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The Controversy over the Ban on Hijab and Burqa

According to Fenna (2008), “Australian federalism is characterised by an unusually high degree of vertical fiscal imbalance”. This vertical fiscal imbalance (VFI) essentially refers to a constant disproportionality in revenue and expenditure between the State and Commonwealth governments, as the central legislative and executive bodies have historically benefitted from under statute, referendum and interpretation of the Australian Constitution in the High Court. This has allowed the Federal Government to accumulate various taxation powers to the present day, resulting in a situation where the States are so fiscally malnourished as to be reliant on funding from the Commonwealth surplus (Dollery, 2010).

In this, issues arise, as the States are not individually capable of meeting their constitutional responsibilities and furthermore unable to respond to the needs of their own communities in areas such as healthcare and education. Certainly, the central government does provide somewhat adequate funding, though it is secured in Specific Purpose Payments (SPPs) which are only supplied conditionally in return for some service. Consequently, State governments despite having an inherently comprehensive understanding of their own regional issues and needs – are simply unable to act unless the Commonwealth shares some interest in the matter or is otherwise encouraged to contribute.


I became aware of the topic given its importance in recent elections, with a common goal of many governments to at least return some fiscal responsibility to the States such that they may address local affairs. Discussion of the issue is available on the websites of the National Commission of Audit, the Parliament of Australia and the outline of Budget of 2009-10. Secondary material is prevalent in various national publications including the University of New South Wales Law Journal and the History of Economic Thought Society Australia Journal, each source employed in my research. 

Almost by definition, the problem involves both the State and the Federal governments given that their ‘vertical’ relationship in the Australian federalist system underlies the VFI problem. If the issue is to be addressed however, an appeal will likely only succeed before the Commonwealth Parliament, as it is the central authority to which expansive powers are given under section 51 of the Constitution. Additionally, the Federal Government has traditionally been granted further fiscal influence by the courts over the States in cases such as Victoria v Commonwealth and statute law such as the 1942 Uniform Tax legislation. The resulting broad boundaries to Commonwealth financial power are entrenched so deeply as to be immune to any challenge from sub-national jurisdiction. As a result, for an inquiry to be heard with any potential for action to be taken, it must be put before the central government with its national legislative powers. 

According to a paper in the 2009-10 Budget, the SPPs at the heart of fiscal imbalance concerns are ‘processed by the Commonwealth Treasury and paid directly to each state treasury’. The Treasurer, The Hon Joe Hockey MP, is therefore accountable for all matters concerning such payments under the Federal Financial Relations Act 2009. Certainly, raising
the issue before the Treasurer or indeed the Shadow Treasurer would be most appropriate,given the possibility for Parliamentary debate on VFI when both parties are aware of its significance.


It would also be of great importance to bring the issue before the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) – a forum comprised of the ‘Prime Minister, State and Territory Premiers and Chief Ministers and the President of the Australian Local Government Association’. It may be possible however that within this assembly it would be most effective to put the issue of VFI before the state members, as the Commonwealth may not have any true interest in demolishing or manipulating the SPP scheme considering its operation is to their benefit in the first place.Ultimately, however, raising the issue before each state minister would be of marginal benefit given that none can individually take action on the issue. Comparatively, the Treasurer is still able to discuss VFI concerns before COAG and is otherwise accountable for SPPs with influence over their operation. 

The Controversy over the Ban on Hijab and Burqa

In the contemporary political scenario, hijab is an issue which made many liberals and democrats to name it something that needs to be banned. There are many debates regarding the ban on burqa and hijab, not only in Australia, but also all around the world. This has also happened as ban on hijab or burqa has a great part to play in the political scenario as well. However, ban on such religious identities will only bring division amongst the population (Heydon, 2003). There are several members in the Australian government who have played a huge part in the ban of hijab in the schools and colleges. This is a subject that has bothered the Australian Muslim woman for more than a decade.

There have been several calls for banning the hijab in schools and colleges, however, it has entirely been ignored that banning this religious entity would create more rage in the population. Most of the times, hijab has been viewed as a symbol of being oppressed and vulnerable, however it is not necessarily as exactly as it has been portrayed. For Muslim women, it is a symbol of privacy and modesty (Singh, Heimans & Glasswell, 2014). The hijab has also been called as the attire which can be a threat for the Australian national security as well. Therefore banning of hijab and burqa plays a great part in the contemporary Australian politics.

For researching this issue, I had used most of the academic sources along with the blogs, websites and contemporary rules and legislations by the Australian government. Firstly, I took a thorough reading on the recent concern against the burqa and hijab in the schools and colleges in Queensland, not only in media and social media, but also it has concerned the members of the Australian federation.

After a thorough research, I had also taken the content in the blogs and websites into consideration as these have a significant part to play in expressing the views of the common man. From these sources, I got to know that the general Muslim population in Australia is not interested in banning their religious identities. This had interest me in reading more literatures regarding the ban all around the world. After I read few literatures, I had also consulted with few of my classmates who are Muslim and happily wear their hijab and they do not feel oppressed. This data has made me more interested in this topic.

There are three major levels of Australian government, local, state and federal (Dowding & Martin, 2017). The state and federal governments have been established under the Australian Constitution. The local government of Australia is mostly the grass root government which is generally concerned with the household matters and the daily affairs. At the local level the primary decision making body is the council and the public representatives are elected to the council and their head is called Mayor.

Every Australian state and territory has their own government and they also have their own constitution. Under the constitution, all states are accountable for all the places which are not under the federal responsibilities (Schaap, 2016). The state government also gets the necessary money for carrying out their programs from the federal government. The highest level of the Australian government is the federal government which can make the laws. In addition to that the defense force, employment, telecommunication, immigration, import-export, taxes come under the responsibility of the federal government. For this purpose I would want to target the federal government because that is the highest level. The federal government has the right to make or amend any law; therefore I would try to convince the federal government so that they do not force the Muslim women from performing their religion.

Hijab as a Symbol of Privacy and Modesty

I have chosen Colin Barnett to write about this issue. He is a famous politician of Australian territory who has been selected as the 29th Premier of the Western Australia. He has also served the country as a treasure other than holding positions in the cabinet of Western Australia. He has been representing the Liberal party in Australia. He is also a member of Western Australian Parliament as well.

I have chosen Colin Barnett because recently he has made a public statement saying that the Muslim religious clothing is not a part of the Australian culture, therefore it should be banned in the entire territory. He has mentioned firmly that there are several migrants in the country who are following the religion but he would encourage them to adopt the Australian culture and not wear such clothes. He has also proposed to ban all the Muslim clothing. Therefore I would choose him to write the letter and explain why he should not ban the Muslim clothing and why Muslim women should carry their religious identity with them.

Colin Barnett,

Member,

Western Australian Parliament

Western Australia

Dear Sir,

I am writing this letter to you in response to your recent claim regarding banning the Muslim clothing or the hijab in the public places of Australia because this is not necessarily ‘you culture’ or the culture of Australia. Through this statement, you have also made it clear that the Muslims who are living in Australia are not a part of your culture and we should adapt your culture. In this letter, I want to address few issues and highlight the fact that why wearing hijab in schools and colleges or offices is our right.

Firstly, banning hijab or burqa is not a cultural issue, it never was. It has always been a burning political issue in Australia or any other European country. This issue is entirely political just like another banning of the inheritance taxes or restoring the right of giving capital punishment. These issues occur every now and that without even making a point of turning the ban into a law. In fact, in this case, you have also made it a point that you are not even vouching for making this a law in the Western Australia. However, there has been huge support from different parts of the world, because they think this is a symbol of oppression and domination that has been going for decades on women. But, here I want to ask a question? Are the other women free?.

The ones who are not wearing hijab? Have you ever thought that wearing hijab can be our choice too, just the way not wearing it is? The oppression that has been going on women, has not yet come to a point where we can say that we are free, we have our freedom of choice. By commanding and making it a law that what we should wear or what we should not, you are again instructing us about our doings and well-beings. I find this is not at all different than the other countries where women are said and told what they should do or what suits them. Wearing hijab is my choice and it is a part of my identity. You cannot really make a random unethical rule of not allowing it in our schools and colleges.

Research on the Ban of Hijab and Burqa

As a Muslim woman living in Australia, I am tired of hearing that hijab is something bad or we have been taught to wear hijab. It is also because of our choice and our right to perform our religion. We should have the basic rights in any country, where performing his or her own religion is also under that tab. Therefore when you are banning hijab only because of satisfying the vote bank is not really what we a culture of the country adheres to.

I strongly feel that giving the right to the government or to the general population of Australia for deciding what are the ways of dressing up is entirely authoritarian to the Muslim women. There may be some women who may feel burdened with the hijab and burqa but some of us do not necessarily think that way. We believe that we have a duty to consider and sheer faith for the almighty which makes us adhere to our religion. Therefore we do not feel burdened with our choice; rather we celebrate our faith with burqa and hijab.

If we fail in understanding that majority of the people in a country do not have the right to dictate what should be worn by the minority of people. They also cannot dictate the feelings of a certain religious group. However, it should also be considered that banning the hijab or burqa can lead to a dangerous proceeding as well. By assigning certain clothes to be unlawful or unethical is entirely unacceptable as with this we are mostly restricting our freedom in the country, even if it is the basic right of every human being and this is what our federal government professes. Even if being a liberal, I strongly stand with my belief that the government has no right to infringe in the personal choices of the citizen. The government should only come to act in restricting the personal choices of the citizens only when it is harming others. However, I do not think that wearing burqa or hijab is not harming anyone, therefore it does not come under the rights of government as well.

In an obvious way, there are several issues that lie with the debate regarding the ban of the hijab and burqa. Many will point out that there are certain limitations in recognizing people who are wearing such clothes; therefore it can be conductive to the fear of terrorism. Therefore many governments perceive that this is threat which can lead to invoking a ban of the Muslim clothing. However, this logic also leads back to the thought that the Muslims should be help in the continuous suspicion of terrorism.

It also carries the idea that Muslims are a group of high risks in the entire world and they are entirely different from each of the citizen. By banning the hijab you are also marking an entire community as fundamentally different and dangerous. However, this consideration is dangerous and it does not only bring fear to a minority group in the country, but also makes other citizen aware of a fear that might be proven as baseless. The data shows that around 0.006% of the Muslim population is the part of the extremist group.

Three Levels of Australian Government

Every Muslim is not a terrorist, but if the government starts marking an entire community and starts putting the entire community under distrust, scrutiny and hostility, this may pull the strings of social unity and create huge gaps amongst the general population of Australia. Not only that, it may also reinforce the marking system of the Muslim extremist organizations and their propaganda. This also provides them a reason or existing and creating a ‘war’ against the western countries.

If the real challenge you want to take is to free all the Muslim women from their oppression, banning hijab would never suffice that. Banning the clothing can be counterproductive and may leave the entire Muslim community in disenfranchised. However, banning hijab would not be for any good. Emphasizing the clothing to be Muslim can be unsafe as well. If the hijab is being considered as something which can make others feel bad, or it lets other to criticize and judge, it does not give impression of terrorism at all. Hijab has no direct relation of terrorism; rather it is only about someone’s faith in their own religion. Having religious faith is not something that can be considered to be harmful to other people or the entire population. Therefore I do not think that wearing hijab or burqa should be something that should gain attention in the political scenario. This is something we do for performing our religion which is our fundamental right.

I believe that I have made my point of view clear in front of you and I expect you to respond to this concern. Banning hijab in the Queensland schools will lead an entire community to come under a sense of distrust.

References

Ahmed, S. (2014). Cultural politics of emotion. Edinburgh University Press.

Bean, C., McAllister, I., Pietsch, J., & Gibson, R. K. (2014). Australian election study, 2013. Computer file]. Canberra: Australian Data Archive.

Brennan, F. (2016). Acting on Conscience: How Can We Responsibly Mix Law, Religion and Politics?. Univ. of Queensland Press.

Brown, A. J. (2013). Whistleblowing in the Australian public sector: Enhancing the theory and practice of internal witness management in public sector organisations (p. 333). ANU Press.

Davis, R., & Taras, D. (Eds.). (2017). Justices and Journalists. Cambridge University Press.

Dowding, K., & Martin, A. (2017). Introduction. In Policy Agendas in Australia(pp. 1-10). Springer International Publishing.

Ellison, N. B., & Boyd, D. M. (2013). Sociality through social network sites. In The Oxford handbook of internet studies.

Foucault, M. (2013). Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings, 1977-1984. Routledge.

Heydon, D. (2003). Judicial Activism and the Death of the Rule of Law. Quadrant Magazine Law, (Volume XLVII Number 1-2).

Moore, D., Fraser, S., Törrönen, J., & Tinghög, M. E. (2015). Sameness and difference: Metaphor and politics in the constitution of addiction, social exclusion and gender in Australian and Swedish drug policy. International Journal of Drug Policy, 26(4), 420-428.

Morgan, G. (2016). Global Islamophobia: Muslims and moral panic in the West. Routledge.

Schaap, A. (Ed.). (2016). Law and agonistic politics. Routledge.

Singh, P., Heimans, S., & Glasswell, K. (2014). Policy enactment, context and performativity: ontological politics and researching Australian National Partnership policies. Journal of Education Policy, 29(6), 826-844.

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