Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party have stated in their official party website that “Islam has no place in Australia if we are to live in a cohesive society” and that Islam’s “religious aspect is fraud; it is rather a totalitarian political system, including legal, economic, social and military components, masquerading as a religion.” Pauline Hanson has thus called “for an inquiry or Royal Commission to determine if Islam is a religion or political ideology.”
As a starting point, it is important to note that Royal Commissions are purely bodies of inquiry and reporting and although have some of the appearances of a court, constitutionally, they are not courts and do not exercise judicial power (refer to the High Court statement in Victoria v ABCE & BLF (1982) 152 CLR 25 (Brennan J at 154)).
The fact of the matter is the seminal High Court already has already established a precedent for the meaning of ‘religion’ for taxation purposes in the 1983 case, The Church of the New Faith v Commissioner for Pay-roll Tax (Vic) (the Scientology case) and has outlined the following factors in what constitutes a religion:
- Belief in a supernatural Being, Thing or Principle;
- The acceptance of canons of conduct in order to give effect to that belief;
- Adherents are required or encouraged to observe particular standards or codes of conduct or to participate in specific practices having supernatural significance.
- Adherents constitute an identifiable group or identifiable groups.
- Adherents themselves see the collection of ideas and/or practices as constituting a religion.
It is clear Islam meets all of the above factors to be constituted as a religion based on the precedent set in the Scientology case. In light of this, Ms Hanson’s policy of forming a Royal Commission to determine whether or not Muslims/Islam is a religion would be an excessively costly and futile exercise, having no binding effects on the Commissioner of Taxation, Islam and its adherents (who make up a minority of 2.2% of the Australian population based on a 2011 census).
Further, the Australian Government’s official policy on multiculturalism, the National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia (1989) stated that one of the government’s objectives for its multicultural policy was “to promote equality before the law by systematically examining the implicit cultural assumptions of the law and the legal system to identify the manner in which they may unintentionally act to disadvantage certain groups of Australians.” Ms Hanson’s proposal for the Australian Government not to recognise the religion of Australia’s minority Muslim community as a religion clearly contravenes the Australian Governments National Agenda for a Multicultural Australia. Taking multiculturalism seriously means that every effort should be made to demonstrate respect for the beliefs, values and cultural practices of minority ethnic groups.
In reality, social cohesion within Australia will suffer as a result of Pauline Hanson’s discrimination against Australians who find solace in Islam as a religion as it directly contributes to the idea that the Australian Muslim and the Muslim community of which they are a part are somehow outside of society and its protections, and of less worth than members of the dominant religious group.