When Senator Cory Bernardi finally won his Senate inquiry into food certification, including halal, we were a little sceptical.
Those involved in the industry derided the inquiry as a costly political stunt, though some were hopeful it would at least clear up the misconceptions frequently propagated about the process.
At the time, Bernardi told 3AW presenter Neil Mitchell that “consumers are confused”, and the inquiry would “get the facts on the table”.
“I don’t know the facts,” Bernardi said.
There have now been 145 submission made to the inquiry and for your reading pleasure, we’ve waded through them all. It has become clear Senator Bernardi was right about something after all – consumers are confused.
The submissions have served up some useful suggestions and left the Senate Committee with plenty of food for thought. Here’s what we learned from the pick of the bunch.
1) Witches Exist And They’re Not Happy About Halal
Senator Bernardi appears to have found an unusual ally in his fight against Islamic cultural practices. While many of the submissions complain they object to halal food as they are agnostic or Christian, submission 50 comes from a different perspective. This is an actual quote from it.
“I am a Pagan, specifically a Goddess worshipping Witch, so it was utterly devastating to find out that, without my informed consent, I'd been routinely sold meat where the animal had been slaughtered according to the rituals of an Abrahamic religion."
I just want to emphasise again: this is actually a piece of evidence submitted to the Australian Senate, and not the plot of a short-lived TV mini-series from the 90s.
The witch responsible for the submission is unhappy kosher and halal certification mean the food they buy is no longer secular, apparently a problem when making offerings to the “Goddess”.
“It diminishes her energy, weakens my connection to her and thus my magic. In order to provide an understanding of why that is the case, I first need to explain the concept of an Egregore.”
If you’d like to know more about the concept of Egregore why not download submission 50 in full, here.
It’s certainly comforting to know Senator Bernardi and the whole Committee will be turning the limited resources of the Australian Senate to doing just that.
2) Almost One In Five Australians Are Muslim, Despite What The Census Says
An argument popular in anti-halal submissions – which make up the overwhelming majority of the submissions lodged so far – is that companies who choose to have their food certified are somehow imposing the will of a minority over the rest of the country.
But there is clearly disagreement on just how large that minority is.
The 2011 census records that around 2 per cent of the Australian population identify as Muslim.
But this submission to the inquiry estimates it to be far higher.
“I am very angry that I have to purchase goods and food that are Halal Certified. I am not a Muslim and take offence that we who are not have to purchase Halal Certified products. For 12 to 18 per cent of our Australian population why do we have to cover the cost of Halal Certification?”
Too angry to google “Muslims”, “Australia”, “population”, it seems.
A 2014 survey found Australians greatly overestimated the portion of the population who are Muslim.
Like the people who responded to that survey, the submissions to the Senate inquiry are good at giving us a sense of how some Australians feel about halal and Islam, but not so handy when it comes to establishing the actual facts.
Moving right along.
3) Somebody Is Using Bernardi’s Own Inquiry To Troll Him
It’s not just us!
The culprit is submission 88. The author says there should be no government regulation of food certification at all, and that charities should be donated the cost of certification – but then have to pay 100 per cent of that cost in tax.
If you’re thinking that doesn’t make sense, you’re right. But it gets weirder.
“Charities specifically set up for Corgi dogs are to be exempt from this tax. We believe that with a few simple changes everyone can get what they want out of the certification of food items, charity can benefit, saving the government millions while generating millions in revenue, this is a win/win situation for all Australians, especially Corgis.”
What gives with the corgis, you ask?
Either the Big Corgi Lobby are trying to use this inquiry to further their nefarious but adorable ends, or Bernardi is getting trolled in his own inquiry.
4) Muslims Stole 20g Of Your Chocolate And You Didn’t Even Realise
Another popular claim of anti-halal advocates is that the certification process pushes the price of goods up, a yet-to-be demonstrated economic phenomenon they refer to as a ‘religious tax’.
In submission 118 James Orton admits that Cadbury chocolate has informed him halal certification does not impact upon their prices. And yet still he notes:
“The Sydney Morning Herald reported on February 3 that Cadbury plans to cut the size of the family block of chocolate to save costs, 220g to 200g.”
Is there a link? Are halal-pinched margins forcing Cadbury to take a chip off the old block?
Who knows. But what’s for sure is that a separate, equally expansive, equally expensive senate inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of the missing 20g. It’s probably feeding IS forces in Raqqa right this minute.
5) Not All The Bigotry Is Coming From The Anti-Halal Brigade
This one is a bit of a surprise. Man starts out trying to make argument against live exports. Man ends up comparing women to cattle. Observe, if you dare:
“Animals are born to live their lives on farms, they are not sailors and do not belong on ships. Live trade may be very lucrative and demand high. Blond virgins are also in great demand and very valuable but we do not round them up and sell them. Civilised people respect other living beings be they human or animals.”
Well. That was gross.
To stand out among the 145 submissions published so far you really have to go above and beyond in terms of sheer offensiveness. This man has succeeded.
6) Adequate Grammar And Regular Spacing Are Optional In Senate Submissions
As noted previously, one of the first submissions to the inquiry was made in glorious purple Comic Sans font.
Turns out it set the tone.
Aside from questionable choices of text colour and font, people have also had issues with spacing and the capitalisation.
This is a copy and paste from submission 151:
“Thank you senator Bernardi for giving us a chance to block yhis muslim halal tax. The Australian government sets taxes why do we AUSTRALIANS HAVE TO PAY THIS HALAL TAX TO THIS SO CALLED RELIGION mUSLIM”
Remember, it could be boring for our esteemed representatives to read through the 145 submissions so to help yours stand out K33p ur gramm mar FrEsh.
7) There Are A Lot Of Non-Muslims Who Are Mysteriously Experts In Islamic Theology
In extreme cases, some of those who have made submissions say they have talked to their Muslim friends about halal. They’re outliers.
There is an incredible consistency in the most of the submission, which draw on the arguments made again and again in the anti-Muslim blogosphere, and sometimes break into mainstream press and politics.
Most of the comments are from people with Anglo names and strong feelings about a religion they appear to have little knowledge of or deep interest in.
One opens a sentence by saying “Islam is not a religion”.
If there are problems with halal in Australia, as there could be with any food certification system, they’re most likely to be noticed and reported by Muslim communities and consumers.
At this point, there are no signs that will happen at this inquiry, which is yet to confirm whether public hearings will be held.
But it would be unfair to say this has all been for naught.
At least we’ve learnt something about witches.
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