SHAFAQNA – Legal and ethnic affairs experts are calling on the Federal Government to investigate how to better protect Australia’s Muslim community from discrimination.
The calls come after a report examining the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act highlighted that Muslim Australians have “limited protection” under the Act.
The report, issued today by the Australian Human Rights Commission, echoes instances uncovered by the Islamophobia Register.
For the past year founder Mariam Veiszadeh has been documenting instances of anti-Muslim discrimination and vilification.
“Mothers with prams out in the street have been verbally abused and on one occasion earlier in the year we heard about a mother in a situation where her pram was actually kicked by a man who was hurling anti-Islamic abuse at her whilst doing so,” she said.
The commission’s report has found that Muslim Australians are facing persistent abuse and discrimination and that it has escalated since last year’s Sydney siege.
“As to whether it’s a daily occurrence, it’s hard to tell because we do have still a very much major issue with underreporting.
“So I suspect what we’re seeing is very much just a snapshot because of the underreporting issue.”
The report also highlights that Muslim Australians have limited protection because the Act covers race rather than “religious identity”.
For Jewish Australians it is a different story.
“The argument has been made historically that Jewish people share a common ethnic origin and therefore meet the criteria; that they can trace their roots back to a particular people,” University of Technology Sydney sociology professor Andrew Jakubowicz said.
“Muslims on the other hand are made up of many, many different races and so Islam is essentially a religion.”
Jewish Australians have won legal test cases giving them the right to be recognised here as both a race and religion, and are thus protected under the Racial Discrimination Act.
Calls for national multicultural act
The Australian Islamophobia Register’s Mariam Veiszadeh said she had considered mounting her own case.
“I’ve actually personally been close to that situation,” she said.
“I was involved earlier in the year I suppose in taking action against someone who both racially and religiously vilified me, but to be honest, we just couldn’t get litigation, financial backing to be able to pursue that further.
“The point is that do we wait around for a test case? That could take years.
“In the meantime Australian Muslims are facing Islamophobia and Australian Muslim women in particular are bearing the brunt of it.
“So you really do have to question what needs to happen in order for legislative protections to be afforded to minority groups, including Australian Muslims, who unfortunately right now are weathering the storm.”
She said amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act should be considered, but Professor Andrew Jakubowicz disagrees.
“My view is that that’s perhaps hitting it from the wrong direction,” he said.
“My view would be that what we need is an Australian multicultural act. All the states have them in various forms.
“What we need is a multicultural act which basically gives people protection for the carrying out of cultural practices which are not otherwise in breach of the law.”
Professor Simon Rice, the director of law reform and social justice at the ANU, said that changing the Racial Discrimination Act alone would not make a difference.
“Reliance on law alone is very limited. The law has to be given effect to by lawyers and courts and tribunals who understand it and pursue its spirit.
“It has to be backed up by mechanisms like the Human Rights Commission, which would have to be properly funded to promote and investigate those sort of complaints.
“It would have to be supported by an extensive education and awareness campaign, and in my view most importantly it has to be supported by leadership, by a public commitment from our leaders and commentators to address a wrong like this.
“A law is sterile unless it’s actually widely publicly supported.”