Rita Jabri Markwell, a solicitor with Birchgrove Legal appeared, recently appeared before the Australian Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee concerning the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021.
Appearing in support of the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN), Ms Jabri Markwell put forward an amendment to protect people of faith from vilification. She argued that following the Christchurch massacre, Parliament must do everything in its power to send a clear signal against religious vilification.
Ms Jabri Markwell and Birchgrove Legal firmly believe that Inciting hatred against people based on their religious beliefs or activity is not acceptable. While the Bill already required people of faith not to vilify others, an amendment would extend that protection both ways.
Ms Jabri Markwell also proposed an amendment that would explicitly allow complaints of religious vilification to be permitted under the Racial Discrimination Act where they provided they meet the section 18C test.
Finally, she argued for Parliament to remove a particularly harmful clause in the Bill (s37(2)) – a clause that allows law enforcement to directly discriminate on the grounds of religious belief or activity where it is ‘reasonably necessary for national security reasons. Ms Jabri Markwell made the case that the clause sent the ‘opposite signal’ to what is required, openly defying the Australian Government’s promise to enforce counter-terrorism laws in an ideology-neutral and non-discriminatory way.
Ms Jabri Markwell was questioned about other controversial elements of the Religious Discrimination Bill by the Australian Labor Party and Greens Senators. Ms Jabri Markwell, on behalf of Birchgrove Legal, affirmed that the legislation was urgently needed and that if Parliament had specific concerns, it should try to promptly address them legislatively. Substantial delays caused by going back to the drawing board were not an option in Australia where religious vilification is becoming more rampant by the day.
Remarkably in another inquiry shortly after, the Select Committee examining Social Media harms questioned Facebook (Meta) executives highlighting earlier testimony from the Birchgrove solicitor.
Ms Jabri Markwell detailed Facebook’s failure to take down vilifying accounts. Ms Jabri Markwell had appeared before that Inquiry in late December 2021 in support of the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network. She told them that following AMAN’s legal action, Mr Fraser Anning was found to break Queensland’s vilification laws 80 times on Facebook. Despite this, Facebook refused to take down his accounts. The Committee then asked Facebook whether it pro-actively applies Australian standards. Facebook’s response highlighted that companies would not honour Australian vilification standards without regulation.
As we head towards the third anniversary of the Christchurch terror attack, much-needed law reform will not happen without informed legal argument and evidence. Birchgrove Legal is proud to support these efforts.