'Muslims, Catholics targeted in Australia'

SYDNEY • Australia is experiencing an "alarming emergence" of religious intolerance, Attorney-General George Brandis said yesterday, calling for greater efforts to counter discrimination, particularly against Muslims and Christians.

Mr 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 Quranic teachings," 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," he added.

He put forward the "incessant, smearing ridicule" of former prime minister Tony Abbott's faith as an example of "bigotry at its most shameless", reported The Guardian.

"(It was) made worse, if possible, by the added hypocrisy of the fact that many of those who engaged in that sneering were the very same people who like to pose as the enemies of bigotry," Mr Brandis said.

His 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 yesterday 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 Man Haron Monis and two hostages were killed, took place amid growing fears about home-grown extremists and the movement of Australians to the Middle East to fight with extremist groups such as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2015, with the headline ''Muslims, Catholics targeted in Australia''. Print Edition | Subscribe