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Rev. Fred. NILE ED., L.Th, M.L.C., Parliamentary Leader – Christian Democratic Party

23rd September 2005

Nile Condemns Religious Vilification Bill

Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: The Christian Democratic Party is very concerned about this bill and opposes it. If it were passed—we hope it will not be—it would introduce into anti-discrimination legislation in this State the concept of religious tolerance. It deals with religious freedom and freedom of speech and therefore is a serious matter.

It includes damages of up to $40,000 to be paid to the person making the complaint; penalties in the case of serious vilification of 50 penalty units for an individual or $1,100, or imprisonment for six months, or both; and in the case of a corporation a penalty of 100 penalty units or $11,000. I am sure this bill will not be treated light-heartedly because it is a very serious matter. In his second reading speech and on other occasions the Hon. Peter Breen has been very critical of the two Dans: Pastor Daniel Scot and Pastor Daniel Nalliah, who are involved in the notorious Victorian case brought against them by the Islamic Council of Victoria. In a paper presented to this Parliament by Charles Francis, AM, a highly respected Queens Counsel from Victoria , he referred to the decision by Judge Higgins and stated:

There were many indications in His Honour’s judgment that he apparently did not follow certain key theological issues in the case, nor did he follow or understand much of the evidence.

An appeal has been lodged in the Supreme Court of Victoria and we await the result. He continued:

In the Notice of Appeal it is asserted there were 106 such errors. The Notice of Appeal also asserts there was “irredeemable bias” on the part of Judge Higgins. The transcript may lend support to these allegations.

I will not debate the Victorian court case, which is a background to this legislation, but if it were not for that case and subsequent legislation, the Hon. Peter Breen’s bill may not have received so much opposition. The Victorian case has highlighted the serious implications of such a bill. I suggest that the Hon. Peter Breen may not fully understand the implications of his bill. I call it the good intentions bill. The mover has good intentions. But Saint Bernard of Claireveaux, who lived from 1091 to 1153, said that hell is full of good intentions or desires. Similarly, Samuel Johnson said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Even John Wesley said the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The Hon. Peter Breen may have good intentions but—

The Hon. Peter Breen: But he is going to hell!

Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I have not said the Hon. Peter Breen is going to hell. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is serious because the operation of this bill could achieve the opposite result to that which the Hon. Peter Breen intends. The Victorian legislation and the court case have caused the exact opposite result in Victoria : no toleration and no harmony. Rather than providing harmony and co-operation, the legislation has created disruption, division, aggravation and even hatred between Christians and Muslims. I am sure the same would happen in New South Wales if this legislation were passed. Patrick Parkinson, Professor of Law at Sydney University , who is often quoted by the Hon. Peter Breen and others, said of this legislation:

In democracies there is a long tradition of people holding and expressing and passionately debating their views of what is true and right. To risk curbing truth telling which offends others is to risk our way of life.

The protection of truth telling is an important justification for the right of freedom of speech.

At issue, is the freedom to express views about truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and evil, which may offend others who have a different view on these matters. Religious vilification laws in practice, if not in theory, pose a grave danger to this freedom because of the collateral damage that can be caused by a legislative strategy to enforce tolerance.

That is what this legislation endeavours to do. Amir Butler, Executive Director of the Australian Muslim Public Affairs Committee, supports my contention that the legislation in Victoria and this legislation would achieve the opposite result to that which is intended. He argues:

… that the Victorian legislation has “served only to undermine the very religious freedoms” it was supposed to protect. “If we believe our religion is the only way to heaven, then we must also affirm that all other paths lead to Hell … Yet this is exactly what this law serves to outlaw and curtail: the right of believers to passionately argue against or warn against the beliefs of another.”

“The only way to fight offensive ideas is to confront them intellectually,” he says. “Legislation cannot make bad ideas disappear.” Butler fears that “if Moslems rush to the courts, some people get the impression we can’t respond to the arguments and think there must be some truth in them”. “Without the law, he says, the pastors would have been ignored. Instead, “they’ve become martyrs”. And their Supreme Court appeal will bring even more publicity. In silencing two voices, it seems, the law has provoked an uproar.

If this legislation were passed in New South Wales the same would happen, with the first case brought against a Christian pastor who made a critical comment about the Koran, the Muslim religion or Mohammed. The Hon. Peter Breen does not understand that a section—it may be a small section—of the Muslim community who believe that the Koran is literally the word of God, and Mohammed is His prophet, will not accept any criticism, either minor or serious. Pastor Daniel Scot was well aware of that because when he became an expert in the Koran in India , because of requirements of universities, he made some critical remarks about the Koran and was charged with blasphemy. In Pakistan and other countries that follow the Shariah law, the penalty for that blasphemy is death. Pastor Scot fled to Australia to enjoy the freedoms of our nation that we all respect. It is ironic that he has finished up before a court.!

One could argue whether this bill will have an unintended impact and actually bring Shariah law into Australia . If this bill were passed, we could not criticise the Koran or Mohammed because certain Muslims would complain, and the complaints would go through the machinery. The complaint made in Victoria cost the two pastors $1 million in legal fees for their defence. Now that it is in the Supreme Court of Victoria it is estimated to cost $2 million in legal fees. If Muslims or an Islamic council complained about us we would have to bear the cost of hiring lawyers to defend ourselves. Even if we were found innocent we would still incur the costs. It is a bad law and it should not be passed by this Parliament. I do not want Shariah law imposed on Australia .

I congratulate Bob Carr, the former Premier of New South Wales, who was very critical of this legislation. No-one would regard him as being a member of the religious right, the Christian right or any right. Before 20,000 delegates a the Hillsong conference at Castle Hill he said what he said on 21 June 2005 in answer to a Dorothy Dix question in the Legislative Assembly:

These calls come from well-motivated people. However, there are great difficulties with legislating against religious vilification to enforce religious tolerance. Such laws can be highly counterproductive.

Let us look at this matter in an Australian context. There are religious vilification laws in Victoria , Queensland and Tasmania . I understand that after careful examination South Australia and Western Australia dropped similar plans to create religious vilification laws. The South Australian Government dropped the idea of religious vilification legislation, following the release of a discussion paper. The South Australian Attorney General said at the time:

“It is clear that most of the people intended to benefit from the new law not only do not want it but are ardently opposed to it. It is therefore not appropriate to proceed with legislation.”

He said also: “Vilification laws should not be extended because they are liable to misuse.”

The former Premier continued:

The Victorian experience spells out how anti-religious vilification can be misused. Its Racial and Religious Tolerance Act of 2001 outlaws religious vilification. It has proved very questionable to say the least.

Former Premier Carr then cites the case of Mr Robin Fletcher, a convicted sex offender—I understand he is a convicted paedophile—who is serving a 10-year sentence in a Victorian gaol. He has objected to a Bible study course run by the Salvation Army in the gaol and has lodged a complaint under this legislation, which is now proceeding in that State. If that does not prove the folly of this sort of legislation I do not know what will. The former Premier said that he could give other examples from the Victorian experience but did not refer to any other specific cases. He went on to say:

Religious vilification laws are difficult because just about anyone can have resort to them and because determining what is or is not a religious belief is difficult. It can be defined as just about anything. It is subjective. It is a personal question. As they are used in practice religious vilification laws can undermine the very freedom they seek to protect—freedom of thought, conscience and belief.

The former Premier summed up the situation clearly. He continued:

Pure religious vilification is another matter. Religion, or a lack of religion, can be a very difficult concept to define or identify.

He then referred to the change of attitude by Victorian church leaders. Anglican Archbishop Peter Watson said that the church did not look closely enough at the legislation when it was framed in 2001, and the leaders of other denominations agreed. The Victorian Government is now reviewing the legislation. The former Premier then said:

Religious vilification laws can easily be used to curb legitimate social comment and free speech.

He then gave an example involving the Church of Scientology —which is the kind of organisation that would take advantage of this sort of legislation. Former Premier Carr asked:

Do we really want these sorts of arguments heard before a government tribunal? Is it the role of state organisations to act as arbitrators in such matters? Do we want a believer suing an atheist for something he or she has said against religion? I do not think there is a need for these laws because our current laws already deter intimidation and harassment of ethno-religious minorities. Instead of legislation, why not look to the long and proud tradition in Australia of robust, democratic, free and informed debate?

The former Premier then quoted John Stuart Mill, who argued for:

Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion … on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.

The former Premier concluded:

In my experience, Australians are not afraid to speak up and question received wisdom or patent foolishness. Leave these matters to the commonsense of the Australian people. Our society has strong, clear voices speaking of respect for diversity and tolerance.

I support the former Premier, who spoke in the Legislative Assembly about this matter. His statements would be important to Labor members, who have great respect for the former Premier—as do I and other members in this place. This is a serious issue.

As I said, Robin Fletcher has brought a case in Victoria under the legislation, and others will take advantage of it in due course. The bill has many negative aspects and implications and I urge honourable members to oppose it. We do not need this legislation in New South Wales , as the former Premier pointed out. There has been much controversy in Victoria about the case of the two Dannys, who I believe were most sincere in their comments and actions. They refused to accept the sentence imposed by Justice Higgins, who ordered them to publish an advertisement in a number of leading Victorian newspapers that would have cost about $70,000. I understand that the statement was produced through lawyers for the Islamic Council of Victoria. If the pastors had signed the statement it would have been tantamount to admitting that they did not speak in good faith. The document was designed to destroy their credibility.

Judge Higgins also banned the pastors from speaking about the Koran and the Islamic religion in Victoria and throughout the whole of Australia . I do not know how a Victorian judge can control what people say in Sydney or Brisbane, but that was the court order. That is a clear case of censorship and prevents discussion of what is in the Koran. Honourable members may not be aware that the Koran contains the statement that any person who believes Jesus Christ is the Son of God is a corrupt or perverted unbeliever. That statement is repeated more than once in the Koran. One could argue that, if this bill were passed, a Christian could take the Koran before a tribunal in New South Wales . I find that statement offensive but it is being taught and repeated by Muslims, who believe the Koran was literally written by their God, Allah.

The Hon. Peter Breen: You are quoting selectively from the Koran.

Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: The statement is repeated several times. I have talked to Muslims, who have confirmed that that is true: they do not believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The Koran also states that Jesus Christ did not die on the cross but that another person was substituted for him. So the Koran denies the basic doctrines of the Christian faith: it denies the deity of Christ and his crucifixion and death upon the cross. Central to the Christian Gospel is the belief that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world and that, through his shed blood, our sins are washed away. If he did not die on the cross there is no Gospel and there is no truth in the Catholic Church, the Anglican Church or any other church. They are very serious matters that I believe should be discussed freely. People criticise the Bible every day. They make fun of Jesus Christ, blaspheme and mock.

The Hon. Peter Breen: They don’t vilify.

Reverend the Hon. FRED NILE: I am not suggesting that we should encourage any vilification of Mohammed or the Koran. But I believe there should be factual discussions about the teachings in the Koran and their application by a small minority who want to apply them literally. The Wahabi group in Saudi Arabia takes the Koran literally and we know that a small but significant group in Australia also adheres to those beliefs. That is the main group that the Australian authorities are investigating in relation to future possible terrorist attacks. They are a small minority and do not represent the views of the majority of Muslims. We reject this bill completely and call on honourable members to vote against it.



For Media Interviews contact: Rev Fred Nile (02) 9230 2132 or 0418 619 731

Executive Assistant: David Copeland (02) 9230 2132