One week ago, Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis announced plans to ban Hizb ut Tahrir.
And one day ago, Commonwealth Defence Minister Marise Payne refused to sack the Hizb ut Tahrir-sympathising Defence imam, Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem. Instead, she got into the trenches with him and defended his views.
It is a sign of a government in disarray. It doesn’t know whether it’s coming or going (according to polling ‘going’ is the likely answer). But Australians know that Turnbull’s mob are not conservative.
That’s clear enough after Marise Payne’s abysmal performance in parliament yesterday.
As a political target, this scandal was hard not to hit. It was like shooting at the side of a barn and Cory Bernardi scored a bullseye. He rose to his feet in the Senate and started with the words:
“My question is to the Minister for Defence.”
That was the high point for the Minister for Defence. It all went pear-shaped after that. Very quickly.
Senator Bernardi pointed out that Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem, the imam appointed to the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services, signed a petition in 2015 supporting Hizb ut Tahrir.
Bernardi then referred to the fact that Hizb ut Tahrir has called for the overthrow of democracy and the imposition of a global caliphate under Sharia law.
And then he asked Marise Payne how she could justify the continuing employment of the good Sheikh (he gets paid over $700 a day to advise Defence about how it can recruit ‘moderate’ Muslims just like him).
This is how she started her answer:
“As we all know the Australian Defence Force is committed to providing, uh, support to its members and seeks out information on non-Christian faiths, uh, in the very broad, uh, to improve our cultural understanding, ummm, and of course, more broadly, ummm, any Australian citizen and permanent resident eli, eligible for Australian citishen, citizenship, can apply to, uh, to join the ADF.”
I don’t know if you know what any of that actually means. I don’t. And neither did Cory Bernardi.
This is how he looked while the Minister for Blathering responded to his fairly simple question:
I don’t think Marise Payne herself knew what she meant. After all, this is how she looked as she was giving her answer:
You’ll notice the bald head in the bottom right corner. That noggin belongs to the Commonwealth Attorney-General, George Brandis. He, no doubt, had absolutely no idea where this was going either, apart from the fact that he now has to deal with banning a group that is supported by the most-senior Islamic advisor in the Australian Defence Force.
Fun times for George.
However, it was not long before Marise let us know exactly where she was going. She was going to hunker down in the corner with Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem:
“We, uh, are also committed to providing support to members of all face, faith groups therefore, including the Muslim faith. Diversity and inclusion are fundamental elements of modern Australia and of the ADF.”
The Minister for Defence went on to claim that employing people like Mohamadu Nawas Saleem actually increased the ADF’s combat power.
She might be the Minister for Defence but I think it’s fair to say at this point that she has no idea what combat power is or how to increase it. That’s the only possible explanation for her bizarre statement.
She went on to claim this as well:
“When the decision was made, I’m advised that it was a considered decision by the Australian government.”
I’m not really sure if that is a glowing endorsement of the government’s ability. Rather, statements like this are why people are prepping doomsday shelters and waiting for the end.
And then the Minister for Defence went on the attack. It might have been with a wet lettuce leaf (no doubt halal certified), but an attack of sorts it was.
It was just no good.
She said it was wrong to characterise Mohamadu Saleem as a Defence imam.
Unfortunately, that is exactly how the government was happy to have him characterised in the media when the appointment was made back in 2015.
This is the headline from the Sydney Morning Herald. No one was complaining back then about references to a ‘Defence imam’:
If the Australian Defence Force is to get its first imam, then it’s fair to describe him as the ‘Defence imam’.
Payne gets no points for her first point.
Then she went on to claim that the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services is comprised of non-uniformed representatives.
And here is a picture from the Army newspaper just under a year ago. It shows the Chair of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services in uniform. And in the Middle East.
So these guys are non-uniformed except when they are in uniform.
And, by the way, it is entirely appropriate for members of this committee to wear the baggy green skin when required. This entire scandal is about whether it’s appropriate for a bloke like Mohamadu Nawas Saleem to be on that committee.
Payne gets no points for her second point either.
After that, she claimed that the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services does not provide chaplaincy services.
However, this is what former Assistant Defence Minister, Stuart Robert, told parliament when announcing that Defence would get itself an imam:
“There is no impediment to service based on religion, and our chaplaincy and religious advisory committee to the services are designed to provide such support where required. To this end, I have asked my department to move as quickly as possible to identify a part-time Islamic imam to join the ADF’s religious advisory committee to ensure those 96 ADF members of an Islamic faith have appropriate representation.”
Stuart Robert’s press release announcing the appointment of Saleem also stated that the decision reflected:
“…the ADF’s pastoral care responsibilities for all its members…”
Further, according to the law of the land, no chaplains can be appointed to the ADF without a recommendation from the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services.
So, the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services is a key part of chaplaincy support for the ADF.
Again, Marise gets no points for her third point.
Finally, she claimed that the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services plays no role in Defence policy formulation.
Here is a screenshot from the Department of Finance. It details the role of the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services:
And here is a screenshot of an SBS article following an interview with Stuart Robert after he announced the appointment of Saleem:
All of that sounds like Saleem has been involved in policy formulation, contrary to what Marise Payne told parliament.
There are no points for the Minister for Defence here either. All four of her counter-attacks failed and instead they only highlight the absurdity of her position.
For instance, if her claims that the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services has absolutely nothing to do with chaplaincy support or policy formulation then, according to Payne’s logic, it seems that this body is entirely useless.
More likely, the description applies to Payne rather than the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services.
On the bright side, Marise Payne did point out that the Religious Advisory Committee to the Services links Defence with faith-based groups in Australia. Given Saleem is the link between Defence and Islam, I guess it’s fair to assume that the rest of Australia’s Islamic community are hunky-dory with Sharia law and Hizb ut Tahrir as well. After all, I’m pretty sure Stuart Robert would not have been stupid enough to appoint Saleem if he could find a more ‘moderate’ imam floating around out there somewhere.
Basically, Marise Payne’s answer was not really an answer.
So Senator Bernardi rose to his feet and once again asked a very simple question:
“Sheikh Saleem supports Hizb ut Tahrir, or has defended Hizb ut Tahrir, supports Islamic Sharia law, was previously associated with an organisation that opposed support to forces fighting the Islamic State – an enemy of Australia.
Will the Minister agree that Sheikh’s Saleem’s views and beliefs are wholly incompatible with those of the Australian Defence Force and that, in the national interest, his employment should be terminated immediately?”
In response, Marise Payne blathered on a little more and then stated:
“We, of course, support his right to express those views…”
Now that the Minister for Defence has stood up in parliament and supported the right of the Defence imam to back Hizb ut Tahrir, she will also, no doubt, stand up in parliament and support my right to express views about uniformed participation in the Mardi Gras, Defence’s sex-change operation program, front-line combat roles for women and the link between Islam and violence.
After all, it would be a little hypocritical to claim that the Defence imam has a right to express views but ordinary Australians don’t.
Oops. I forgot. Hypocrisy and moral cowardice are the hallmarks of Defence leadership today. And I’m not an imam but just a very naughty Anglo-Australian boy who supports our Western Christian heritage.
So I won’t be holding my breath on that.
On one hand, you kinda-hafta feel sorry for Defence Minister Marise Payne over this issue.
She was left carrying a political suicide vest created by Stuart Robert.
He firstly packed it full of a Hizb ut Tahrir sympathising imam who he appointed to a high-level Defence committee. Next he placed in a volatile detonator in the form of calls for Sharia law. And then Robert got caught out in yet another Chinese-linked political donation scandal and promptly racked off to the backbench, leaving it as a ticking gift for poor Marise Payne.
And yesterday that vest exploded.
When Cory Bernardi asked his question, Marise Payne’s heart must have sunk. She was placed in a position of choosing between a defence of the government-appointed Hizb ut Tahrir sympathiser or throwing Stuart Robert under a bus.
And she chose the former.
Hey! Who says loyalty is dead in politics?
Rather than undo the diverse, tolerant and completely scandalous work of Stuart Robert (who I have previously described as the Minister for Stupidity), Payne essentially grabbed hold of his political suicide vest, strapped it on tight, and kissed her career goodbye.
This scandal is only going to grow, along with numerous other PC disasters unfolding in our nation’s military as we speak.
That is why, on the other hand, I have no sympathy for her at all. Instead of fixing up the mess, Payne’s only making it worse.
Indeed, it’s scary what we also learnt from her yesterday.
Marise Payne informed the parliament that Sheikh Saleem is not only the Defence imam but that he also plays high-level roles within the Department of Immigration, Australian Border Force, Victorian prisons, Victorian police, Australian Federal Police and the Commonwealth Department of the Attorney-General.
His role: countering ‘extremism’.
No wonder we are losing this fight. Fortunately, with people like Senator Cory Bernardi we can counter-attack and turn the tide.
You can watch his entire question below.
And you can sign the petition to sack the Defence imam here:
Sack the Defence imamRead the petition
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