In October 2005 AMCRAN held its first Racial Discrimination and Vilification Law Training Course for a group of community workers within the Muslim community. Read on for a report on what happened by participants Madona Kobayssi and Amal Awad.
Racial Discrimination and Vilification Law Training Course
By Madona Kobayssi and Amal Awad
On 10 September 2005, the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network (AMCRAN) held a Racial Discrimination and Vilification Law Seminar for members of the community, including those who work actively within the Muslim community. There were approximately 25 attendees including lawyers, law students, professionals, local council members, and youth workers from Muslim women’s organisations. The course started at 10 am and finished just after 4 pm.
Teena Balgi, a discrimination lawyer from Kingsford Legal Centre, clearly set out the criteria – at both Federal and State levels – needed to prove either racial discrimination or vilification towards Muslims under Australian law. Questions addressed included whether a Muslim may pray at work, if it is legal to ask a Muslim woman to remove her headscarf or what she may do if she is ridiculed for wearing it. Also considered was whether public figures may make derogatory comments regarding Muslims and Islam.
It was demonstrated that under the present racial discrimination and vilification laws, Muslims would find it very difficult to succeed if they lodged a complaint, as they are not recognised as a “race.” The legislation at Commonwealth and State levels do not specify religion; the term “ethno-religious” used in some legislation has not been tested sufficiently in order to determine whether Muslims may fall under that category. So far Sikhs and Jewish people are covered.
Guided by a packed schedule, attendees enjoyed a light lunch following Teena’s intensive coverage of the laws in the morning. After a sociable lunch break, attendees separated into groups in order to work through hypothetical problem situations. Thought-provoking and eye-opening, all attendees were satisfied with the seminar that increased their awareness of the current anti-discrimination laws, and other options that may be useful for Muslims (for example, employment laws for discrimination in the workplace and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission complaints scheme).
Jane Stratton, a policy officer from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, facilitated a very lively afternoon discussion amongst the participants about the advancement in religious vilification law in the state of New South Wales. This aspect was particularly of interest to the attendees as religious vilification laws are currently in place in Victoria but not in New South Wales.
The day was a great success. Not only did it provide the necessary legal education regarding discrimination and vilification, but it also provided an avenue for the attendees to express their concerns regarding the current political climate. The attendees’ participation was high with most posing questions and offering comments, as well as sharing ideas and experiences, and reform measures.