Religious clothing, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Take Note of Answers

Like my colleagues, I would like to stand today to take note of some of the things that have occurred in the Senate chamber today and the responses to it. I don’t approve of Senator Hanson’s stunt. There have been a range of expressions of disquiet about that today. Predominantly, my concern is that it is targeting a form of dress. I don’t believe that we should be telling people what they wear, but on a security front we are reliant on good relations with all of our community, including the Muslim community, to provide information to our intelligence services. Having said that, there are three other points I would like to make.

One is about applying a common standard. We had great expressions of outrage here today about the fact that somebody wore what was seen as a religious form of dress in a manner that showed they clearly weren’t of that religion and we had comments about freedom of religion and how we need to respect all religions. Yet, in this chamber, we’ve had comments, particularly, I have to say, from the Greens, not that the particular member who makes the comments is here at the moment—one has left the chamber, but one is still here—who frequently vilifies people of the Christian faith and other faiths who don’t support his view around topics such as same-sex marriage. I don’t dispute the fact that he has a right to a view on that—anyone has a right to a view on it—but to vilify somebody because of their view and to link that to their faith is, I believe, quite inappropriate. I would welcome the same degree of outrage I saw today, here, when people, on whatever side, make comments that vilify any other group of faith in this nation. Likewise, when we see somebody wear a nun’s habit, for example, in something like the Mardi Gras—I’m not going to comment on whether the Mardi Gras should or shouldn’t occur—if you’re so outraged at what occurred here today, where is the equivalent outrage when another group or people of faith have their sense of dress, or something that is identified with their faith, mocked in a similar way? I just encourage a common standard.

The second point I would like to come to is international human rights law. The Attorney-General rightly mentioned the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I note that the Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, which looked at the intersection of human rights and religious freedom with the subject of same-sex marriage—that committee ran over Christmas and reported in February this year—noted that, unlike articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR, on discrimination and equality, Australia has not legislated to enact in Australian law at the Commonwealth or a state level article 18, which goes to freedom of religion.

That is one of the key concerns of various faith groups, but also of people who are not of a faith group but who have a conscientious objection to a change in the definition of ‘marriage’, because, under our law, there is no protection for them, which is contrary to article 18. The committee found, and this was a consensus view, that Australia is not under an obligation to make a change, and that’s by jurisprudence of the United Nations Human Rights Committee and also the European Court of Human Rights. Under international law, if you do not offend another human right then there is no legal basis to derogate a human right such as article 18. That is a significant issue which our nation needs to consider.

Lastly to the substantive point of the stunt that was pulled by Senator Hanson. We need to be careful in this country: just because we don’t like the political party or the nature of the person who is raising an issue, we shouldn’t disregard the substantive issue because we don’t like the person who is delivering the message. I draw the Senate chamber’s attention, for example, to the Kingdom of Morocco. It is a 99 per cent Muslim nation which has taken steps to ban the importation, production or sale of the burqa. They haven’t banned people from wearing it, but they’ve taken very strict measures because they see that this is a sign of creeping extremism within the Islamic faith, and they tie it particularly to the Wahhabi stream of teaching. So even Muslim nations—people like President el-Sisi; the President of Indonesia; and those of other nations—have identified that there are concerns with extremism and the emblems that go with it. We need to be careful that we don’t disregard the key issue that was raised because of who raised it.