House debates

Monday, 21 October 2019



10:59 am

Photo of Graham PerrettGraham Perrett (Moreton, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Education and Training) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) recognises that:

(a) social harmony is vital to the continuation of a successful Australian democracy;

(b) all Australians should be able to go about their lives free from discrimination; and

(c) there is no legislative protection against vilification and incitement to hatred and/or violence based on a person's religion or religious belief;

(2) notes that:

(a) incitement of hatred and violence is a threat to religious minorities;

(b) vilification of minority groups through online social media is prolific;

(c) fifty-three per cent of Australian youth have witnessed anti-Muslim harmful content online;

(d) online vilification normalises negative attitudes against minority groups;

(e) vilification or inciting hatred is often the initial stage of a hate crime;

(f) personal attacks are also occurring against religious minorities, including verbal insults, graffiti, targeting religious dress and physical attacks on buildings and individuals;

(g) women are the main targets of personal attacks based on their religion; and

(h) almost half of all personal attacks occur in crowded community spaces where women should feel safe; and

(3) calls on the Government to protect:

(a) religious communities at risk of endangerment; and

(b) all Australians from incitement of hatred and violence.

I note that the motion was seconded by the member for Bonner.

I'm very pleased to move the motion circulated in my name, recognising that social harmony is vital for the continuation of a successful Australian democracy. The south side of Brisbane is particularly diverse. There are many cultures, many ethnicities and many religions. Happily, for the most part my community is a thriving melting pot and the epitome of social harmony. Sadly, there are people both in the community and in this very parliament who want to destroy the social harmony that exists in our communities. For some time now, gutless, nasty individuals have targeted religious minorities across Australia. I would suggest that these individuals are encouraged by politicians, commentators and others with a public platform who want to destroy the social cohesion that we are so proud of in my community—in fact, in every community.

Some recent incidents have shaken the south side to its core and will have a lasting impact on those involved. The exposure draft of the Morrison government's religious freedom bill purports to provide freedom for individuals to manifest their religious belief and practice in their speech and in their teaching within the confines of the law. So far, the exposure draft has received much criticism from almost everyone, from business groups right through to religious bodies. We'll need to wait and see what the Morrison government eventually settles on in the final bill, but one thing is certain: the bill in its current form does not provide any protections from vilification or even violence based on a person's religious belief, the very thing that my community wants and needs. The dangerous physical attacks experienced recently by people of Muslim faith in my community were likely seeded in religious vilification and incitement of hatred going unchecked. I know that my good friend Ed Husic has mentioned that in parliament as well.

The cowardly online warriors are spraying their bile 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and our young people are faced with this all the time. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner in a research study found that 53 per cent of Australian youth have witnessed anti-Muslim harmful content online. These are young Australians aged between 12 and 17—just children. Imagine what impact this has on these kids. Online vilification and incitement of hatred is the seed that culminates hate crime. Hate breeds harm and often even worse. Online vilification and incitement of hatred has real-world consequences. It emboldens those susceptible to that rhetoric to go out and harm real people. Sadly, attacks on Australian citizens are more likely to be directed against Muslim women because of their modest clothing choices and often when they're accompanied by they children. Most victims of these cowardly attacks do not report it to the police.

Islamophobia is the most prolific online vilification, according to the eSafety Commissioner, but other religious people such as those of the Jewish faith and Christians are also targeted online. If we're to protect religious freedom in Australia, it's core to that freedom that individuals are free to manifest their faith and belief without fear of vilification or violence to themselves or to their family. For my community on the south side of Brisbane, it is vitally important that we do not lose the social harmony we've worked so hard to achieve over the last few decades.

The Islamic community is a crucial part of that fabric on Brisbane's south side. They're always ready to support and help those who are most vulnerable. Here are just a couple of examples of their selfless generosity. They've donated funds for swimmers with down syndrome to compete in the Down Syndrome World Swimming Championships overseas. They've donated bales of hay for animals in drought-affected parts of Queensland. They've fundraised and donated drinking water to the residents of Stanthorpe. They've supplied snack packs for Brothers in Need as well as hot food and sleeping bags for the homeless in Brisbane. Hopefully, it won't be necessary next month, but, if it doesn't rain, they'll also deliver hay and water to Stanthorpe again.

These are the people who are experiencing vilification in our community. They're generous. They're warm-hearted. They're community-minded people who won't walk past a person in need without reaching out and offering support. In fact, their faith demands it of them. They're the first to support and celebrate our diverse and multifaith community, they're the first to volunteer in times of disaster and they're the first to be vilified when it's convenient for commentators and politicians who want to stir up fear and division for their own selfish political or media games.

They're our friends: our neighbours. They're my friends and they're my neighbours. I call on the Morrison government to protect this community and all religious communities at risk of endangerment from vilification and incitement of hatred and violence. I ask all the Abrahamic faiths and other religions to join me in this cause.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion.

11:05 am

Photo of John AlexanderJohn Alexander (Bennelong, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to the member for Moreton for bringing forward this debate. Violence, vilification and discrimination can never be allowed to occur, and it's important that we recognise and verbalise this important statement regularly in this House for all Australians to see and hear.

I'm proud of Bennelong for many reasons. We are a bright, innovative and friendly electorate, with an exciting future to look forward to. But perhaps the thing I am most proud of is our multicultural community. Since the fifties Bennelong has been a melting pot, welcoming Italians, Armenians, Indians, Chinese, Korean and many other people from around the planet. Communities from across the globe have come to Bennelong and made a permanent home, combining the great benefits of our two cultures.

The strong diversity is instantly apparent to any visitor to Bennelong. It can even be quantified, thanks to the last census. Nearly 22 per cent of all residents speak either Cantonese or Mandarin; a further 9,000 residents speak Korean; just under 3,000 speak Italian, and a similar number speak Arabic; and there are also high levels of Armenian and Farsi spoken. In total, over 51 per cent of homes in Bennelong speak a language other than English at home. Each of these communities has brought their culture with them, obviously, but they have also shared their cultures with the existing community. As a result, we have a wholesome community made richer by the cultures that make it up. We eat with Chinese and Korean diners, we play chess with Armenian masters, we play sport with Indian team mates and we laugh and live together.

Our greatest strength is our diversity. I hope our community can be an example for others, because there are places in Australia where multiculturalism has not yet led to harmony. Bennelong shows how by sharing our lives and our communities with others, the whole community benefits.

We have not been without our troubles of course. Back in 2014 there was a spate of assaults in Eastwood, many suspected to be as a result of the victims' cultural background. In discussions with leaders from the Chinese and Korean communities, my friends Hugh Lee and Jason Koh explained to me that there was often a stigma amongst certain cultures against reporting being the victim of a crime; people being held back by language or even issues of saving face. Eastwood police were aware of the problem, but struggling to cross the cultural divide. As a result, I was delighted to work closely with the Australian Asian Association of Bennelong and the Korean Chamber of Commerce, as well as the state member, Victor Dominello, to secure $200,000 in federal grants for the City of Ryde for the installation of CCTV cameras in some of the underlit parks and car parks of Eastwood. Reports of assaults have gone down in these areas and, indeed, one park is where I launched my campaign just a few months ago, right in the cultural heart of Bennelong.

Cameras and law enforcement are all well and good, but in order to reduce the violence felt by minorities we require something more: a change in ourselves. We need to be better people—sympathetic and open. Everyone has a context and we must try to understand this background before we judge their situation or their actions. Most importantly, we must call out abuse. As policymakers and leaders of this nation it is our responsibility to ensure that racism and ignorance do not combine again. That starts by identifying and rejecting them, something we must do with full voice and full conviction.

Thank you again to the member for Moreton—who seems to be getting a head start on the Movember race that we often engage in!—for raising this issue today. His game of tennis needs some improvement, too! Bringing cohesion to Australia is the most important thing we do in this place, and if we can stop discrimination we will set this country up for a strong, united and exciting future. I'm looking forward to our next game!

11:09 am

Photo of Anne StanleyAnne Stanley (Werriwa, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in support of the member for Moreton's motion on this very important issue, the vilification of minority groups. I'm proud to represent the electorate of Werriwa for many reasons. Chief amongst them is its strong, diverse multicultural community. We recognise it, we celebrate it and we're stronger for it.

Australia is the most successful multicultural nation on earth. Our migration and settlement program is an exemplar and is looked to by other nations as world's best practice, and rightly so. But it needs to stay that way. Not a week goes by when I am not witness to the best of multicultural Australia in my electorate, either in my public capacity or my private capacity, whether at a cultural festival or citizenship ceremony or at one of the many shops and shopkeepers that are neighbours to my electorate office, or in the diverse faces in childcare centres and schools in our community. A mark of multicultural Australia's success is that for the vast majority of us it is so unremarkable. It is important to ensure that it remains so and that people are safe in our community.

Werriwa is a proud community of many different cultures and many different backgrounds, and it is strong for exactly that reason. We understand and welcome all the cultures that have made this country the great place it is today. It is a value driven community, not only of the people who live there but of the organisations that work for the people of Werriwa. Just yesterday, I was present at the bicentennial celebration service for St Luke's Anglican Church in Liverpool. A Francis Greenway designed church, it has been holding services on the same site for 200 years. Reverend Stuart Pearson led the service in front of the New South Wales Governor, the Hon. Margaret Beazley; the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Davies; and the Bishop of Georges River, Reverend Lin. The service was most definitely reflective of our multicultural community, acknowledging the traditional owners as well as reflecting 19 different language groups within the congregation when the Bible verse John 3:16 was recited in different languages, from Auslan to Nepalese and Cantonese, as well as Arabic, Italian, French, Vietnamese and many more. As Councillor Charishma Kaliyanda said, it represented our diversity and unity, as many voices use the same words to provide the same message of love and respect.

Another organisation that lives and breathes those values is Al-Muntada, the Iraqi Australian University Graduates Forum. Al-Muntada works across south-west Sydney, including in my seat of Werriwa, to provide cultural and educational harmony. Since 2008, it has run projects, held activities and events that foster cultural exchange between the local Iraqi community and the wider Australian community. Amongst those most Australians value is the recognition of the transformative nature of education as well as the love of song and dance in the defence of human rights. The group includes members from all of Iraq's major cultures, religions and denominations—Sunni, Shia, Christian, Mandaean, Kurdish, Arabic and Assyrian. They embody both the rich depth of the history and culture of their Iraqi heritage and the harmonious multicultural values of their Australian homeland. Each year, they hold the Shanasheel Iraqi Cultural Festival at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre. Last year's keynote speech was from orthopaedic surgeon and former asylum seeker Dr Munjed Al Muderis.

Dr Al Muderis's story is like so many great Australian migrant stories, one of someone who has come to this country with all but only the clothes on his back and has built a prosperous and successful life in the country that has given them a second chance. Dr Al Muderis fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq as a young surgeon after refusing to mutilate the ears of army deserters. After reaching Australia by boat, via Indonesia and Malaysia, he was kept in the Curtin detention centre, including a stint in solitary confinement. Despite this, after being released he has continued his career in medicine, becoming a pioneer and a world leader in developing a new method for the implanting of prosthetic limbs.

We should embrace and value the contribution of all our community, wherever they come from. This is what brings us together. Everyone should feel safe and be safe and have the opportunity to live together peacefully. It is better for all us when this happens.

11:14 am

Photo of Julian LeeserJulian Leeser (Berowra, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'd like to thank the member for Moreton for moving his motion. The member raises this motion at a time when there's been a real increase in the rise of racist violence in our community, and a motion such as this is most important. Over time in our country, we've seen an erosion in tolerance. As parliamentarians we have a duty to stand up and decry racial and religious vilification where it occurs. We must remind Australians of the values that bind us together as a nation.

Today I want to provide a particularly personal perspective as a Jewish Australian. In the last year, Australia has witnessed a 60 per cent increase in anti-Semitic attacks. Long discredited anti-Semitic ideas are now being given credence by the far left and the far right, and with social media unchallenged anti-Semitic ideas spread quickly.

The election campaign seemed to be a lightning rod for these activities. During the election, I was one of several candidates from all parties who had posters defaced by people trying to intimidate me by sending a message of hate. First, it was swastikas and Hitler moustaches on my posters in a street of Normanhurst. Then, my campaign office, private property, was plastered with antipodean resistance stickers. And, finally, the photo on my campaign office was painted over with dollar signs. The Treasurer experienced similar attacks when his posters were daubed with dollar signs and other anti-Semitic messages. That's not because he's Treasurer; it's because, like me, he's Jewish and, like me, he's been targeted by the merchants of hate. The dollar signs refer to the old anti-Semitic lies of an international Jewish banking conspiracy. These sentiments were used by those who have sought to spread the hatred of Jews for centuries. I've been involved in politics for 27 years, but I've never seen anything like this before.

These weren't isolated incidents. A few weeks earlier, a restaurant in Epping, just outside my constituency, was plastered with anti-Semitic slogans, including, 'Watch out Jews' and 'Kill Jews'. Vicious emails were also distributed about the former member for Wentworth Kerryn Phelps which falsely claimed she had been disqualified from the election because as a Jew she was in breach of section 44.

These acts didn't stop or start with the election. In September last year, the Labor member for Eden-Monaro, a prominent supporter of Israel and the Jewish community, had neo-Nazi stickers and a bag of pig entrails thrown at his office. The Treasurer continues to be harassed by what is nothing more than an anti-Semitic legal action questioning his right to sit in this place. But none of this compares to the most appalling incidents which occurred in two public schools in Melbourne. A 12-year-old Jewish boy was forced to get down on his knees and kiss the shoes of a Muslim classmate. The boy had been bullied into this act, with older students threatening violence if he didn't comply with their request. He was also sent texts that threatened he'd be slaughtered and asked if he thought about suicide. And a five-year-old, who was so taunted by other children in the bathroom for being a Jew and being circumcised, that he wet himself rather than going to the toilet. When this type of hatred is appearing in our children, we should be deeply concerned about the future of this country. But as Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of the Commonwealth, has written, 'The hate that begins with Jews never ends with Jews.'

Late last year, a Hindu temple in Regents Park was vandalised. Holy statues were strewn across the floor, instruments broken and the room was smeared with paint. The vandals didn't steal anything; they wanted to destroy the house of worship. Near Wollongong in April, a Muslim family had gathered at a lookout for a picnic and a man began screaming anti-Islamic sentiments at them. He proceeded to get in his car and drive around them doing burnouts on the grass where they'd set up, just so he could intimidate them. This is absolutely un-Australian, but unfortunately it's becoming increasingly common.

The day after the Christchurch terror attack, I went to visit the Imam Hasan centre, a mosque at Annangrove in my electorate. I told the congregants I knew they were scared and I knew exactly how they felt, because the recent synagogue shootings in the United States had made me feel exactly the same way when I attended my synagogue. I came home and I called Minister Coleman and the Prime Minister and lobbied for increased funding so that people of faith, particularly religious minorities, can attend houses of worship and other places of communal gathering in safety. I'm pleased the government responded with a $55 million increase in the Safer Communities Fund, putting in place long-needed security infrastructure in communal buildings for a range of faiths.

In a recent speech to the Thomas More Society, I noted the rise in discrimination against Christians. The rise in religious discrimination is the reason why the government is preparing a religious discrimination act. Australia is the most successful multicultural country on earth. Our differences are what make us strong and are what make us interesting. Governments can provide laws and funding, but only individual citizens can create that shared space for us to live together in harmony. That is a national project worth pursuing.

Honourable members: Hear, hear!

11:19 am

Photo of Anne AlyAnne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Can I start by commending the members for Moreton and Bonner for putting forward this motion to the House and also to my colleagues who have spoken here today on both sides, particularly the member for Berowra for sharing his own experiences of religious discrimination, religious hatred.

On the weekend I heard a wonderful saying that was, 'Unity does not start with a million people; it starts with just two,' and in the case today it starts with a handful of us coming together to speak on this motion. This motion deals explicitly with vilification against individuals and groups of religious faith. Just to give some examples of that over the past few years, in my home state of Western Australia in 2010 we had two members of Combat 18 shoot a mosque in Perth. In 2014 a pig's head was left at the door of a Perth mosque. In 2015 another mosque was also vandalised with a pig's head. Later that year, that mosque had 'white power' graffitied on its walls. In 2016 a car exploded outside a Perth mosque with a fire bomb. And in 2018 another Perth mosque was fire-bombed. These kinds of incidents may be far and few between—although they are becoming more and more regular and more and more prevalent—but these kinds of violent incidences begin with rhetoric, they begin with language and they begin with behaviour that normalises everyday acts, everyday acts of vilification and discrimination.

The Office of the e-Safety Commissioner reported that 53 per cent of Australian youth have witnessed anti-Muslim harmful content online. It's also reported that 78 per cent of in person attacks were against Muslim women. These were attacks in the presence of their children, where their children were also targeted—attacks of hatred in public. And 96 per cent of targeted women were Muslim women who visibly are Muslim because they wear the hijab. The Islamophobia Register is soon to release its second report but in its first report painted a very bleak picture of the rise of Islamophobia and religious discrimination here in Australia.

I have had rather, I guess, a lot of experience in talking to people who are formers, who have left violent extremism in various iterations in various forms, from former violent jihadists to former IRA and, indeed, former white supremacists. I have to say this, of all dozens of formers that I have met none of them have ever left the movement because they were presented with a fact sheet. No white supremacist ever left white suprematism behind because somebody gave them a report on how great multiculturalism is for our economy or for our society. Indeed, everyone that I have met who was left a hate movement has left because of a personal connection with an individual or a group who they had perceived to be the enemy. That's why it's so important that we come together. It's why it's so important that we come together to speak out against hatred, to speak out against vilification, but also to recognise, as the member for Berowra said, that hatred against one group doesn't end there. Often that hatred spreads to a whole range of other groups as well.

Despite the fact that, as I say, no individual has ever changed their worldview because of a fact sheet, we can do more by setting moral and legal standards as an important step to acknowledging that in this country, in Australia, we have no tolerance for hatred, we have no tolerance for vilification and we have no tolerance for people who would target individuals of religious minorities because of their faith, particularly those who are most vulnerable to targeting, particularly Muslim women who wear the hijab, men who wear religious dress in any form, and—as the member for Berowra so eloquently talked about—cases involving children. We do not want our children to be targeted as well. Once again, I commend all members of the chamber today for speaking on this very important topic.

11:24 am

Photo of Bert Van ManenBert Van Manen (Forde, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I want to thank my good friend, the member for Moreton, for bringing this motion to the House because both of us represent communities that have a large multicultural component to them. In Logan there are some 217 different cultures represented, and I suspect the member for Moreton's electorate wouldn't be too many fewer than that. It would be pretty close.

It tells a story, as the previous speakers have on this motion, of the wonderful success story that is Australia. It's the wonderful success story of a multicultural society that is the envy of the world. I reflect on that as somebody whose parents came out from Europe in the mid-sixties. But I also reflect on that in the context of the electorate that I represent. At first, it was largely settled by German immigrants back in the 1860s. So it's not just that large flow of migrants to Australia after World War II and in the subsequent years but it's also a story that goes back well over 100 years, with migrants coming to this country—whether they were the Chinese for the gold rush or the Germans, particularly, escaping persecution in Germany at that time for religious beliefs—to seek a new and better life.

We should be very proud as a nation of our success in this area, because it's through the shared experiences that our migrants have brought to this country that we have built the country we have today. It is their ingenuity, their hard work and their willingness to get involved in our community which have created the communities that we live in today. Whether they are from European backgrounds, or have an Asian cultural heritage or a Middle Eastern cultural heritage, all those people bring something to the fabric of our society.

This is where I think it's incredibly disappointing that we see people in our communities who are prepared to vilify and denigrate those with a different cultural background. It brings nothing to our society or to strengthening our communities to denigrate somebody else because of their cultural beliefs or views. It fails to recognise the facts of what these people bring to our society. I'm pleased to say that in my electorate, unlike some of the stories we've heard from others, that has been a rare occurrence.

I look at some of the contributions by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in the floods we had several years ago, and the work that they did to get out into the community and support flood victims by cleaning up their houses, making sure that they were fed and helping to restore their property and their lives, and what was really satisfying to see was that they worked hand in hand with the Christian community groups to do those things. It was not, 'Oh, the Christians are over here and we're Muslim, so we're over here.' All of those community groups came together to support people in our community who were going through a very difficult time.

My local Islamic community group, particularly the mosque at Eagleby, was traumatised by what happened in Christchurch. In speaking to them, I made it very clear that they had my support, that I did not for one minute support what happened over there and that it was not my view of how our community worked and operated. Those at the mosque at Eagleby—quietly, I might add—do lots of little things in our community that helps to strengthen it. It's interesting: the design of the mosque there is not a traditional mosque design. When driving past, most people wouldn't know that we had a mosque in Eagleby. But they get out and are involved quietly in the community, just making it a stronger and better place.

It's people from all walks and all cultures who have built this country, and we should be extraordinarily proud of them. We should continue to call out, as this motion has done, those who seek to vilify and denigrate the people who have made this country what it is today.

11:29 am

Photo of Chris HayesChris Hayes (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

(  'Our vision is an Australia with a hopeful and vibrant sense of nationhood; one that owns and celebrates its cosmopolitan nature. Necessary to that nationhood is the ability to grasp the most difficult contentions and tensions with honesty, genuine listening and mutual respect.' That's an extract from the Australian National Imams Council. It was in their submission to the Religious Discrimination Bill, which is currently in exposure draft form. I decided to use that extract because I believe it succinctly puts into perspective the need for action to be taken to protect the social harmony of our diverse communities, with this being so crucial to the continuation not only of our multiculturalism but of Australian democracy itself.

I have the honour of representing one of the most multicultural communities in this country, made up of a diverse range of people that have come from various parts of the world, bringing with them their culture and their religious backgrounds. I have personally seen the benefits that come from multicultural communities and, to that end, multiculturally diverse nations such as the one we live in, Australia. We are a bigger, better and bolder nation because of the contribution of those who have come across the seas to make this country their home.

All Australians should be able to go about their lives free from discrimination, religious vilification and hate-motivated violence. Unfortunately, in recent times, many Australians haven't had the ability to enjoy those freedoms following events such as the Islamophobic attack at the mosque in Christchurch and the anti-Semitic attack on Jewish worshippers in a synagogue in Germany. These things have really become a point of contention in many areas of the community. It is these hate-filled crimes which have motivated white supremacist ideology on our shores, including the repeated attacks on the Holland Park mosque in Brisbane—and I thank the member for Moreton for bringing this motion to our attention. Only last week, an incident was reported of a man carrying a machete walking towards a congregation of worshippers at that very mosque. Luckily in that instance, neighbours of the mosque brought to the group's attention what this fellow was up to, and as a consequence he departed. Nevertheless, that would have left people pretty shaken—to think that someone was trying to enter a mosque with a machete.

Research by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry last year found that there had been a 60 per cent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the preceding 12 months. Similarly, the Office of the eSafety Commissioner has noted that 53 per cent of youth in Australia have witnessed anti-Muslim content online. It's just reprehensible to think that this is occurring under our watch. In social policy terms, the impacts are grave, with research indicating that such behaviour creates an environment which cultivates discrimination and vilification, normalises negative attitudes and, moreover, is linked to extremism, such as that we witnessed in Christchurch.

To this extent, the Islamophobia Register has found that discrimination facing our community comes in the form of bullying at schools; personal attacks, including verbal insults; vandalising of buildings with graffiti; and targeting religious dress. What is more distressing, quite frankly, is that women are the main targets of personal attacks based on religion and that almost half of all personal attacks that have occurred on women have occurred in public and crowded places. That should be a concern to all of us. It is these statistics which reinforce our collective need to protect religious communities and minorities at risk of danger from incitement of hatred and violence. We must stand united and stand against hatred. Hatred stands in stark contrast to the values we all subscribe to.

For those who mask freedom of speech as a form of protecting against racism, let me say to members that freedom of speech does not and should not ever equate to the freedom to spread intolerance and division in our community. (Time expired)

11:34 am

Photo of Gladys LiuGladys Liu (Chisholm, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The motion asks the House to recognise that 'there is no legislative protection against vilification and incitement to hatred and/or violence based on a person's religion or religious belief'. That is, of course, incorrect. All Australian governments are responsible for protecting Australians from incitement to hatred or violence. At the Commonwealth level, we do this through the Criminal Code. Sections 80.2A and 80.2B make it an offence to urge the use of violence or force against religious groups or their members, punishable by up to seven years imprisonment. These penalties reflect that incitement to hatred and violence is a very serious criminal matter. Other jurisdictions also make incitement to hatred or violence against religious groups a criminal offence. New South Wales, Queensland, ACT and my home state of Victoria all have criminal offences relating to the incitement of violence against religious groups, but the maximum penalties in those jurisdictions are lower than the penalties that apply under the Commonwealth law.

I want to talk about protecting the ability of religious communities to live in accordance with their faith. A central plank in the government's efforts to protect Australia's religious communities is our Religious Discrimination Bill. That bill, for the first time, will introduce laws at the Commonwealth level that protect Australians from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs or activities. The bill will fill an obvious gap in Australia's human rights laws. It will protect Australians from religious discrimination in the same way they are protected from discrimination on the basis of age, sex, race or disability. For example, if it's passed, that bill would, for the first time, make it unlawful for a Jewish man in Victoria to be turned away by a taxi because of his faith, or a Muslim woman in New South Wales to be refused service at a shop because she is wearing a hijab.

The bill also protects the ability of religious communities to say what they believe. The bill simply says that Australians should not face a discrimination lawsuit just for saying what they believe. All Australians should be free to live in accordance with their faith, and to share that faith that others, without being subject to lawsuits because others find the faith offensive. Critically the bill also balances this protection by putting in place very clear safeguards which ensure that there are no protections for speech that is malicious or that harasses, vilifies or incites violence or hatred. This is a balanced, straightforward safeguard that protects all Australians.

The bill also contains protections for religious bodies. Very often it is our religious institutions that are the central pillars of Australian religious communities. For example, the synagogue might be the heart of a Jewish community, and an Islamic community might be built around a mosque. Our Religious Discrimination Bill protects those institutions by making clear that, for the purposes of the bill, they do not discriminate on the grounds of religious belief or activity by acting in accordance with their faith. So I can say that what the motion asks the House to recognise is definitely incorrect.

Photo of Sharon BirdSharon Bird (Cunningham, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next ceiling.