to religious vilification. Their impassioned speeches through to 3am in the morning are a cause for hope. I’ll leave you some excerpts below. I look forward to the day that it is not only Labor Party members who speak this compassionately about our community, but members across the Parliament.
Now there is a push for a bipartisan commitment to protections, to approach this with less politics and more good will.
From our community’s perspective, that means negotiating vilification protection from the LNP and negotiating protections for religious freedoms from Labor. The latter is a lot more complicated legally and politically and lacks a coordinated view from our community. There are many in our community who are concerned about parents rights and Islamic schools and there are also many who are fearful of being branded bigots or supporting bigotry. Detailed engagement will be critical.
Mr Albanese, Leader of the Opposition
I can not see how any debate about religious discrimination in Australia can ignore the fact that during the term of this parliament an Australian man brutally murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in two Christchurch mosques. Nor should the debate ignore the troubling rise of Islamophobic, anti-Hindu, anti-Semitic and other religious and race based incidents of discrimination, threats and violence on our own shores. This debate should also be providing greater legislative protection against vilification and incitement to hatred or violence based on a person’s religion or religious belief. Labor will move an amendment to ensure that we enact an anti-vilification clause, and it should receive support for it, because, where the government’s bill does not even prohibit vilification of people on the basis of religious belief, religious dress or religious activity, that is a flaw. This is despite the Prime Minister’s claim in this chamber that the bill draws a clear line against harassment, vilification or intimidation of anyone. It does not do that. The bill, as it stands, will not protect a Muslim woman in my electorate from being abused in the street for being Muslim, or a Hindu man who is vilified for his religious beliefs. This amendment should also be uncontroversial. That is why this bill, without that, doesn’t even measure up to the premise of its own title.
Dr Aly, Member for Cowan
When my brother and his fairly new wife walked into a bank to conduct some bank business, their bank assets were frozen. They weren’t allowed access to their bank accounts. My brother’s wife wears a traditional Islamic hijab, or head covering. My brother had gone in with his forms of identification—a passport and a driver’s licence. Their bank assets were frozen, and the police were called. The police proceeded to come to the bank and pull them aside for questioning. Utterly confused, they asked what the purpose of the police questioning was. The response was that the bank teller had looked at my brother’s wife—my sister-in-law—had looked at my brother and had made an assumption based on their names and based on their religious dress. It took them 24 hours to have their bank accounts unfrozen, after going through an hour of rigorous questioning by the police. It was almost 20 years ago that that happened to my brother and my sister-in-law. At the time, I advised them that they should probably make a complaint, knowing full well that that would not yield anything for them, because religious discrimination—the kind of discrimination that they had faced, walking into the bank that day—was not covered by federal law. So suffice it to say that I think this law has been a long time coming. The kinds of protections for people of faith that would have prevented the experience that my brother and my sister-in-law went through have been needed for some time. One might argue that that was at a particular time in Australian history, a time after the 9/11 attacks, where there was heightened sensitivity and heightened wariness of people of Islamic faith. But we know that this kind of discrimination still exists. We know that Muslim women who wear the hijab are subjected to vilification, discrimination and Islamophobia almost every day of their lives, in public, in the workplace, in the media. So I come to this bill with an understanding, personally, through my own experiences of discrimination, my own experiences of vilification and the experiences of my family, and through the journey of over 25 years of trying to have the law changed to recognise religious discrimination. I come to this bill with that experience behind me and with the experience of speaking to many members of Muslim communities and other faith groups about their experiences of religious discrimination. I also come to this bill as someone who has been a beneficiary of religious pluralism in this country. Religious pluralism is not written into our Constitution, but it certainly underpins section 116 of our Constitution. I started my schooling in a Catholic school and I finished my schooling in an Anglican school, all the while being Muslim. I sent my children to Muslim schools so they could have a sense of their faith and their identity. When the floods hit Brisbane in 1974, where my family was living, it was the local church groups that reached out and embraced us.
Mr Watts, Member for Gellibrand
In the second reading speech of this bill, the Prime Minister told this chamber: People should not be cancelled or persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from someone else’s in a free liberal democratic society such as Australia. But there is nothing in Australian law or the bill before the House prohibiting religious vilification. We know this from the 18C debate. I saw the effects of this firsthand during the hearings for the government’s social media and online safety select committee inquiry. I’ll give one disturbing example of this that we heard during the hearings. The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network and its volunteers have been being trying to tackle Islamophobia targeting Australian Muslims on social media platforms. Its work is motivated in no small part by fear that the radicalisation engine that powered the Christchurch terrorist, an Australian who murdered 51 Kiwis nearly three years ago, has not been fronted by Australian society or government. As part of this work, over 18 months AMAN identified more than 100 hate artefacts, examples of dehumanising Islamophobic vilification posted by the former senator Fraser Anning to his Facebook page. Despite this, Facebook did not see this as breaching their policies to the extent that removal of his account was required. Social media appearing before this inquiry have been united in the need for a legal baseline for hate speech in our society, but it hasn’t happened in Australia. I asked Rita Jabri-Markwell, AMAN’s representative, how it felt knowing that coming up on three years since Christchurch attack there was still no Commonwealth law preventing this kind of online religious vilification that radicalised the Christchurch terrorist. She responded: It’s made us feel really lonely. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s kind of like you don’t matter. But we just have to keep going. If another scenario like that happens, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew that I hadn’t tried everything. At the moment, we haven’t acted. We should act in this bill, and Labor’s amendments will. This is yet another example of the Prime Minister’s actions not matching words and it is, I would add, a failure of this country to confront the conditions that allowed one of our own to be radicalised to the point of murdering 51 people of faith in another country.
Mr Dreyfus, Member for Isaacs
The amendments that Labor is moving now would introduce into this bill a provision to protect people from vilification on the grounds of their religious belief or practice. This is a very important provision that the government has deliberately left out of this bill, despite requests from a range of faith communities for such a provision to be included.
Currently, if a Muslim Arab or an Indian Hindu or an Egyptian Copt is vilified on the basis of race, they have legal protection under Commonwealth law. But if they are vilified because of their religion, there is no protection under Commonwealth law. This bill does nothing to address this. This bill does nothing to protect a Muslim woman in Western Sydney who is abused in the street because of her hijab, or a Hindu man who is vilified for his religious beliefs. The Race Discrimination Commissioner, Mr Chin Tan, completed a report last year called Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims. That report provides confronting analysis and evidence of just how often Australians of the Islamic faith are being vilified because of their religion. Commissioner Tan wrote in his introduction: The stories shared by Australian Muslim community members for this project have brought home to me that the undercurrents of religious discrimination, vilification and hate that manifested so horribly in the Christchurch attack, are not an aberration. They are consistent with the experiences of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate that is routinely experienced in Australia. These amendments respond to the very real problem of religious vilification—a problem described by the Race Discrimination Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights Commission as a problem ‘routinely experienced’ by Australian Muslims and those from many other faith communities—by prohibiting a person from threatening, intimidating, harassing or vilifying a person or a group of persons on the basis of their religious belief. This should not be a controversial suggestion. I hope that no-one in this parliament believes that in our country people should continue to be allowed to threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a Muslim man or woman because they’re Muslim, or a Hindu man or woman because they’re Hindu, or a Christian because they’re Christian. I will briefly outline the specifics of the antivilification provision these amendments will introduce. It provides that a person must not on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or group of persons engage in conduct that is not private and that a reasonable person would consider would threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify the other person or group. It’s important to emphasise this last point: the religious antivilification provision these amendments would establish only prohibits conduct that ‘threatens, intimidates, harasses or vilifies’. This is a higher threshold than the threshold in the longstanding protections against racial and other hate speech in section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act, which is ‘insult, offend, humiliate or intimidate’. The higher threshold we are proposing for the protection against religious vilification will help to ensure that this provision cannot be used as a de facto prohibition on blasphemy. It’s Labor’s view that, while Australians should be respectful of each other, a statement that may be insulting or offensive to a member of a religious faith without more should not attract legal sanction. The proposed threshold is also consistent with the proposal put forward by the Australian National Imams Council and other submitters in response to the racial discrimination bill. In addition to ensuring an appropriately high threshold for religious vilification, these amendments also include a comprehensive defence to any action if the person engaged in the conduct complained of reasonably and in good faith did it: (a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or (b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held, or any other conduct engaged in: (i) for any genuine academic, artistic, religious or scientific purpose; or (ii) for any purpose that is in the public interest; or (iii) in making or publishing a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest.
Mr Fletcher, speaking for the Government
(Bradfield—Minister for Communications, Urban Infrastructure, Cities and the Arts) The government does not support this set of amendments and the proposal to include within the bill a prohibition on religious vilification. I want to make it absolutely clear that the government does not condone vilification or hate speech and recognises the harmful effects that hate speech directed at people of faith can have on those individuals and their communities, but the fact is that any vilification provisions, such as these, are complex and require careful consideration in order to appropriately balance competing rights. These proposed provisions would create further inconsistency across Commonwealth, state and territory laws. Their drafting is inconsistent with all existing civil prohibitions on vilification in state and territory laws. The proposed amendments cover a much lower standard of conduct than existing state and territory laws. They set a lower bar. Existing state and territory laws prohibit incitement to hatred and serious contempt for or severe ridicule of people on the basis of their religion. In addition, under the existing laws conduct that incites violence or threatens a person because of that person’s religious belief or activity is a criminal standard, and it is not appropriate to be contained within a civil provision. The prohibition will also create internal inconsistencies and confusion within the bill. In addition, the introduction of this prohibition would have the consequence of providing greater protection under Commonwealth law for religion than for other attributes such as sex, sexual orientation, age or disability. Prohibiting certain speech relating to religion presents unique and difficult problems for reconciling competing rights in a free society where beliefs and ideas of any kind should be able to be debated and criticised. It is important to ensure that any antivilification provision does not unnecessarily fetter legitimate forms of expression and does not operate in effect as a prohibition upon blasphemy. So, for those reasons, the government will not be supporting this set of amendments.
Mr Bourke, Member for Watson
I start with the words that were given by the Prime Minister when this bill was introduced, where he implied to the House that the antivilification protection was already in the bill. If it was important enough to be put in the speech, it’s important enough to be put in the bill. The Prime Minister said this: ‘the bill draws a clear line against harassment, vilification or intimidation of anyone.’ No, it doesn’t! And it should. Those words the Prime Minister said are right, because, let’s face it: while a lot of the lobbying that happens in terms of religious discrimination happens in terms of the religious organisations, the lived experience of prejudice happens when people are abused on the street; the lived experience of prejudice happens when people are threatened, intimidated, harassed and vilified.
There have been some passionate speeches about how wrong it is to discriminate against somebody simply because of their faith. The Prime Minister and others have spoken about the fact that, for people of faith, it is another issue of identity, and people, on a range of issues not about religion, have talked about horrific ways that people are vilified. We’ve all established the principle in the debate about this bill, but we haven’t put the words into the bill. This amendment does it. The words have been deliberately chosen in a way that can achieve consensus for those opposite, not for everybody. But we’ve been through the 18C debates, and we know that, if we were to use the language of 18C, that would create a problem, within some of you, for your party room, and we are trying to find language that will work. But if we walk out of here at the end of the debate we’ve had and we walk away with no legal protection against people being harassed, intimidated, threatened or vilified because of their faith, then what on earth has this debate been about? This can be fixed. We have not played games with the wording of this amendment. The Prime Minister in his speech made clear how important this is and implied it was already in the bill. It can be put in the bill tonight. As to the claim from the government in the minister’s speech where he said: ‘It’s not appropriate for this sort of legislation’—then why did we all make the speeches we made? I’m a person of faith. I will never be threatened or vilified for mine, because it’s the majority faith in the country. But that’s not true of my neighbours. It’s not true of someone wearing a hijab, a niqab, a turban or a yarmulke, and it’s not true of people who, because of their faith, want to display icons or wear a cross all the time. If you don’t think they get abused and belittled, then you’re not walking in their shoes. Prejudice and bigotry are wrong in every form. We are asking the government to do no more than to agree to the words of their own speeches. There is a way to support this amendment, and, if tonight we don’t find it, it is a complete failure of this process.
Mr Watts, Member for Gellibrand
Let me quote Twitter. It may shame those opposite. This is the standard they have fallen to. Twitter told the inquiry: … Australia continues to utilise a very limited definition of hate speech under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) that is limited to race-based speech or behaviour, and does not include a number of the aforementioned categories, including sexual orientation, disability-based, religious-based or gender-based speech. These are the depths that they have stooped to. The Prime Minister set up a social media inquiry to put the big tech giants under the microscope, and, really, it’s shining a mirror on the government—a mirror of the standards that they apply to themselves. This has consequences. This kind of radicalisation through religious vilification has real-world consequences. We saw it when an Australian murdered 51 people of faith in New Zealand nearly three years ago. The Christchurch terrorist was radicalised by online extremist speech. That was the finding of the task force to combat violent extremism online, established by this government. They highlighted the role of this hate machine online. Those opposite have an opportunity to deal with it today in this amendment. Vote for it. You can stop this. It’s the same radicalisation that drove the Utoya terrorist. It’s the same radicalisation that drove the Christchurch terrorist. Let me quote to you one of the witnesses in this inquiry, a person of faith representing a religious organisation. This is an organisation that was charged with trying to stamp out Islamophobia and violent extremism and radicalisation online in the wake of the Christchurch attacks—the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network. Ms Rita Jabri-Markwell committed herself and her organisation, on a voluntary basis, to identifying online Islamophobia targeting Australian Muslims. She identified hundreds of examples, including, shamefully, the vile posting of former Senator Fraser Anning, who was condemned in this chamber by both sides of parliament. There were great speeches from those on both sides of parliament. Those identified instances of Islamophobia and hate speech by formerSenator Anning were sent to the social media platforms. Their response was that there was not an adequate legal basis to kick his page off the site. I asked Ms Rita Jabri-Markwell, the director of the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network, in these hearings how it made her feel to do all of this voluntary work, only to see that we had not advanced the legal framework dealing with hate speech and vilification of religious groups in this country since an Australian murdered 51 people of faith. There had been no change. This is what she told this inquiry. I asked her how that felt, and she said: It’s made us feel really lonely. I don’t know how else to describe it. It’s kind of like you don’t matter. This is what people of religious faith are telling your government, Prime Minister. But we just have to keep going. If another scenario like that happens— That is, an Australian murdering 51 people of faith— I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I knew that I hadn’t tried everything. This amendment is something we can try to stop this radicalisation. It’s been called for for two years since the debates about 18C of the racial vilification act, called for by the Australian Muslim community and called for by the Australian Jewish community. We should act now
Dr Leigh, Member for Fenner
The shadow Attorney-General referred to the Race Discrimination Commissioner’s report Sharing the stories of Australian Muslims. I wanted to take the House to some of the remarks made in the consultations around that report. One participant said: My aunt wears a hijab, she has been spat on and had her hijab pulled off … she was born in Australia. When my aunt responded, the attacker was surprised that she could speak and defend herself. Another Muslim woman said: I don’t feel safe while I’m walking down the street. I’m thinking of being spat at or someone might pull my hijab off my head. The report noted that Muslim women face a ‘triple penalty’ as women, as members of a racial minority and as members of a religious minority. It highlighted the way in which mosques have been targeted with things such as graffiti, property being destroyed, pig carcasses being left on the grounds and direct attacks on members of the mosque. We have seen a rise in Islamophobia. The September 11 events led to a shift in attitudes toward Australian Muslims and flow-on attacks on the wider Australian Arab community. The work that both sides of the House did to try to quell some of those horrific racially and religiously inspired attacks couldn’t have the backing of an antivilification provision, because none existed. What we’re trying to do here is to put into legislation what the Prime Minister said he wanted to achieve. The Race Discrimination Commissioner has talked about the impact of the Christchurch mosque attack and pointed out that, following that, the Holland Park Mosque in the southern suburbs of Brisbane was vandalised and the swastika was spray-painted on the front gates of the mosque. We’ve seen a rise in the rate of religious vilification, noted by the Scanlon Foundation and the Australian National University surveys. We’ve seen a rise in the number of racial vilification inquiries to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, noting that there have been significant impacts over recent years. The 2019 antiSemitism report reported 368 incidents of anti-Semitism, including physical assault, abuse, harassment, vandalism, graffiti, hate communications via email, postal mail, telephone, leaflets, posters and stickers. The Islamophobia Register, launched in 2014, documents a rise in Islamophobia and reports almost 400 verified instances of reported Islamophobia. Some of those are interpersonal; some of those are directed at the Islamic community as a whole. They include hate graffiti, stickers, hate speech, vandalism and physical attacks. As the member for Gellibrand has pointed out, the rise of online hate speech sees another channel through which religious vilification can occur. Labor has worked with experts on this. We’ve sought to ensure that there are appropriate carve-outs for issues such as satire, recognising that there is important scope for public debate and freedom of speech. But, if we really are committed to stamping out religious vilification, then this amendment should be supported. This is an amendment that goes fundamentally to who we are as a nation and whether we as a nation believe it is acceptable for racial vilification to take place. Those of us on this side of the House stand with communities of faith in wishing to rid Australia of religious vilification. We stand with those in the Jewish community, those in the Islamic community and those in the Christian community, many of whom have worked for years to strike the right balance on an antivilification provision, and that is what is before the House tonight. (Time expired)
Mr Khalil, Member for Wills
Most of us here probably already have our eyes closed, so keep them closed and imagine you’re a member of a Jewish family, walking to a synagogue on the Sabbath, and a car full of yobbos drives past and starts spewing an anti-Semitic tirade against you and your children. Imagine you’re a Sikh stacking shelves at a supermarket, and someone comes down the aisle and starts screaming at you that you’re a terrorist. Imagine you’re a young Muslim woman on a bus, wearing a hijab, and a group of people get on the bus and start shouting at you, in your face, and surrounding you. Imagine you’re an Orthodox Christian priest, wearing a long black gown, at the shops, being screamed at by people and told to go back to where you came from. All of those examples are real experiences of ordinary Australians, and this amendment goes to the heart of protecting them from what they experience because of their faith. That’s what we’re debating here. It’s not too hard for us to imagine their experiences, because some of us have experienced them as well. In voting for this amendment, we will give truth to the title of this bill, the Religious Discrimination Bill, and I implore you, colleagues, to vote for this amendment.
Mr Giles, Member for Scullin
We’re also seeing a very disturbing increase in hate online and in the community, in real life, based on people’s faith, in particular, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. It beggars belief that we are here three years after the concept of a religious discrimination bill was advanced dealing with a bill with this title, yet we have a government that is unwilling to grasp the simple fact that people are being discriminated against in our streets and towns on the basis of their faith and how they manifest it—people who are being singled out because they are obviously a Muslim woman or a Sikh man; people who deserve to be able to freely participate in our society. I wonder if members opposite might just spend one moment pondering how any of these Australians might see this debate—a debate taken out by members opposite cynically in their name but without regard to their interests or our interests in constructing a society in which each of us is free to be who we are—absent the ugly stain of discrimination. When it comes to these manifestations of discrimination based on faith, as the member for Gellibrand set out, we are seeing some of the most challenging and awful manifestations of hate. People feel fear. Muslim Australians look at what happened in Christchurch. While there have been fine words spoken in this place, those words need to be matched by action. And the action that we’re putting forward is pretty simple. It’s simply to do what all of these groups have been asking for; it’s simply to do what any reasonable person would believe is required of a bill styled the Religious Discrimination Bill. There are other aspects of Labor’s amendments that I understand some members on the government side may have an ideological basis for their disagreement. I understand that; I disagree with it. But I simply do not understand how Australia’s parliament, right now, in 2022, can fail to recognise the discrimination that is happening in every town and in every suburb, and, more than that, can put forward a bill that, on the face of it, addresses that but thumbs its nose at the people it should be protecting, the people whose interests need to be brought to the centre of the debate, the people whose interests would, should, could and must be protected through this amendment.
Mr Perrett, Member for Moreton
It’s interesting that in the lead-up to today’s debate I’ve had many people, particularly on Twitter and Facebook and in emails to my office—some are constituents, some not—saying, ‘You should just say no to this legislation because there is no problem.’ It’s really reassuring when middle-class, middle-aged, white, Anglo-Saxon men tell me that there is no problem with religious discrimination. We hear a different story; I hear a different story. The electorate that I represent has a mosque in Kuraby that has been vandalised, terrorised and burnt. The wonderful Holland Park Mosque, which I’ve been to with the member for Chifley, is outside my electorate, just on the border between Griffith and Bonner, but many of my community would attend that mosque. It’s the oldest mosque, certainly in Queensland. It’s a beautiful mosque that has been attacked, targeted and had swastikas put out the front. People and communities have been attacked because of their religion. Any person of faith would say, ‘We should do something about this.’ I’ve been to the Bosnian mosque in Eight Mile Plains with the member for Chifley as well. It’s not targeted so much, but many of its congregation came to Australia because they were targeted because of their faith and murdered because of their faith. Their country was torn apart because of religious differences, where people didn’t step up and protect people of faith. The Mount Gravatt Jewish burial facility, which I’ve been to with the member for Griffith, services the Jewish community. So many groups have been attacked because of their faith, so here is a simple amendment that will match the Prime Minister’s words and his deeds together. Rather than there being any suggestion that he was misleading the Australian public in talking about this legislation, we would be able to match them together and help people who are attacked for wearing the clothes of their faith. It’s easy to wear your faith under your shirt and tie, but if you’re wearing a niqab or a hijab or a burqa, or any of those other items of religious clothing that attract vilification— where people are harassed, people are intimidated and people are scared—that’s why we’re doing this legislation
Mr Husic, Member for Chifley
then begs the question: why are you doing this if you are not putting in fair dinkum protections? I’ve got to tell you, Liberal Party: this isn’t just a matter of doing the right thing; you need to atone, and you know exactly why. It’s because in three consecutive elections faith was used as a political weapon: in 2004, we know about that one—and, by the way, in 2004 I was going for a job and I experienced a bit of religious discrimination, I can tell you! In 2007 there was the circulation of those pamphlets in the electorate of Lindsay. And in 2010 you pre-selected a candidate that you knew had anti-Islamic sentiment, and, through the pre-selection process, you in effect said, ‘You’re not going to say anything, are you?’ and they said, ‘No, we won’t,’ and then they did. Three elections in a row!
I know your party has come a long way, but the journey has not ended. The test is now. Will you make sure, for minority groups, that they will not be vilified? That is the test, and that is what we think is missing. You started the job in the speech by the Prime Minister, but you didn’t finish the job in the bill that was referred to by the Prime Minister that we’re debating now and seeking to fix. You have got to fix it. You cannot have a standard that provides protection for the powerful and well-connected and not for the people who don’t have access to that support.
Ms Kearney, Member for Cooper:
I thank all the other speakers that have talked about this incredibly important issue. There are so many people in this community who are going to ask: what is the point of this legislation if it doesn’t protect people from one of the most commonly used forms of abuse, one of the most commonly experienced instances of discrimination that is vilification? It happens every day on the street, all around us. We witness it. Maybe those opposite aren’t quite sure what we’re talking about. Let me give you some examples: speaking about a person’s race or religion in a way that could make other people hate or ridicule them—we see that often enough; publishing claims that a racial or religious group is involved in serious crimes, without any proof—we see that plenty of times; repeated and serious spoken or physical abuse about the religion of another person; encouraging violence against people who belong to a particular religion, or damaging their property; encouraging people to hate a religious group using flyers, stickers, posters, speech, a publication, a T-shirt—we see plenty of that right around this building as we sit here; well, maybe not now, but during the day. Which one of those do you think is okay? Which one of those do you think does not warrant legislating against? I have a very large mosque in my electorate. A Muslim man was talking to me the other day when I was visiting it. He’d bought a large car—he has a large family; it’s a bit of a people mover. He said he parks it in his driveway. He also uses it as a taxi, an Uber—it is his income. Nearly every morning he has to get up before work and wash awful slogans off it. He wouldn’t tell me what they said, but he said, ‘Ged, they’re awful. I can’t tell you.’ Another woman came into my office the other day in tears because she had observed a young woman getting on a bus. She was abused so awfully, so vilely, by someone because she had a hijab on. She was in tears and couldn’t get on the bus. Someone ushered her away from the bus to comfort her, and the woman said to me, ‘Ged, I didn’t do anything. I walked past that. I saw it. I didn’t know what I could do, where I could turn.’ Perhaps if that person knew there was a law against it, something could’ve been done. We’ve heard stories. We heard the member for Dunkley talk about someone in her electorate: a man who was too frightened to let his wife drive their children to sport on the weekend. There might be some people that listen to the Prime Minister, listen to the hubris around this bill, and think: I’m sure there are protections there. I can tell you: we’re going to tell those people loudly and clearly that protections against vilification are not there. This bill is not what they think. We will have to tell them that you simply do not care that this happens to them day in, day out. Why don’t you care about this? Why don’t you? We don’t get it. You could make a stand today. The Prime Minister could live up to his hubris and fix this now and support this amendment. Don’t turn your back again, Prime Minister. We’ve seen you do that before. This is an opportunity to do something decent. This is an opportunity to outlaw vilification—something that people experience everyday, something that will actually make a big difference to people of religion in this country: people in your electorates, people in our electorates and children in schools everywhere, every day. I ask you: support this amendment; do the right thing.
Ms Chesters, Member for Bendigo
Then Bendigo became the backdrop of a horrible fight about religion, where the far Right invaded our town and conducted some hideous acts of racial vilification. There were mock beheadings out the front of the City of Greater Bendigo. There were taunts and rants. We had someone fly down from Queensland and drive around in a truck shouting racist slogans and vilification towards people of the Muslim faith. It wasn’t a local but someone who wanted to come down to try to influence our community. What happened on social media was that a post kept being pushed out to our social media networks that was just a lie. It was fake news. It was a photo of the fountain with a made-up headline that Muslim men had raped a local girl. It was a complete lie. It was created and pushed out to our Facebook pages to create fear, to vilify people of the Muslim faith and to stop the mosque from going ahead.
Ms Rowland, Member for Greenway
The bill will not protect a Muslim woman who is abused in the street or a Hindu man who is vilified for his religious beliefs. Labor has raised this issue with the government, but the government has refused to consider an antivilification provision. A range of religious groups, for nearly two years, have argued that the bill should include this. If the Prime Minister means what he said in his own second reading speech—that people should not be vilified because of their beliefs—then it’s important to ask: why doesn’t the government’s Religious Discrimination Bill prohibit the vilification of people because of their beliefs? Why doesn’t it? But it is not just inaction on anti-vilification under this government. Since 2019, as part of my role as shadow minister for communications, I have repeatedly asked the minister for communications what he is doing to address hate speech online, and he’s dodged answering the question, time and time again. My questions were in reference to the terrorist atrocity committed by an Australian citizen in Christchurch and the serious warnings about the rise of extremism and online hate speech in Australia. I asked the minister if he would ensure that Australians, including Australians of Muslim faith, are kept safe online by amending Australia’s e-safety laws or by driving the adoption of an EU-style code of conduct for countering illegal hate speech online. As the Online Hate Prevention Institute has stated: These is a significant gap of coverage in this area. Attributes such as race, religion … and others are used to target segments of the community. In the most serious cases, online hate against these groups involves incitement not only to hate but also to violence. It also stated: … a takedown power covering incitement to hate, against both individuals and groups, is urgently needed.
Ms Claydon, Member for Newcastle
The second issue is that of antivilification. I want to pay tribute to so many people, but especially the member for Cowan, who spoke earlier this evening of her own experiences as a Muslim woman and those of her family, which highlighted the need for religious discrimination protections to pass. Likewise, the member for Cowan pressed the case of an antivilification clause to be included in this bill, as have many of my colleagues this evening. As the Leader of the Opposition argued, it would be ludicrous for any debate about religious discrimination in Australia to ignore the fact that during the term of this very parliament an Australian man brutally murdered 51 Muslim worshippers in two Christchurch mosques. Nor should we ignore the disturbing rise of Islamophobia, antiHindu or anti-Semitic or other race-based incidents of threats and violence on our shores.
Mr Dick, Member for Oxley
Since the first explanatory draft of this bill when it was released two years ago, a range of religious groups have argued the bill should include an antivilification provision. They’ve even put forward drafting suggestions. The government has wilfully ignored those submissions over the course of two years. Religion is a beautiful thing, and religious people across Australia deserve the right to practise their beliefs without fear of vilification or discrimination
Mr Keogh, Member for Burt
The government claims that this has been raised at the last minute and there isn’t time to work through the drafting. This is a nonsense. Since the first exposure draft of this bill was released, over two years ago, a range of religious groups have argued that the bill should include an antivilification provision; they have even put forward suggested drafting. And of course now the government is trying to proceed with its own last-minute amendments, though they are welcome.
Mr Hill, Member for Bruce
We know— I know, in my community—that Islamophobia and anti-Semitism are on the rise; the Sikh, the Hindu and other visible religious minority communities are targeted too. But, perversely—deliberately, perversely or incompetently; who knows, with this government?—the government’s bill fails to deal with this urgent issue of vilification that is of greatest importance to many faith communities. Indeed, it’s the No. 1 issue which so many faith communities ask the government to address, and they don’t
Ms Butler, Member for Griffith
In my electorate, after that horrible event had occurred, one of our local mosques was vandalised with graffiti referring to that shooter and with right-wing extremist symbols. Religious vilification ought to be against the law at a national level.
Mr Mitchell, Member for Lyons
People of faith deserve the right to practice their faith in peace and in safety
Mr Burns, Member for Macnamara
Labor will also move amendments around antivilification, which, again, I implore the House to support. The power of speech to cut through and to hurt is immense, and we should not be discriminating against another Australian on the basis of our speech. We do not want the right to be a bigot in this country. I’m proud of the Labor Party’s consistent position on matters of vilification and antidiscrimination.
Ms O’Neil, Member for Hotham
One of the things that I really enjoyed about the discussions with faith leaders was speaking to them in a multifaith context. There’s a lot of solidarity there, especially for the Muslim community, who do feel the brunt of a lot of this vilification. There is very broad agreement that we do need to have better laws—and you will note that Labor’s amendments to this bill would put some in place
Mrs Phillips, Member for Gilmore
We will make this legislation right so that it does not discriminate or allow religious vilification. We will strengthen and protect our most vulnerable. We owe people that.