'Alarming emergence' of religious intolerance in Australia

Australian Attorney-General George Brandis falls for greater efforts against discrimination.
Australian Attorney-General George Brandis falls for greater efforts against discrimination. FILE PHOTO: AFP

SYDNEY (AFP) - Australia is experiencing an "alarming emergence" of religious intolerance, Attorney-General George Brandis said on Thursday (Nov 5), calling for greater efforts to counter discrimination, particularly against Muslims and Christians.

Brandis, who spoke at an inaugural Religious Freedom Roundtable, said he was fearful for religious freedom and tolerance in Australia.

"Members of the Islamic community are sometimes the victims of suspicion and hostility directed against them by those ignorantly seeking to blame terrorist violence upon Koranic teaching," Mr Brandis told the gathering of religious representatives in Sydney.

"Members of Christian faiths - in particular the Catholic faith - are routinely the subject of mockery and insult by prominent writers and commentators.

"It is the work of this roundtable to identify some of the challenges which this alarming emergence of intolerance of religious faith... presents," the nation's top law officer added as he called for the development of strategies to promote tolerance and understanding.

Brandis' comments came as a report reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act, and which surveyed Muslim Australians, found they experienced "daily or regular" discrimination due to their beliefs.

"Many participants in the public consultations observed a rise in anti-Muslim sentiments, reflecting increased public attention on terrorism and national security," said the report released on Thursday by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

"Many participants labelled anti-Muslim discrimination a daily or regular occurrence, particularly following the Sydney Lindt cafe siege in December 2014 and heightened concerns about national security."

The cafe stand-off, where Iranian-born gunman and self-styled cleric Man Haron Monis and two hostages were killed, took place amid growing fears about home-grown extremists and the movement of dozens of Australians to the Middle East to fight with jihadist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The report said the current racial discrimination laws might not protect Muslim Australians against ethno-religious or religious vilification.