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A 'Yes' Vote in an Upcoming Australian Referendum Will NOT Result in Sharia Law Being Implemented

Message exhorts Australian citizens to vote "NO" in an upcoming referendum to recognize local government in the constitution because a "YES" vote will mean that Muslims living in a local area can demand that Sharia law be implemented.

Yes Or No

© Scott Maxwell

Brief Analysis
The claims in the message are paranoid nonsense. The proposed changes are about council funding issues and certainly will not allow Muslims to demand the implementation of Sharia law. This absurd message serves only to divert attention away from real and important issues about the changes proposed in the referendum.

The proposed referendum has now been shelved due to a changed date for the Federal election. It is now unclear when - or if - the referendum will be held.

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It is critical that all people oppose (vote NO) to the proposed change to recognise local govt in the constitution at the referendum at the Sept election. By local govt areas being recognised then Sharia law can be demanded in the local area based on the % of Muslim people in that local area. This is exactly how the Muslims obtained sharia law recognised in UK.

Detailed Analysis

According to a message that circulates via email and social media, Australians should be sure to vote  "No" in an upcoming referendum to recognize local government in the constitution.  The message claims that a "Yes" vote will allow Muslims living in a local council area to demand that Sharia law be implemented.  It warns that it was via just such a change that Muslims were able to have Sharia Law recognised in the UK.

However, the claims in the message are utter nonsense. The proposed changes will certainly not allow Muslims to demand Sharia law.  Whoever made this claim has either fundamentally misunderstood what the proposed constitutional alteration means or is deliberately attempting to spread fear and paranoia in the Australian community.

So, what is the referendum about? In May 2013, then Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announce the government's intention to hold a referendum to recognise local government in the constitution.  It was proposed that the referendum be held on the same day as the upcoming federal election. An Explanatory Memorandum about the referendum notes:

The proposed constitutional alteration would amend s 96 of the Constitution of the
Commonwealth of Australia to make specific provision in relation to the granting of financial assistance to local government bodies.
The amended s 96 would read as such:

96 Financial assistance to States and 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.

© 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".
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.

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.

Sharing this drivel will achieve nothing other than confuse the issue at hand. There are arguments both for and against
the proposed changes. Before voting, Australians need to review the facts on the issue and decide accordingly.

Update: August 6, 2013
Originally, the referendum was to be held on September 14, 2013 along with the Federal election. But, after Kevin Rudd deposed Julia Gillard as Prime Minister in June 2013, the date of the election was rescheduled for September 7. Due to electoral and constitutional laws, the new date was too early to allow the referendum to be held at the same time as the election. Thus, the referendum has been postponed until further notice.

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Last updated: August 6, 2013
First published: August 1, 2013
By Brett M. Christensen
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ALGA Constitutional Reform
BLOG: Celebrating our Constitution
A fear campaign based on ignorance is claiming a local government 'yes' vote will end in Sharia law
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Rudd shelves local council referendum

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