Peter Khalil: The people of the Baha’i faith in my electorate of Wills and across Australia are deeply concerned about their brothers and sisters in Iran. Since 1979, the government of Iran has made it official policy to discriminate against and persecute members of the Baha’i community, Iran’s largest non-Muslim religious minority. In 2016, the former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described Baha’is as ‘the most severely persecuted religious minority in Iran’. The Australian parliament in 2012 and 2015 condemned the persecution and treatment of Baha’is in Iran.
In recent months, the Baha’i people in Iran have faced a new and increased form of oppression through Iran’s national ID card program. The national ID card now requires people to identify with only one of four religions: Islam, Christianity, Judaism or Zoroastrianism. Anyone who does not, including Baha’is, is denied an ID card, effectively rendering them a nonperson. Without this card, a person in Iran can’t get a driver’s licence, a passport or a work permit; they can’t open and use a bank account or enter into a contract—pretty much anything that you need to do in modern life. These are fundamental rights that are important, and they’re being denied to a group of people based on their religious faith.
I’m extremely concerned about this latest development in the long history of persecution of the Baha’i people in Iran. As leaders in a democracy in this place, we must speak up for people around the world who are being denied their rights on the basis of their faith, race or ethnicity. I urge the government and the Minister for Foreign Affairs to make representations to the Iranian ambassador on behalf of the people of the Baha’i faith.
I also want to take this opportunity to talk about arts in my community. In my first speech in 2016, I spoke about the importance of the arts in society. A thriving arts sector is the heart and soul of any society. Many of my constituents in Wills are that heart and soul, working and creating in the arts. I think we’ve all experienced that feeling when a creative work inspires you, moves you, makes you think about something in a different or even better way or makes you stop thinking altogether and reminds you to just be in that moment. That’s what the power of the arts is about. It gives us something that’s almost indescribable—something fundamental, I think, to being a human being.
That’s why it beggars belief, even with this government’s disgraceful track record on the arts, that, during the last week in this place in 2019, the Liberal-National government abolished the Department of Communications and the Arts and merged it into a so-called superdepartment which became the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications. The artists, the musicians, the actors, the dancers, the singers and the filmmakers of Australia deserve better than that from this government. They deserve their own department. They deserve a government that supports them, not a government that cuts funding to the arts every chance they get, because the arts are so critically important to our society.