Thursday, October 06, 2005

COMMENT: Government’s Hand-Picked Muslims Oppose Human Rights

Last night, I attended a meeting at the Sydney Town Hall. Speaking at the meeting were representatives from politics, business, media and community. The meeting was to launch a new Human Rights Bill to protect the human rights of all people in Australia.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser joined Greg Combet and Susan Ryan. People of all ethnic and religious backgrounds were present to pledge their support for the Bill which sought to overcome the rigours of proposed anti-terror laws.

The meeting was organised by the online magazine New Matilda. The meeting heard a moving speech by a young Australian Year 12 student who spent years in immigration detention. Her crime was to escape the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and seek asylum in Australia.

Nahid Karimi attends Holroyd High School. She is of Afghan origin and wears a piece of cloth on her head consistent with her Afghan ethno-religious customs. Nahid was preparing to break her fast as she spoke of watching 3 persons commit suicide before her eyes at the detention centre.

I have never seen such an enormous outpouring of compassion from decent Australians as I saw last night. Nahid is just one of many thousands of people who will need immediate protection from a Human Rights Bill.

Malcolm Fraser also spoke passionately about the need for the Bill. He gave listeners some indication of the draconian nature of the measures contained in existing and proposed anti-terror laws. He was followed by former departmental head and New Matilda Chair John Menadue, who confirmed that any such laws would compromise civil liberties in ways unimaginable.

The Human Rights Bill was drafted by a panel of prominent lawyers led by a respected legal academic from La Trobe University. Both lawyers and activists were at the heart of the drafting process.

Compare this to the hand-picked Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG) which consists of non-lawyers who are relying on one briefing from the Attorney-General and are backing laws whose provisions have not even been drafted.

The rhetoric of the MCRG is typical of what the government expects from this group. Following the Group’s meetings in Canberra, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Dr Ameer Ali expressed satisfaction with the safeguards contained in proposed legislation.

Dr Ali’s language must have re-assured the government enormously. His choice phrases included:

“We can now sell these laws to our community.”

“We put our trust in the government.”

“Discrimination is against the constitution. We are happy with the safeguards.”

Having acted as legal adviser for AFIC, the Islamic Council of NSW, three Islamic schools and 4 mosque managing societies, it seemed clear to me that Dr Ali had not obtained any legal advice before making his remarks.

It also seems clear that Dr Ali has not consulted with members of his community. His entire focus is on selling the new legislation to Muslim Australians. How he will do this remains to be seen.

In NSW, the state that has the greatest number of Muslims, AFIC appears unrepresented. Having created 2 dummy councils, it appears neither have AFIC’s stamp of approval. Dummy councils have also been created in other states.

AFIC’s website allows readers to download the latest edition of its newspaper, the Australian Muslim News. And when was this edition published? November 2002.

AFIC has never commissioned any study of Muslim Australians, their views and attitudes and their demographic and other trends.

In the last 20 years, AFIC has not had a single female executive member. Women make up over 51% of the Muslim Australian community.

The MCRG consists of representatives from various Muslim groups. The majority of the Group were born overseas and are aged over 40.

Yet the most recent community study (conducted by Professor Abdullah Saeed from the University of Melbourne and funded by the Department of Immigration) shows that the largest ethnic block of Muslim Australians were those born in Australia. Further, over 50% of Australia’s Muslims are aged under 40.

The government has therefore received a rubber stamp from a Group that is unrepresentative and not reflective of the reality of Muslim Australia. That Group has chosen to endorse legislative provisions which at this stage do not exist.

So who will protect the rights, interests and liberties of Muslim Australians? Will the Group have the ability to communicate the safeguards contained in laws which it has not yet seen? Will the Group and the Attorney General make public the briefing received before the Group endorsed the proposed package of legislative provisions?

Who knows? What we do know is that we have been told by the good folk at what their Human Rights Bill has to say. And as an Aussie Mossie, I think I have more faith in Susan Ryan, Malcolm Fraser and the Bill’s supporters than in the Reference Group.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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