The government’s religious discrimination law could impose “a heavy burden” on already marginalized Muslim communities, as it allows discrimination on grounds of national security, Islamic organizations have said.
Scott Morrison said the bill should “give Australians of faith confidence – confidence to be themselves and confidence in the country to which they belong”.
But three organizations have raised concerns over a section of the bill that says it is not illegal “for a person to discriminate against another on the basis of religious belief or religious activity. the other person ”for reasons of national security.
The exemption applies if the discriminator “performs a function or exercise of a power related to law enforcement, national security or intelligence under a law or program of the Commonwealth”.
The bill says that “the conduct constituting discrimination” must be “reasonably necessary for the exercise of the office or power”.
The Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (Aman) said the proposal “places a heavy burden on Muslim communities who are already marginalized and feel very vulnerable”.
“There is absolutely no legal justification for authorities to discriminate against communities or people on the basis of their faith,” the network said in a submission to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Human Rights.
“Their job is to assess and prevent the risk of violence. “
The government argued that the bill is necessary to prohibit direct and indirect discrimination based on religious belief or activity at work and in other areas of public life.
Aman argued that other parts of the bill offered “a much needed guarantee” against discrimination, but the exception clause “sends a dangerous signal to law enforcement that religious discrimination against Muslims will continue to exist. ‘be necessary “.
He cited an investigation by the Australian Human Rights Commission which found the most common situations in which Australian Muslims reported experiencing unfavorable treatment, especially when dealing with law enforcement. This was named by half of all respondents.
Aman said Australia’s definition of terrorism includes a ground of religious, political or ideological causes. According to the submission, the idea of a religious cause of terrorism “propagates the lie that Islamic religiosity leads to terrorism” and has also “legitimized Isil’s movements”.
Authorities and media described the activities of the Islamic State and other overseas terrorist groups as religiously motivated, the communication said, “even though their actions would be sufficiently and more adequately covered by a cause. ‘ideological’ or ‘political’ “.
“This communication notes that the authorities do not refer to white supremacists as ‘motivated by patriotism’ or ‘patriotic cause’ even though that is how they may refer to themselves,” Aman said.
The Islamic Council in Victoria also called for the removal of the exemption, saying it “would allow law enforcement and security agencies to allow prejudices, stereotypes and unfair procedures to rule their functions and powers “.
“Muslims have long been subjected to racial profiling and targeting under the guise of national security,” the council said in its brief.
“The introduction of [this section] will only make it clear that the Commonwealth Government believes that religion is a legitimate basis for discriminating against individuals and religious groups.
The Australian National Imams Council told the committee that the exception appeared to be “unduly broad in the protection it offers”.
“If such a provision has the effect of granting a broad exemption from law enforcement, national security and intelligence functions, it risks alienating Muslims and creating a sense of mistrust given the experiences of ‘misuse of coercive and investigative powers,’ the council said.
The bill states that the definition of national security includes the process of granting, revoking or denying Australian government security clearances.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Michaelia Cash said the exception was “not directed at any particular religion.”
It was “necessary to ensure that nothing in the bill interferes with the ability of law enforcement, national security and intelligence agencies, or to exercise associated powers, to continue to protect Australia’s national security ”.
“The exception recognizes that, in certain circumstances, a person’s religious belief or activity may relate to law enforcement, national security or intelligence,” the spokesperson said.
“For example, criminal or terrorist acts may be motivated by certain religious beliefs, and these beliefs would therefore be relevant for a police investigation. “
Cash spokesman said the exception was “subject to limitations which ensure that the exception is a reasonable limitation on equality and non-discrimination rights.”
When the Prime Minister introduced the bill to Parliament at the end of November, he said: “To refuse protection against discrimination for their religious beliefs is to tear apart the very fabric of multiculturalism in this country.
But the government was unable to pass the bill until parliament rose for summer recess amid unresolved internal divisions, not least due to pressure from moderate Liberal MPs to protect homosexual students from discrimination in religious schools.
The Human Rights Committee is due to complete its report by February 4, shortly before Parliament is scheduled to resume. The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee is also investigating the bill within the same deadline.
Labor reserved its position until the end of the inquiries, with leader Anthony Albanese saying he supported freedom of religion but also said the changes should not come “at the expense of discrimination on the basis of characteristics of others “.