At Eid Down Under recently I had some halal lamb and cevapi and they tasted exactly like Australia. Despite being raised a Catholic in country Queensland I felt right at home at a Muslim celebration on Brisbane’s southside. It wasn’t a tradition from my childhood or my culture or my religion, but it was still enjoyable – and the food was delicious!
Some politicians have mistakenly suggested that, in order to protect “our” culture and “our” way of life, the parliament should curtail the freedom of Australians to practise any religion that is not Christianity. As well as being offensive to around nine out of 20 Australians, such a restriction is contrary to our own Constitution.
Even though the white blokes who wrote our Constitution in the 1890s deliberately excluded Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, they did not dare bite into the sectarian divisions of the time. In fact, the “founding fathers” included in section 116 a protection that ensured that all Australians would be free to practise their religion of choice.
At Federation in 1901 there was a mix of Protestant, Catholic, other Christian religions and a few non-Christian faiths. Even though the mix of religions was predominantly Christian, it did not mean that an easy relationship existed between the different camps.
Australia’s history as a penal colony left a strong mark on our community. From 1788 exiled Irish Catholic political prisoners were transported to the penal colony run by protestant British military troops. Even by 1901 there was still a marked antipathy between Catholics and Protestants. Nevertheless, those who drafted our nation’s birth certificate deemed it important to protect all people’s right to practise religion without interference.
Consequently Australians are fortunate enough to enjoy religious freedoms in this country that are only dreamt of in many other parts of the world. Since Federation we have fought to protect that freedom; in fact, precious lives have been lost protecting our religious freedom.
I know that the vast majority of Australians are accepting, sensible people. Most people would not bat an eyelid if a person wearing a burqa or niqab passed them in the street any more than if a Catholic nun walked by. And that is how it should be. But there will always be people who, just like the Irish Catholic convicts and British Protestant military, will view some religions via their own faulty prism.
The liberties that our Diggers fought to protect and that the Constitution’s authors envisaged ensures that all Australians are now all free to practise religion without fear of recrimination. We are all free to pray (or not pray) without fear of being bullied.
The division and hate cards are periodically played in Australian politics. Most sensible people quickly tire of these attempts at bullying. Unfortunately, recent dog whistling has now produced a climate wherein a senator elect can call for Big Brother to monitor the prayers of Australians.
Whether the person of faith is Hindu, Sikh, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim, it is our responsibility to ensure that no Australian is bullied because of his or her religious beliefs. I would hate for any school child to be too afraid to show their faith for fear of being targeted by bullies. That would be un-Australian.
I feel incredibly privileged to serve this nation in the Parliament of the Commonwealth. However, I also know that with this privilege comes great responsibility. This nation very rarely alters constitutional duties. Only eight out of 44 referendum questions have received the people’s support. Until such a vote is successfully obtained, I hope that all members of the forty-fifth Parliament remember that their current responsibility is to support religious freedom. I hope this freedom lives on long after all those recently elected representatives have left and gone back whence they came.