In the Crikey daily alert for 11 March 2008, ANU researcher Shakira Hussein suggests that my old buddy Dicky Kerbaj from The Australian may have been engaging in some poetic (or should that be journalistic?) license in relation to comments made by Minister for Multicultural Affairs (and Federal Member for Reid, perhaps the most multicultural federal electorate in the country) Laurie Ferguson.
I'd have to say I never suspected Dicky would be putting words and policies into Laurie's mouth. Further, Dicky's report (that any future Muslim Reference Group advising the Federal Government would focus less on male middle aged migrant religious leaders) was certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the coposition of John Howard's Reference Group.
Yet Ms Hussein actually appears to have spoken to Mr Ferguson on the issue.
This morning, the paper [as in The Australian] reports that the federal government is considering appointments to a new Muslim advisory board. The Muslim Community Reference Group established under the previous government was dominated by conservative religious leaders. It became a lightning rod for internal Muslim community conflicts and recriminations, and was eventually discontinued. The Australian reported that Ferguson is determined that any new government appointed body should represent a wider cross-section of Muslims, and include secular as well as religious figures.I sure hope that this government spends more time listening to ordinary Aussie Muslims, many if not most of whom aren't terribly observant. I hope they abandon the previous government's approach of talking about and at Muslims instead of talking to them.
But The Oz may have exaggerated the government's intentions a little with the headline "Rudd's quest for true blue Muslims." In an interview with Crikey this morning, Ferguson hosed down talk of a re-established reference group, emphasising that any such plans were at a very early stage. While the government is "mindful of the need for dialogue" with Muslim communities, it was impossible to say what shape that dialogue might take.
© Irfan Yusuf 2008
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