Australia: ‘We’re being used as tools’: Multicultural groups reject support for religious discrimination bill

Of note:

Some multicultural groups have vehemently rejected any support for the religious discrimination bill as debate continues in parliament in the first sitting week of the year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison used multiculturalism in an argument to sway MPs to vote in favour of the bill during Question Time on Tuesday.

“If those in this chamber want to speak about multiculturalism and how great a multicultural society it is, then they must acknowledge the role of faith and culture in this country,” Mr Morrison said.

But Nyadol Nyuon, director of Sir Zelman Cowen Centre and chair of Harmony Alliance, said it was “insulting” to use multicultural communities to aid the bill’s progress.

“Multicultural communities did not ask for this bill,” she told SBS News.

She said those who did campaign for the bill were people from “mainstream religions and mainstream politicians, insisting that this is a big problem that needs to be resolved through the institution of the law”.

“Let’s put the blame where it belongs, instead of shifting it and making multicultural communities look like we are would rather see other Australians suffer to protect our sensibilities.”

The religious discrimination bill has stoked great divisions within parliament, including within the Coalition as Liberal MP Bridget Archer refused to vote in favour of the proposed law.

The bill seeks to enshrine stronger protections to make statements of belief made on religious grounds, as well as giving employers of religious-based institutions the right to preference hiring people of their own faith.

But while Mr Morrison has ultimately won the backing of his party, his comments in parliament have angered those who represent multicultural communities, such as Ms Nyadol.

“[Mr Morrison] is trying to create this false choice by conflating multiculturalism with almost, to some degree, religious bigotry, and I think that’s incorrect. You can support multiculturalism and support equal rights for all citizens,” she said.

“We’re being used as tools in these political debates.”

Mohammad Al-Khafaji, who is the president of Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA), described Mr Morrison’s parallels as “simplistic”.

“The view that all cultural communities have religion or faith, that’s a simple way of looking at multiculturalism and we’re a very complex nation,” he told SBS News.

Mr Al-Khafaji explained the priority for people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD) is that “they want to make sure everybody is protected”.

He agreed with Ms Nyadol, saying the religious discrimination bill disenfranchises those from CALD backgrounds rather than empowers them.

“[The bill] allows … more dominant, religious groups, who are more established here in Australia to vilify others who are new and emerging in Australia,” he said.

Mr Al-Khafaji has questioned the bill’s practical benefits, as he witnesses the divisions the debate has stoked between people of faith and multicultural communities.

“What we have at the moment is a bit of a class warfare between and it’s driving a wedge between communities. I guess my question is: what is the problem that we’re trying to resolve?”

The Australian GBLTIQ Multicultural Association (AGMC) said it’s “disappointed” the bill will likely be passed.

The organisation stands firm in its view the bill is divisive, particularly for people from CALD backgrounds who are LGBTIQ+.

“Every day LGBTIQ+ people of faith need to make difficult choices between their LGBTIQ+ identities and their religious and cultural communities,” AGMC president Giancarlo de Vera said.

“We have a right to live as full human beings, who are proud of our faith traditions as well as being queer.

“This bill forces [us] to make a choice we shouldn’t have to make.”

Ms Nyuon and Mr Al-Khafaji both agreed that Australia’s multicultural societies are diverse, and must include those from faith backgrounds who do support the bill.

Some include the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN), the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and the Australian Bahá’í Community.

In their submissions supporting the bill, they cited the necessity to practice their religious values freely without fear of religious discrimination after facing vilification for their beliefs in the past.

The Australian Bahá’í Community said its support for the bill “draws on our practical experience helping to defend the members of the Bahá’í Faith in Iran and elsewhere whose rights to freedom of religion or belief and practise of their beliefs have been violated”.
Meanwhile, Islamic-based organisations such as AMAN want the bill amended to include a vilification clause – not adequately covered under anti-discrimination laws – to counter high rates of Islamophobic abuse targeted towards Muslims in Australia.
“People of faith must not vilify others … and this protection must extend both ways … federal vilification protection will protect all Australians based on religious belief and activity nationwide,” it says.

Source: ‘We’re being used as tools’: Multicultural groups reject support for religious discrimination bill

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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