Mutual recognition in pluralistic Australia

A draft protocol for mutual recognition and respect in a pluralistic Australia

When the Victorian Parliament passed the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (2001), it caused a reaction from some sections of the Victorian community,. The Heads of Christian Churches, for example, were worried that the Act could be interpreted to mean that proselytisation might be defined to ‘offend’ people of other faiths. In 2005, the Premier of Victoria called a summit meeting of leaders of all religions and faith communities to discuss the Act. To make it absolutely clear that evangelism was not being made illegal under the Act. The Act was amended in May 2006 and these amendments came into force on June 30, 2006. The amended Act was welcomed by the Heads of Churches. (It has since been updated each year from 2006 to 2011the current version is here).

The faith community leaders also addressed the general feelings in the community, and they pledged to address any intolerance among their own communities towards others, and to strengthen community harmony, safety and understanding.

What they resolved is worth taking notice of:

  • We acknowledge all individuals have a responsibility to work together to recognise the dignity and worth of every human being, affirming our similarities and the fundamental principles that unite us. This group especially acknowledges the importance of faith for those represented here and the importance of spirituality for those who are not represented here.
  • We agree to pray for one another’s communities and for all Victorians.
  • We value the unique richness our multicultural and multi-faith diversity brings to our community and we will promote respect for and celebrate this diversity to ensure Victorian remains an open, tolerant and harmonious society.
  • We affirm our communities are united in their shared commitment to the people, interests and future of Victoria and Australia, and have a responsibility to abide by the rule of law and, in particular, the State’s laws, and respect the institutional structures and the democratic processes under which those laws are made. We reject all forms of violence, terrorism and prejudice.
  • We support in principle Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act which, while protecting our rights to evangelise and proselytise, prohibits serious racial and religious vilification, which incites hatred.
  • We will encourage and promote local interfaith networks to develop greater understanding among Victoria’s faith communities and to strengthen friendship and cooperation among people within our State.
  • We will seek to strengthen youth participation and leadership in the community and work with young people to build a fair and tolerant society
  • We agree to meet quickly at times of significant community need to communicate with and unite our communities in a common shared response.

(Source: A draft protocol for mutual recognition and respect, from ‘On the path to mutual respect’ by Alan Nichols and published by the Victorian Council of Churches*, 2007).

* Multiple copies of Alan’s books are available for free for use by congregations, inter-church councils and inter-faith councils. Please contact the Victorian Council of Churches, for more details).