ANTI-DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT (RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE) BILL
Debate resumed from 15 September 2005.
The Hon. JON JENKINS
[2.44 p.m.]: Generally I have found the Hon. Peter Breen's arguments to be well thought out, well planned, well argued, and well delivered. This case is no different. However, while I agree with the intent of the bill, which is to protect the religious beliefs, rights and practices of others, the fact is that the bill could be used as a battering ram to squash debate on religious issues. In Victoria, where similar laws on religious vilification have been passed, it is now apparent that a meeting of a religious group has been observed and members of that faith have been prosecuted for discussing another faith. The complaint has been upheld and the implication is that the ability to discuss any religious aspect at all is at risk.
The Victorian case is salient. I have read the defence and the particulars of complaint from the Victorian Civil tribunal. To be brutally honest, it is quite frightening. Yes, there certainly was some religious fervour on the part of the defendant, but the fact that people can be prosecuted and convicted of religious vilification is very frightening. The right to free speech is one of the most fundamental rights of democracy. Of course, it also comes with a responsibility to utilise that right with some care.
A second case exemplifies the problems. I refer to Professor Andrew Fraser. Let me say at the outset that I disagree very strongly with Professor Fraser's most recent publications concerning the ethnic and racial composition of societies. However, Professor Fraser was banished from his university, publicly humiliated, and ostracised by what I will call politically correct people. I put on record my personal disgust at the gutless university that did nothing to protect his academic freedom to discuss and debate what are admittedly very controversial issues.
Professor Fraser subsequently applied to Deakin University to publish some articles in its law journal, which is a very prestigious publication. The university had originally decided to publish his now peer-reviewed articles in the journal. However, under the threat of legal action for vilification, the vice chancellor or the board of Deakin University directed the law school not to publish his most recent papers. Again I feel aggrieved on his behalf, even though I vehemently disagree with the principles of his thought and his papers. I think his right to free speech and, particularly coming from an academic background, the right to discuss and debate very controversial issues should be upheld.
The simple fact is that this type of legislation has already been used as a bludgeon to inhibit any debate on controversial issues, such as race. I see no alternative to their being used to inhibit any debate on religious matters. While the intent of this bill is good, there is absolutely no doubt that were this legislation to be passed it would be used to achieve the opposite result to the mover's intent. It will be used as a threat to completely quash debate on religious issues.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE
[2.48 p.m.]: The Christian Democratic Party is very concerned about this bill and opposes it. If it were passed—we hope it will not be—it would introduce into anti-discrimination legislation in this State the concept of religious tolerance. It deals with religious freedom and freedom of speech and therefore is a serious matter. It includes damages of up to $40,000 to be paid to the person making the complaint; penalties in the case of serious vilification of 50 penalty units for an individual or $1,100, or imprisonment for six months, or both; and in the case of a corporation a penalty of 100 penalty units or $11,000. I am sure this bill will not be treated light-heartedly because it is a very serious matter. In his second reading speech and on other occasions the Hon. Peter Breen has been very critical of the two Dans: Pastor Daniel Scot and Pastor Daniel Nalliah, who are involved in the notorious Victorian case brought against them by the Islamic Council of Victoria. In a paper presented to this Parliament by Charles Francis, AM, a highly respected Queens Counsel from Victoria, he referred to the decision by Judge Higgins and stated:
There were many indications in His Honour's judgment that he apparently did not follow certain key theological issues in the case, nor did he follow or understand much of the evidence.
An appeal has been lodged in the Supreme Court of Victoria and we await the result. He continued:
In the Notice of Appeal it is asserted there were 106 such errors. The Notice of Appeal also asserts there was "irredeemable bias" on the part of Judge Higgins. The transcript may lend support to these allegations.
I will not debate the Victorian court case, which is a background to this legislation, but if it were not for that case and subsequent legislation, the Hon. Peter Breen's bill may not have received so much opposition. The Victorian case has highlighted the serious implications of such a bill. I suggest that the Hon. Peter Breen may not fully understand the implications of his bill. I call it the good intentions bill. The mover has good intentions. But Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived from 1091 to 1153, said that hell is full of good intentions or desires. Similarly, Samuel Johnson said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even John Wesley said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Hon. Peter Breen may have good intentions but—
The Hon. Peter Breen:
But he is going to hell!
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
I have not said the Hon. Peter Breen is going to hell. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is serious because the operation of this bill could achieve the opposite result to that which the Hon. Peter Breen intends. The Victorian legislation and the court case have caused the exact opposite result in Victoria: no toleration and no harmony. Rather than providing harmony and co-operation, the legislation has created disruption, division, aggravation and even hatred between Christians and Muslims. I am sure the same would happen in New South Wales if this legislation were passed. Patrick Parkinson, Professor of Law at Sydney University, who is often quoted by the Hon. Peter Breen and others, said of this legislation:
In democracies there is a long tradition of people holding and expressing and passionately debating their views of what is true and right. To risk curbing truth telling which offends others is to risk our way of life.
The protection of truth telling is an important justification for the right of freedom of speech.
At issue, is the freedom to express views about truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil, which may offend others who have a different view on these matters. Religious vilification laws in practice, if not in theory, pose a grave danger to this freedom because of the collateral damage that can be caused by a legislative strategy to enforce tolerance.
That is what this legislation endeavours to do. Amir Butler, Executive Director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, supports my contention that the legislation in Victoria and this legislation would achieve the opposite result to that which is intended. He argues:
… that the Victorian legislation has "served only to undermine the very religious freedoms" it was supposed to protect. "If we believe our religion is the only way to heaven, then we must also affirm that all other paths lead to Hell … Yet this is exactly what this law serves to outlaw and curtail: the right of believers to passionately argue against or warn against the beliefs of another."
"The only way to fight offensive ideas is to confront them intellectually," he says. "Legislation cannot make bad ideas disappear." Butler fears that "if Moslems rush to the courts, some people get the impression we can't respond to the arguments and think there must be some truth in them". "Without the law, he says, the pastors would have been ignored. Instead, "they've become martyrs". And their Supreme Court appeal will bring even more publicity. In silencing two voices, it seems, the law has provoked an uproar.
If this legislation were passed in New South Wales the same would happen, with the first case brought against a Christian pastor who made a critical comment about the Koran, the Muslim religion or Mohammed. The Hon. Peter Breen does not understand that a section—it may be a small section—of the Muslim community who believe that the Koran is literally the word of God, and Mohammed is His prophet, will not accept any criticism, either minor or serious. Pastor Daniel Scot was well aware of that because when he became an expert in the Koran in Pakistan, because of requirements of universities, he made some critical remarks about the Koran and was charged with blasphemy. In Pakistan and other countries that follow the shariah law, the penalty for that blasphemy is death. Pastor Scot fled to Australia to enjoy the freedoms of our nation that we all respect. It is ironic that he has finished up before a court.
One could argue whether this bill will have an unintended impact and actually bring shariah law into Australia. If this bill were passed, we could not criticise the Koran or Mohammed because certain Muslims would complain, and the complaints would go through the machinery. The complaint made in Victoria cost the two pastors $1 million in legal fees for their defence. Now that it is in the Supreme Court of Victoria it is estimated to cost $2 million in legal fees. If Muslims or an Islamic council complained about us we would have to bear the cost of hiring lawyers to defend ourselves. Even if we were found innocent we would still incur the costs. It is a bad law and it should not be passed by this Parliament. I do not want shariah law imposed on Australia.
I congratulate Bob Carr, the former Premier of New South Wales, who was very critical of this legislation. No-one would regard him as being a member of the religious right, the Christian right or any right. Before 20,000 delegates at the Hillsong conference at Castle Hill he said what he said on 21 June 2005 in answer to a Dorothy Dix question in the Legislative Assembly:
These calls come from well-motivated people. However, there are great difficulties with legislating against religious vilification to enforce religious tolerance. Such laws can be highly counterproductive.
Let us look at this matter in an Australian context. There are religious vilification laws in Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania. I understand that after careful examination South Australia and Western Australia dropped similar plans to create religious vilification laws. The South Australian Government dropped the idea of religious vilification legislation, following the release of a discussion paper. The South Australian Attorney General said at the time:
"It is clear that most of the people intended to benefit from the new law not only do not want it but are ardently opposed to it. It is therefore not appropriate to proceed with legislation."
He said also:
"Vilification laws should not be extended because they are liable to misuse."
The former Premier continued:
The Victorian experience spells out how anti-religious vilification can be misused. Its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001 outlaws religious vilification. It has proved very questionable to say the least.
Former Premier Carr then cites the case of Mr Robin Fletcher, a convicted sex offender—I understand he is a convicted paedophile—who is serving a 10-year sentence in a Victorian gaol. He has objected to a Bible
study course run by the Salvation Army in the gaol and has lodged a complaint under this legislation, which is now proceeding in that State. If that does not prove the folly of this sort of legislation I do not know what will. The former Premier said that he could give other examples from the Victorian experience but did not refer to any other specific cases. He went on to say:
Religious vilification laws are difficult because just about anyone can have resort to them and because determining what is or is not a religious belief is difficult. It can be defined as just about anything. It is subjective. It is a personal question. As they are used in practice religious vilification laws can undermine the very freedom they seek to protect—freedom of thought, conscience and belief.
The former Premier summed up the situation clearly. He continued:
Pure religious vilification is another matter. Religion, or a lack of religion, can be a very difficult concept to define or identify.
He then referred to the change of attitude by Victorian church leaders. Anglican Archbishop Peter Watson said that the church did not look closely enough at the legislation when it was framed in 2001, and the leaders of other denominations agreed. The Victorian Government is now reviewing the legislation. The former Premier then said:
Religious vilification laws can easily be used to curb legitimate social comment and free speech.
He then gave an example involving the Church of Scientology—which is the kind of organisation that would take advantage of this sort of legislation. Former Premier Carr asked:
Do we really want these sorts of arguments heard before a government tribunal? Is it the role of State organisations to act as arbitrators in such matters? Do we want a believer suing an atheist for something he or she has said against religion? I do not think there is a need for these laws because our current laws already deter intimidation and harassment of ethno-religious minorities. Instead of legislation, why not look to the long and proud tradition in Australia of robust, democratic, free and informed debate?
The former Premier then quoted John Stuart Mill, who argued:
Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion … on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.
The former Premier concluded:
In my experience, Australians are not afraid to speak up and question received wisdom or patent foolishness. Leave these matters to the commonsense of the Australian people. Our society has strong, clear voices speaking of respect for diversity and tolerance.
I support the former Premier, who spoke in the Legislative Assembly about this matter. His statements would be important to Labor members, who have great respect for the former Premier—as do I and other members in this place. This is a serious issue.
As I said, Robin Fletcher has brought a case in Victoria under the legislation, and others will take advantage of it in due course. The bill has many negative aspects and implications and I urge honourable members to oppose it. We do not need this legislation in New South Wales, as the former Premier pointed out. There has been much controversy in Victoria about the case of the two Dannys, who I believe were most sincere in their comments and actions. They refused to accept the sentence imposed by Justice Higgins, who ordered them to publish an advertisement in a number of leading Victorian newspapers that would have cost about $70,000. I understand that the statement was produced through lawyers for the Islamic Council of Victoria. If the pastors had signed the statement it would have been tantamount to admitting that they did not speak in good faith. The document was designed to destroy their credibility.
Judge Higgins also banned the pastors from speaking about the Koran
and the Islamic religion in Victoria and throughout the whole of Australia. I do not know how a Victorian judge can control what people say in Sydney or Brisbane, but that was the court order. That is a clear case of censorship and prevents discussion of what is in the Koran
. Honourable members may not be aware that the Koran
contains the statement that any person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God is a corrupt or perverted unbeliever. That statement is repeated more than once in the Koran
. One could argue that, if this bill were passed, a Christian could take the Koran
before a tribunal in New South Wales. I find that statement offensive but it is being taught and repeated by Muslims, who believe the Koran
was literally written by their God, Allah.
The Hon. Peter Breen:
You are quoting selectively from the Koran
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
The statement is repeated several times. I have talked to Muslims, who have confirmed that that is true: they do not believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Koran
also states that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross but that another person was substituted for him. So the Koran
denies the basic doctrines of the Christian faith: it denies the deity of Christ and his crucifixion and death upon the cross. Central to the Christian Gospel is the belief that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world and that, through his shed blood, our sins are washed away. If he did not die on the cross there is no Gospel and there is no truth in the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church or any other church. They are very serious matters that I believe should be discussed freely. People criticise the Bible
every day. They make fun of Jesus Christ, blaspheme and mock.
The Hon. Peter Breen:
They don't vilify.
Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE:
I am not suggesting that we should encourage any vilification of Mohammed or the Koran
. But I believe there should be factual discussions about the teachings in the Koran
and their application by a small minority who want to apply them literally. The Wahabist group in Saudi Arabia takes the Koran
literally and we know that a small but significant group in Australia also adheres to those beliefs. That is the main group that the Australian authorities are investigating in relation to future possible terrorist attacks. They are a small minority and do not represent the views of the majority of Muslims. We reject this bill completely and call on honourable members to vote against it.
Ms LEE RHIANNON
[3.08 p.m.]: The bill is of particular interest to me because I have a bill in progress to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act, although it is quite different in intent. I commend the Hon. Peter Breen for introducing the bill, which is worthy of support. The bill would provide for an offence of religious vilification, which is important to the Greens. The principle of religious freedom is important. We might not share each other's religious views—obviously we do not in this House—but tolerance and respect are vital. It is important to note that the bill applies to vilification on the basis of an absence of religious belief. Both believers and non-believers are entitled to their views, and to respect and tolerance. This has been an important long-term issue for me. I object to the prayer that the House recites each sitting day—as an atheist it excludes me. We ought to replace it with a more inclusive statement. I was disappointed when the House did not support my very reasonable motion to embrace the system used in the Australian Capital Territory Parliament.
In recent years we have seen a disgraceful increase in attacks based on religious motivation. Attacks on mosques and synagogues, and tales of Muslim women being abused in the street reflect poorly on our society. Such behaviour is anathema to the society the Greens want. Currently the Anti-Discrimination Act is inadequate to deal with many of these incidents. As the Hon. Peter Breen stated, when the Hon. David Oldfield put his Muslim hate site on the Internet the Act provided no recourse. This is simply not good enough. With ongoing global tensions fuelled by terrorism and the war in Iraq it is likely, sadly, that there will be more religious-based vilification in New South Wales. That is one of the many reasons we need the bill.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES
[3.11 p.m.]: The stated object of the bill is to make amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to promote religious tolerance. As honourable members would be aware, we have received an enormous volume of petitions and mail on this issue. There is no doubt that immutable changes were brought into this continent upon European settlement in 1788. European settlement signalled the genesis of a phenomenon—migration—that has transformed the economic, social, cultural, religious and ideological landscape of this great southland. Even those who are the traditional owners of this land and those who came to the north of Australia from Indonesia and other islands came as migrants. Our Australian history is coloured by the influx of people from different nations. In the mid 1800s a large number of Chinese and people of other European origins came to Australia in the hope that they would strike it rich through gold. In the post-war era and the Second World War era migrants came primarily from the United Kingdom, the southern areas of Europe and Eastern Europe. Eventually they came from Northern Europe and the great countries of the Mediterranean such as Italy, Greece and Yugoslavia.
The 2001 census revealed that 22 per cent, or one in five, of all Australian residents were born in one of four countries—the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Italy and Vietnam. A further 26 per cent of people born in Australia had at least one overseas-born parent, making them second-generation Australians. Migrants from around 200 countries have added to, and enriched, this country. We are truly a nation of diverse cultures. We are a polyglot community and we are a multiracial community. One leading aspect of a multicultural society is that the traditions and beliefs held, and customs practised overseas, by individuals within such a society may become more diverse. Christianity was the typical religion among European settlers. The 2001 census showed that close to 70 per cent of Australians adhere to, or affiliate with, Christianity. But it is also clear that affiliates of other religions have increased, primarily due to recent migration. Although the common religious affiliation of immigrants is Christianity, affiliates of other religions are more highly represented among recent immigrants than the total population.
Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and adherents to Judaism constitute approximately 1.9 per cent, 0.5 per cent 1.5 per cent and 0.4 per cent of the Australian population respectively. It is interesting to note that 15 per cent of the Australian population describe themselves as having no religion. One significant aspect of multiculturalism is the recognition that although one is free to hold and practice a religion there must be an accompanying commitment to respect other religions. The Department of Immigration said, "The Government's multicultural policies operated to ensure an environment where freedom of religion is observed and community harmony is maintained." In this post September 11 society atrocities committed in the name of religion have become ever more salient in the public eye, a much-needed sense to cultivate intercultural, interracial and interreligious harmony, especially in a nation as diverse as ours, has emerged. In some ways we are living in the shadow of what occurred in the United States of America on September 11—we have not fully recovered.
Collective morale has been eroded and our perceived sense of security has been threatened. Western civilisation, as we know it, has changed dramatically with the events that occurred in New York, Madrid, Moscow, Bali and London in the past few years. The message of fear and mistrust that has permeated many aspects of our lives has led some in our community to wonder whether we are still safe in the presence of other Australians, Australians who have very different beliefs and views to our own. There is the collective apprehension about negotiating life amidst other cultures and followers of minority religions. Calls for the need to be tolerant of other religions in this not-so-safe climate have surfaced. Fear and mistrust have the capacity to engender violence. On an international level, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has called for interreligious dialogue and education. In the United Kingdom the House of Lords debated the Racial and Religious Hate Bill at the behest of the United Kingdom Muslim contingency, even though the bill had been thrown out as unworkable prior to the most recent elections in the United Kingdom.
Religious satirist and actor Mr Bean—in other words, Rowan Atkinson—commented at a briefing in the Jubilee Room in the Commons that the subject laws would lead to a chilling of the climate of free expression. We have witnessed debates in our Federal Parliament in Canberra, at some State levels and among the Australian community on how we should negotiate the theme of religious tolerance. For example, on 20 June 2005 debate ensued in the House of Representatives on racial and religious tolerance at the prompting of the Hon. Bruce Baird, the member for Cook. As a foundational aspect of this discussion honourable members may be interested to know that section 116 of the Australian Constitution states:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
Some say that this section implicitly endorses a right of freedom of religion, arguably weighing against any action to restrict freedom of religion in any capacity and at any level. Others say that the context and wording of the section pointed to the fact that it is merely a restraint on Commonwealth legislative power. However, it is clear that section 116 applies only to the Federal Government, leaving State parliaments clear scope to introduce legislation that establishes any religion, imposes any religious observance or, importantly, prohibits the free exercise of any religion.
Further, the interplay between church, religion and State is not defined in our State Constitution. This position has led Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria to pass legislation to enforce religious tolerance in the face of much public opposition and disapproval. It is interesting to note that both the Queensland and Victorian Council for Civil Liberties have very vocally opposed such legislation. They have respectively expressed that, although they do not in any way support religious vilification, they believe that the best armoury that society can give itself against authoritarian ideas is freedom of discussion and education, and that legislation is not the appropriate response to the problem of religious vilification.
I would have thought that the Hon. Peter Breen would have noted those various council objections. They can be found in the article "Racial and Religious Tolerance: A Response to the Discussion Paper", dated March 2001. The intended object of this bill is to enforce religious tolerance, but at the expense of freedom of speech and freedom to exercise religion. Professor of law at the University of Sydney, Patrick Parkinson, put the matter well when he said:
At the heart of the debate about these laws is religious freedom: not the freedom to be intolerant and certainly not the freedom to vilify—neither of these are expressions of religious freedom. Rather, at issue is the freedom to express views about truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil, which may offend others who have a different view on these matters.
The Western Australian Attorney General, the Hon. Jim McGinty, in declining earlier this year to adopt religious tolerance provisions similar to those that are before this House, stated:
The threats to freedom of speech about religious matters and to the established religious organisations in this state would have been greater than any solution provided to other problems.
I also note that the former Premier, the Hon. Bob Carr, who has been quoted at length by my colleague Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile, said that "religious vilification laws can easily be used to curb legitimate social comment and free speech". The argument of the suspension of religious freedom is a trite but important one. In saying this, I am also mindful of the argument that one must be conscious of the views that one may express at the risk of the expression of those views harming others. However, the central consideration that I urge honourable members to think about is that the whole objective of the Hon. Peter Breen's legislation is to promote religious tolerance. The thing that this legislation upholds as the ultimate aim is the very thing that has not been accomplished in jurisdictions where it has become law. Experience shows that such laws have promoted intolerance, rather than tolerance, divisiveness, rather than harmony, and tension, rather than peace. Certainly this is true in Victoria.
Wisdom dictates that bad law in one State, say, in Victoria, will not become a good law, say, in New South Wales, if it is proven to be bad law. We must learn from experience. Legislators must weigh the costs and benefits of any law they seek to implement. If, in other jurisdictions, the costs far outweigh any benefits, that is conclusive evidence that the potential law should not be realised. I have received more letters on this issue than on any others from constituents in New South Wales. A law is a bad law when it cannot in any way achieve the objectives that it sets out to achieve. A former prominent supporter of the law that is currently in place in Victoria, Amir Butler, who is the executive director of the Australian Public Affairs Committee, now states:
All these anti-vilification laws have achieved is to provide a legalistic weapon by which religious groups can silence their ideological opponents"
How can this bill be considered to promote religious tolerance when in fact it promotes State-sanctioned censure of religious groups? It has also bred distrust among religions. Many honourable members would be familiar with the seminal Victorian decision on religious vilification, Islamic Council of Victoria v Catch the Fire Ministries
. My colleague Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile spoke about this at some length and I will not traverse exactly the same material, nor speak about the two Christian pastors, Danny Nalliah and Danny Scot, whom I have met and with whom I have had discussions. Pastor Scot is a Pakistani who faced a death sentence in Muslim Pakistan for simply being a Christian. He was not only familiar with Muslim countries but had studied the Qur'an extensively in its original languages. Pastor Nalliah also travelled through many Muslim countries and is of Sri Lankan origin. Honourable members may note that the reason the case came before Victorian courts was that a female Muslim convert was encouraged to attend a conference by May Helou, who at that time was employed by the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission. Ms Helou was also involved with the Islamic Council of Victoria as its women's education officer.
The Muslim converts who attended parts of the seminar by the two pastors did so incognito and later lodged a complaint, claiming that it incited hatred against Muslims in Australia. The Islamic Council of Australia became involved in the case. A conciliation session was held by the Equal Opportunity Commission but was unsuccessful, and the case eventually went to a hearing at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal. The judgment that was delivered by Judge Higgins is very long and complex and cannot be examined at length, nor in detail. But the errors made in it, as indicated by my colleague Reverend the Hon. Fred Nile in his speech, are salient, to say the least. In summary, the judge found the defendants guilty of vilifying people of the Muslim faith under the racial and religious tolerance law. That case has dragged on now for almost three years. It has cost the defendants more than $1 million. My understanding is that those who raised the case against them have had their court costs paid for by the Victorian Government.
On Friday 19 August 2005 the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria granted the defendants leave to appeal against the decision of Judge Higgins. What were the statements that were made by the pastors that vilified Muslims under the Victorian law? They were simply statements from the Qur'an and other texts referred to by Muslims, such as the Hadith. The crime of which they were found guilty was simply reading verses from the Qur'an to 300 Christians in a church setting. Strangely enough, Pastor Nalliah said:
... during the case when we wanted to simply quote a verse from the Koran in response to questions put to them by the Islamic Council's legal team, we were stopped [by the Islamic Council's legal team] on the grounds that [even quoting] the Koran [would] vilify Muslims...
The Hon. Peter Breen:
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES:
That is not rubbish. It is true. It is in the evidence. I have read it. Mr Breen, you are wrong and you should acknowledge you are wrong. Go back to stage one. Do not pass go.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe):
Order! I ask Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes to address his comments through the Chair.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES:
I would be pleased to, Madam Deputy-President.
The DEPUTY-PRESIDENT (The Hon. Patricia Forsythe):
Order! I ask all members to refrain from interjecting.
Reverend the Hon. Dr GORDON MOYES:
Judge Higgins made many findings of fact. On the basis of those findings, he ruled out that Pastor Scot was not a credible witness. In the view of many close observers of the case, the findings of fact were entirely wrong and unfounded, and will be tested on appeal. To give just one example, His Honour reported Scot as stating that "Muslims are demons". Such a statement, if it were true, would paint a very poor picture of Scot's credibility, but Dr Mark Durie, who holds a PhD in linguistics at the Australian National University has stated:
In reality Scot had reported that according to the Qur'an … a group of demons—in Arabic it's called a "jinn" became Muslim... In fact, Scot said nothing of the sort. If His Honour had not been silent about the fact that Scot was speaking about the Qur'an, public vilification [of Scot] might have been avoided.
Another finding of fact was that Muslims intend to take over Australia and declare it as an Islamic nation. Whether or not this is true is a matter for debate, although I have seen in Muslim publications maps of Australia and Indonesia joined with the words "Islamic nation" printed right across them. Marion Maddox has insinuated that Christians are desirous of the same thing. In her article entitled "God visits the house of the people" in the Australian
, she refers to links held by a Christian speaker who spoke at the Great Hall of Parliament in Canberra, that apparently indicate Christians must take over the world through its governments. Most people would see these types of statements as part of public opinion, not as provoking vilification of any kind.
Like Professor Patrick Parkinson, I believe that although legislation defines legality and illegality, legitimacy is something that is completely different. It is the legitimacy of law and not its constitutional legality that matters most for stable and harmonious societies. Like Professor Patrick Parkinson of the University of Sydney's school of law, I believe that although legislation defines legality and illegality, what we need is legitimacy of law, and not its constitutional legality, and that is what matters most. One of the main problems with this type of legislation is that it is statutorily a construction that is purely subjective. What is meant by the phrases "inciting hatred towards", "serious contempt for" or "severe ridicule of" is subject to very wide interpretation. That makes for bad legislation.
Consequently, Victoria has seen a spate of spurious claims. One convicted pagan sex offender, Robin Fletcher, took cause with the Salvation Army because a course it offered to Christians made negative statements about witchcraft. In another case, a secretive international society linked to the occult, is using Victoria's laws to sue a Christian anti-child abuse activist, Dr Reina Michaelson, over Internet claims that the society is a paedophile cult. Dr Michaelson won the Young Australian of the Year Award in 1997 for founding the Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program. Clearly those scenarios are a misuse of the court's time.
In my opinion we must be tolerant of other religions and engender interfaith harmony, but legislation is not the way to do it. Legislation enforces the rightness of particular beliefs and creates divisiveness instead of promoting tolerance, accommodation and acceptance. Education is the answer. Critical examination and assessment of belief systems in general are crucial in an authentic democracy, and cannot simply be done away with by the State. Good and erroneous thoughts should be allowed to circulate. As a parting comment: some have asked whether political vilification, which would certainly encourage acts of violence, will be the next target of the anti-vilification lobby. What would that mean for question time in this House? I believe that the Hon. Peter Breen is sincere, but his approach in this bill is sincerely wrong.
Debate adjourned on motion by Reverend the Hon. Dr Gordon Moyes.