© Depositphotos.com/ Scott Maxwell
The proposed constitutional alteration would amend s 96 of the Constitution of theThe amended s 96 would read as such:
Commonwealth of Australia to make specific provision in relation to the granting of financial assistance to local government bodies.
During a period of ten years after the establishment of the Commonwealth and thereafter until the Parliament otherwise provides, the Parliament may grant financial assistance to any State, or local government body formed by a law of a State, on such terms and conditions as the Parliament thinks fit.
Thus, the proposed changes are entirely about local government funding and financial issues. The changes do not give councils – or any groups living in a council's area of influence – any power to change the laws of the land or to implement a new system of law such as Sharia.
Minister for Regional Australia, Local Government and Territories Catherine King notes in an Illawarra Mercury blog post:
So that we are clear: this is not a Federal Government power grab; it is not an attempt to disenfranchise state governments; it will not result in dark and obscure funding arrangements; and it most definitely will not facilitate the enshrining of Sharia law in our communities as some absurd emails have recently proclaimed.
It is a simple piece of national housekeeping that will secure the Australian people’s right to benefit from the funding programs that help keep our towns and suburbs strong and connected. This is all the more important for those who live in regional Australia, where the ties between local government and communities are particularly strong.
© Depositphotos.com/ Scott Maxwell
Journalist Terry Sweetman notes:
Seriously, a campaign has been launched to convince people that if they vote "yes" to the constitutional change, it will be fast-tracking the introduction of amputations for petty thieves and the public stoning of adulterers.
"By Local Government areas being recognised, Sharia law can then be demanded in the local area, based on the percentage of Muslim people in that local area,'' they declare.
Where do these people live? What do they think councils actually do that they could (or would want to) introduce Sharia law?
But these sad, frightened people reckon that's "exactly how the Muslims petitioned Sharia law to be recognised in the United Kingdom''.
You'd have to wonder if these people have ever crossed the railway line, let alone caught a plane to Britain.
There are parts of the UK where you might think you were in Pakistan, but Sharia law? Piffle.
Moreover, although there has been strong and quite vocal opposition to the proposed constitutional changes, no credible commentators have suggested that the changes would allow Sharia Law to be implemented. Obviously, if there were any truth to the suggestion, those opposing the changes would be giving the threat very high billing. If true, the threat would have been widely discussed in the mainstream media and by social and political commentators all over the country.
As Terry Sweetman points out, one of the main arguments in the message is that such a constitutional change allowed Muslims in the UK to get Sharia Law recognized. However, this claim is complete nonsense. Sharia Law has not been implemented anywhere in the UK. Muslim communities in the UK may use private Sharia councils to resolve civil and family disputes. However, these councils have no legal jurisdiction whatsoever and any decisions they make will not be recognised by UK courts.
In April 2013, a Westminster Hall debate about Sharia and the English legal system discussed such sharia councils. In reply to Kris Hopkins, the Conservative Member for Keighley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Helen Grant, noted:
"… sharia law has no jurisdiction under the law of England and Wales and the courts do not recognise it. There is no parallel court system in this country, and we have no intention of changing the position in any part of England and Wales".Perhaps the misguided person who wrote this ridiculous "warning" based his or her claims on the false assumption that a "Sharia council" was a local government entity.
Sharia was the code of personal religious law governing the conduct of Muslims. There were a number of sharia councils in England and Wales that helped Muslim communities to resolve civil and family disputes by making recommendations by which they hoped the parties would abide; but she said that she wanted to
"… make it absolutely clear that they are not part of the court system in this country and have no means of enforcing their decisions. If any of their decisions or recommendations are illegal or contrary to public policy – including equality policies such as the Equality Act 2010 – or national law, national law will prevail all the time, every time. That is no different from any other council or tribunal, whether or not based on sharia law".
That said, however, the Government did not prevent individuals from seeking to regulate their lives through religious beliefs or cultural traditions; and provided that activities prescribed by sharia did not contravene the law of England and Wales, there was nothing to prevent people from living by it.
Last updated: August 6, 2013
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