Zero Discrimination Day

In honour of Zero Discrimination Day (1 March).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

In 2017, UNAIDS called upon people to speak up for the principles of Zero Discrimination Day: “Discrimination doesn’t just hurt individuals, it hurts everyone, whereas welcoming and embracing diversity in all its forms brings benefits for all.”

Wikipedia notes that the day has been used by UN agencies and activists across Africa and India to fight against discrimination, especially that targeting LGBT people and those with HIV/AIDS.

In such places, discrimination can still prove to be literally a deadly, daily life-and-death crisis. Religious homophobia is rampant across Africa, and contributes to the culture that forces many LGBT people to become refugees, fleeing for their lives to places like Kenya, where they remain potentially in danger. One of my African friends, Trinidad Jerry, was murdered in Kenya last year and, as far as I am aware, his identified murderer has never faced justice. Alternatively, India took a step forward in 2018 with the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

In a western nation like Australia, it is easy to feel complacent about human rights as we are relatively affluent and insulated from many of the world’s problems that beseige our human family overseas. It is therefore ironic that this year’s Zero Discrimination Day comes in the wake of the latest attempt by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his band of religious holy-rollers to usurp the language of human rights and legislate new forms of religious apartheid and discrimination, especially against LGBT people.

Over recent weeks, this fight has been vicious and unrelenting. During that time, I have been largely absent from blogging, primarily because of the consequent intellectual and emotional exhaustion arising from the stress and tension of fighting this legislation that sought to diminish my human rights and the rights of millions of other Australians.

Ubuntu – We Are Family

The fight against discrimination in Africa is strengthened by what has been defined as the South African humanist principle of Ubuntu, a philosophy that acknowledges our common humanity. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who popularised the Zulu and Xhosa term, translated it as meaning “I participate, I share”. Wikipedia (citing the Official Ubuntu Documentation website and the Guardian newspaper) offers a broader definition:

Ubuntu (Zulu pronunciation: [ùɓúntʼù]) is a Nguni Bantu term meaning “humanity”. It is sometimes translated as “I am because we are” (also “I am because you are”), or “humanity towards others” (in Zulu, umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu). In Xhosa, the latter term is used, but is often meant in a more philosophical sense to mean “the belief in a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity”.

Such common humanity, humility, and a compassionate, communal identity is the stated ideal behind many of the world’s religions and philosophies. I would personally see this as not the monopoly of religion, but the common humanity of all people being manifested in a variety of facets across diverse cultures and societies. In Africa, where colonialism has left great social, economic and moral poverty, the idea of Ubuntu challenges both their behaviours and our own. I have previously written: “When considering that, ‘charity begins at home’, we need to remember that the whole world is our home.” Expanding on that idea, when considering our primal instinct for protecting our family, we should also ponder the reality that we are all human, we are all family.

And despite his claims of Christian compassion and human empathy, it appears that our Prime Minister has yet to understand and demonstrate Ubuntu.

The Religious Discrimination Bills

The name says it all – whereas most legislation regarding discrimination is contextualised within titles and frameworks highlighting the intent to promote “anti discrimination”, this Australian legislation was unashamedly titled “Religious Discrimination”.

It is exhausting to simply read the title – let alone the contents – of this proposed legislation: “The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 [Provisions]; Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 [Provisions] and Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 [Provisions]”. Yet this mouthful of bluster and blarney was the latest attempt by the conservative Australian Parliament to legalise discrimination under the pretense of protecting religious freedoms. A previous Parliamentary inquiry in 2018 recommended that further protections might be needed, but acknowledged that this was a nuanced and complex issue that needed input from diverse stakeholders, many of whom called for a more sophisticated Bill of Rights. The Australian Human Rights Commission summarises both the problem and the solution: “Inclusion begins with respect.”

In Australia, there are already many protections for people of faith, and the right to freedom of conscience, thought and belief is restricted – as are all human rights – predominantly by restraints that are deemed necessary to protect the human rights of others. For example, religious people in Australia cannot burn witches, stone adulterers, genitally mutilate their daughters, or throw LGBT people off rooftops. But the spirit behind the proposed legislation is to make it easier for those with more narrow and potentially harmful interpretations of morality to practice their beliefs in ways that might harm others (such as Citipointe Christian College). In proposing such unbalanced, divisive and harmful legislation, the government’s overreach is a violation of equality and universal human rights:

“If a believer demands that I, as a nonbeliever, observe his taboos in the public domain, he is not asking for my respect, but for my submission.” ― Flemming Rose.

Image by Brigitte make custom works from your photos, thanks a lot from Pixabay

Pride and Prejudice

The Australian Parliament recently ran two inquiries on these Bills, as a demonstration of how much the government wanted to push them through: a Senate inquiry and one run by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. These were the latest in a long line of attempts by the LNP to legislate a form of elitism in Australia: ensuring that religious bigots have special rights to discriminate against anyone who offends their religious sensibilities, including (but not limited to) women (especially single mothers), Muslims, Jews, atheists, divorcees or remarried couples, LGBT students or teachers, people with disability, and those who do not share their religious views.

The widespread public response to the proposed legislation was opposition from across society: churches and religious communities, LGBT communities, people with disability, multicultural networks. In attempting to divide the nation, the government inadvertently united it.

For my own efforts, my submission was accepted (#206) for the Joint Parliamentary Inquiry and my local MP, Kate Twaites, read aloud into Hansard a portion of my representation to her to please oppose the legislation.

Interestingly, her comments about Australia needing a Bill of Rights received an interjection from a conservative MP who implied that the Magna Carta already defined our national human rights – a typical response from a reactionary who evidently believes that an 800 year-old document that enshrines the rights of the English Church (Clause 1) and predominantly defines the rights of king and barons to oversee the running of a feudal society, might have something generically relevant to say today about human rights for those who were not divinely ordained to rule (indeed, one might see how seriously Australian MPs who espouse the Magna Carta are today when considering how they fail to apply its Clause 40 to the human rights of refugees: “To no man will we sell, or deny, or delay, right or justice”).

Double Dealing and Doublespeak

Wrangling over the problems within the Religious Discrimination Bills brought about proposed amendments aimed to protect gay students but not trans students, the latter being a proposed change that aroused concern from Christian Schools Australia. However, the failure to also protect trans students caused five Liberal MPs to cross the floor of Parliament. Ultimately the protecton of trans students was too much for the government and its Christian overlords, who urged the government to abandon the legislation rather than remove their Christian facility to discriminate – thus demonstrating that the legislation was really about discrimination and exclusion rather than religious freedom. One hopes that those who seek to discriminate will instead learn from this experience and join the 21st century.

Meanwhile, Scott Morrison has suggested that the failure of this legislation demonstrates that Christianity is being persecuted in Australia. Such an astonishing hijacking of the language of human rights by a human rights abuser, echoes schoolyards across my 25-year tenure as a school teacher – where every time a bully had his or her bullying behaviour confronted, they immediately complained that they were being bullied. Far from Morrison being oppressed, the reality of his behaviour is far more dangerous: his legislation aimed to divide and conquer, opposing the principles of Zero Discrimination Day.

And perhaps worst of all – any legislation that aims to divide our human family is as obscene as it is ideologically corrupt. While Scott Morrison sees himself in Biblical terms as Samson, strong in heart but under attack from ungodly enemies, I see him more as the Biblical prodigal son, profligate and indulging in narcissistic fancies; someone who is yet to mature into a responsible human being and grasp an enriched understanding of Ubuntu. On the day that he actually learns human empathy and compassion, in line with the allegedly Christian values which he proclaims but ignores, I for one would welcome him back into the wider, compassionate, inclusive human family. Ubuntu.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn

It’s Time

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

This letter was recently sent to the Australian government for an inquiry on ending indefinite and arbitrary detention of refugees. They published my submission (#398) and I await the outcome of the inquiry – but I will not hold my breath waiting for humanitarian action from this government.

Committee Secretary
Joint Standing Committee on Migration
PO Box 6021
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600.

Dear Secretary,

Re: Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill 2021.

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to this inquiry, which I believe to be the most important and historic human rights inquiry by the Australian Parliament in over twenty years, because it focuses upon an area of human rights that has needed redress for many years.

This inquiry is an opportunity for Australians to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. As someone who has been a human rights activist for many years, I thank Andrew Wilkie for having the integrity to propose this Bill and I thank the Committee for their willingness to consider submissions such as mine which call upon the Australian government to live up to the principles of egalitarianism and giving a fair go to the underdog.

I support the passing of this Bill in order to ensure that Australia upholds the principles and practices of human rights, human decency, and international law.

Background of this Bill:

Australia was one of the original architects of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The Declaration enshrines the universal and inviolate nature of human rights.

I note that on World Human Rights Day (10 December) last year, to mark the anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration, Australia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Marise Payne, publicly upheld the ‘equality… indivisibility and universality’ of human rights, and stated that:

“As one of the eight drafters, Australia remains as committed today to the values and ambition of the Declaration as we were at its inception…
“Australia will continue to advocate for equal human rights for women and girls, people with disabilities, LGBTI people, indigenous peoples, and others who may be in vulnerable situations…
“Australia will continue to defend human rights and encourage the international community to hold itself accountable to the Declaration’s principles.”

The passage of this Bill will bring Australia into line with these noble principles. Refugees are among the world’s most vulnerable people, and their equality must be respected alongside other human beings within our national responsibility. Indefinite and arbitrary detention violate basic human rights and diminish our national accountability and credibility in the world community.

Compliance with World Standards:

This Bill upholds the principles and laws found within the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Refugee Convention, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture.

In preventing human rights abuses including arbitrary and indefinite detention, lack of transparency, and the neglect of those asylum seekers who were recently abandoned in PNG, this Bill brings Australia into line with world class standards of human rights, and restores Australia’s reputation in the world arena.

Why this Bill is vital for Australia’s ethical, cultural and economic best interests:


The Bill reinforces the notion that our national strength lies in our diversity.

“The Australian nation is woven together of people from many ancestries and arrivals…
“In every generation immigrants have brought great enrichment to our nation’s life….
“We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.”
(Prime Minister John Howard and poet Les Murray’s Draft Constitutional Preamble, 23 March 1999, as documented by Mark McKenna, Australian Parliament House website.)

This Bill implicitly acknowledges that “border security” should not be used as an excuse to inflict hurt or harm on innocent refugees who simply seek protection.

Our ethics compel us to “roll up our sleeves” and take action:

“The protection of human rights to promote the dignity of the individual is too important a matter for symbolic gestures alone. It is only through the pursuit of practical and effective efforts to promote human rights that we show our real commitment to the welfare of individuals and society.” (Alexander Downer).


This Bill exemplifies the positive aspects of Australian culture including mateship, common humanity and ‘a fair go’:

“For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.”(from the Australian National Anthem.)

This Bill also upholds the principles of those Australians who subscribe to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as all three religions are predicated upon honouring refugees as a central tenet of each faith (Moses, Jesus and Mohammed were all refugees).

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has upheld the common humanist ethics within these religions by acknowledging within his faith the “dignity and value of each and every human being and the responsibilities that they have one to another” (Sarah Martin, Scott Morrison tells Christian conference he was called to do God’s work as prime minister, The Guardian, 26 April 2021).

Scott Morrison’s maiden speech in Australian Parliament set the noble standard against which his government, and all others, should be judged:

“From my faith I derive the values of loving-kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way and to do what is right, to respect the rule of law, the sanctity of human life… We must recognise an unchanging and absolute standard of what is good and what is evil…
“These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and generous… above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice.”(Scott Morrison, speech in Parliament House, 14 February 2008).

This Bill also upholds Australian tradition by enshrining the human rights and freedoms for which our military services have fought. Minister for Home Affairs, Karen Andrews, states on her personal website that she supports veterans. This upholds our culture of honouring the ANZACs and others who paid a heavy price to serve our country in theatres of conflict or war.


The Bill eliminates the economic burden that is currently paid by taxpayers for the current refugee policies. Offshore detention and related onshore procedures currently waste billions of dollars upon a system that lacks transparency, accountability and independent oversight, and which fails to deliver humane and protective shelter for those seeking asylum and refuge. The Guardian reports that $1.4 billion has been paid to run the offshore processing regime for five years on Nauru alone (Ben Doherty, ‘Budget Immigration costs: Australia will spend almost $3.4m for each person in offshore detention’, The Guardian, 11 May 2021) and the Refugee Council of Australia reports that offshore processing costs to Australia have likely exceeded $9.03 billion (Offshore Processing Statistics, Refugee Council of Australia, 8 January 2022).

Onshore detention and welfare systems would cost much less, be more humane, and more in line with the cultural and ethical underpinnings of Australian society. They would provide opportunities for quicker, streamlined processing, ensuring that human beings are not detained any longer than necessary. They would ensure a professional approach to assimilation of new migrants in ways that provide mutual benefits for both the individuals concerned and for the Australian community within which they are already placed. Furthermore, they would also provide opportunities for independent oversight to ensure legal, humane and just processes and treatment.

National Credibility in the Context of Recent Events:

January 2020 brought Australia to the fore of public world attention with the arrival of a tennis player whose vaccination status brought him into conflict with our immigration regime. For part of his time in Australia before deportation, he was housed in the same hotel in Melbourne that also housed a number of refugees who had been detained there and elsewhere for up to nine years without prompt and due processing of their claims or adequate attention to their medical needs. The tennis player’s prompt processing, while those others remained detained and neglected by Australia, was on display for the world.

This Bill would remove those current practices which shame our nation in the eyes of all Australians of good conscience, and in the eyes of the world. It also ensures that future judgements of world history will define Australia as a nation that practices the lovingkindness that Holocaust survivor, Australian Halina Wagowska, writes about in her autobiography, a lovingkindness that illuminates the best of humanity:

“Love lights this place up. Without love it would be dark and cold here.”


I ask this committee to endorse this Bill.

It will return Australia to its proud heritage of being a human rights leader in the world community.

It will uphold international law and the principles within Australian law regarding the inviolate and universal nature of human rights.

It also prepares Australia for further steps towards endorsing human rights through possible actions such as writing and adopting a National Bill of Rights.

I believe that all Members of Parliament enter this career because of a genuine desire to help improve Australia and the world. Rarely, however, does a Bill come along which so clearly provides an opportunity to unambiguously improve the country. This Bill is one such opportunity and I respectfully ask you to take it.

History will express respect for this Bill and those who adopt it.

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to this inquiry.

Yours most respectfully.

©2022 Geoff Allshorn