Anne Aly was the first female Muslim MP to be elected to federal parliament in 2016.

Labor’s Anne Aly did not support a plan to include “Islamic blasphemy laws”

FactCheck October 4, 2019

The Statement

AAP FactCheck examined a Facebook post from March 22, 2019 by an Australian user which features a screen shot of federal Labor MP Anne Aly, during an interview on Channel 10’s TV program The Project

A Facebook post from March 22, 2019, claims federal MP Anne Aly confirmed “Labor would support a plan to extend section 18C to include Islamic blasphemy laws”.

Text above the image reads, “Meet Labor MP ANNE ALY Confirmed that Labor would support a plan to extend section 18C to include Islamic blasphemy laws in order to prevent people from “offending Islam.” The text underneath the photo states, “In other words “Sharia Law by stealth.”

The post reads, “This is coming sooner than I thought, forcing this cruel Barbaric cult ideology down our throats, changing our laws for a cult ideology is unconstitutional, UnAustralian, Under sect 44 Australian Constitution Muslims cannot be in parliament, shorten is hell bent on destroying this country, Wong is no surprise she is no Patriot, You vote fir(sic) Shorten or Labor you are destroying this once great country”. 

The post has been shared more than 2000 times and attracted more than 260 comments and 360 reactions. 

The Analysis

In 2017, the Turnbull coalition government proposed a change to Australia’s anti-discrimination laws to replace the words “offend” and “insult” with the term “harass” in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. 

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 states, “It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

Labor MP Anne Aly told The Australian newspaper in a March 27, 2017 article there was “scope to reassess” extending section 18C, citing an increase in anti-Islamic rhetoric. 

Dr Aly gave examples of Muslim women being abused in public and having their hijabs “ripped off”. “I find it a little bit strange that someone can call you a ‘dirty Arab’ and that be covered under the bill, but if they called you a dirty Muslim, you’re not covered (under 18C),” she told The Australian.

Dr Aly became the first female Muslim MP elected to the federal parliament in the Western Australian seat of Cowan in 2016. She was re-elected at the 2019 federal election.  In a 2016 interview with ABC RN’s Religion and Ethics Report, Dr Aly said she identifies as  being a “secular Muslim”. 

“I do believe in the separation of religion and politics and that’s what secular in any form of religion is,” she said. 

On March 28, 2017, The Australian published the reactions of Liberal MP Tim Wilson and Senator Nick Xenophon to Dr Aly’s comments on section 18C and religion. Mr Wilson said extending the Racial Discrimination Act to cover religion would “turn Australia into Saudi Arabia, where people can be hauled before courts for criticising religion”. Mr Xenophon said he would not support “the reintroduction of blasphemy laws in this country. 

Dr Aly released a media statement on March 29, 2017 saying she had “not moved to extend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to cover religion”. “I have never proposed an anti-blasphemy law, and I never would,” she said. 

Dr Aly told AAP FactCheck in the articles in The Australian she “talked about religious vilification on all people of faith, not just Muslims, its impacts, and that we should have a conversation about that”. 

“Unfortunately, the article (March 28, 2017)  in The Australian reported Tim Wilson’s view that extending Section 18C to religion would be a blasphemy law. This was not what I said, or suggested,” she said in a statement.

Following the release of Dr Aly’s 2017 statement, The Australian published another article on March 30, 2017 which quoted the then Attorney-General George Brandis calling on then ALP leader Bill Shorten to rule out “any proposal by a future Labor government to extend the reach of section 18”. 

The article mentioned Dr Aly’s opposition to anti-blasphemy laws and said, “in her interview with The Australian she lent her strong support to a future debate about extending (Section) 18C to cover religion”.

The article also included part of the transcript to Dr Aly’s interview in which her answer to the question, “One of the issues it (18C) doesn’t cover is religion. What do you think about that? Do you think there is scope to see this applied more broadly so that it’s not just an issue about racial discrimination but it can capture other forms of discrimination too?”, acknowledged some religions, including Jews and Sikhs, were already covered under the Act because of “precedents that were set in legal cases outside of Australia”.

She responded by saying there was “this new form of racism is one that also affects and impacts on religions and in particular, Islam, Muslims – OK – and Muslim people”. “So there is scope to, I guess, reassess how we look at racism in terms of its targets and its impacts and expand the scope of what we mean by racism to include those,” she said.

Dr Aly told AAP FactCheck “the Facebook post makes a false statement that I confirmed Labor would support a plan to extend Section 18C to include blasphemy”.

“The Facebook post is particularly alarming, as I have previously actively campaigned against the introduction of blasphemy laws in Pakistan,” she said. “I travelled there in 2015 as an academic to speak about secularism and religious pluralism, risking my own life in doing so.”

In the post’s caption, it states, “Under sect 44 Australian Constitution Muslims cannot be in parliament…”  

Section 44 of the Constitution sets restrictions on who can be a candidate for federal parliament.  It states, “Any person who is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power … shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.”  Section 44 does not carry any reference prohibiting a Muslim from becoming a member of parliament. 

Section 116 of the Constitution also states that “the Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.” 

The Verdict

 Based on the evidence, AAP FactCheck found the Facebook post to be false. Federal MP Anne Aly did not confirm the Labor Party’s support to extend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act “to include Islamic blasphemy laws”. At the time, Dr Aly said she was open to discussion and debate on the extension of the Act. The post’s caption also claimed Muslims could not sit in federal parliament as this breached Section 44 of the Constitution. Section 44 makes no reference to people from particular religions being forbidden from sitting in parliament. 

False – The primary claim of the content is factually inaccurate.

* AAP FactCheck is an accredited member of the International Fact-Checking Network. To keep up with our latest fact checks, follow us on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

 First published October 4, 2019, 15:10 AEST

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