Hon Hugh McDermott asks David Shoebridge for unreserved public apology to Hindus

Legislative Assembly Hansard – 05 May 2021 – Proof (nsw.gov.au)

Dr HUGH McDERMOTT (Prospect) (20:07): I rise to speak on the work undertaken by Vishva Hindu Parishad [VHP] Australia. In the recent Sport, Multiculturalism, Seniors and Veterans budget estimates hearing, Vishva Hindu Parishad Australia was accused of being a far-right Hindu extremist organisation by Mr David Shoebridge. Further, Mr Shoebridge stated that VHP is a designated militant extremist religious organisation in the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA] World Fact Book. I have met with Subramanian Ramamoorthi, president of VHP Australia and a constituent of mine in the electorate of Prospect. He and his organisation are distressed by the disgraceful accusations and incredibly misleading statements from Mr Shoebridge. The VHP was listed as a religious militant organisation in the CIA World Fact Book for less than one month in June 2018, before it was removed from the political pressure groups list. I would have thought that a member of The Greens in the Legislative Council—who I believe is meant to be a solicitor or a barrister—would apply more scepticism to claims made by the CIA, especially given that they have since been removed, and apologise.

It is clear that any adverse claims made against the VHP are incorrect. I give the following facts. Mr Ramamoorthi and VHP Australia have the confidence of the Department of Defence, which has appointed him to the Religious Advisory Committee to the Australian Defence Force [ADF]. He is currently serving as the representative of VHP. During his time on the advisory committee, the number of Hindu members of the Australia Defence Force has increased by some 50 per cent, a fact that he is proud of as an Australia citizen. Further, Mr Ramamoorthi has received confirmation from the NSW Police Force Terrorism Investigation Squad that Vishva Hindu Parishad is not a proscribed terrorist organisation in Australia. The harm that such allegations can cause to our community is immeasurable. The allegations are an attack on not just VHP Australia but all multicultural community organisations. Several organisations representing people of various faiths and cultures have reached out to Mr Ramamoorthi to offer their support and express concern that they could be singled out in the future.

Following the comments made in budget estimates, All Faiths SRE (NSW), which represents special religious education providers from many faith groups, came to the defence of VHP. Its letter to the deputy secretary of Learning Improvement at the Department of Education stated in part that “the allegations implied under parliament privilege by the Greens Senator’s questions are baseless and unfounded.” The secretary of the NSW Department of Education has also stated that no concerns have been raised by the NSW Police Force regarding VHP Australia, stating:

They are not known as an organisation of concern in New South Wales. Where New South Wales Police are aware of any concerns regarding a group or organisation known to be in our schools, they advise us immediately.

Members of Parliament should think carefully before throwing untested allegations against community groups in our State. Sydney is a multicultural city. There should be no room for this accusatory and divisive behaviour by any member. If members of either Chamber of the Parliament wish to make the extraordinary claim that a community group is a far-right extremist organisation, or that it is a militant extremist organisation, they must be willing to provide some evidence. It is unfathomable to me that such allegations were raised without so much as first speaking to the organisation and undertaking basic research. Unless substantive evidence can be produced that credibly accuses VHP Australia of wrongdoing, they are owed an unreserved public apology by Mr Shoebridge. I stand in support of our diverse western Sydney multicultural community, where people of all faiths and cultures have come together for the betterment of Australia. I thank the House.