What Cory Bernardi Learned From Four Corners: Five Takeaways From Their Halal Investigation

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There was a good deal of hype leading up to Four Corners this week, as the seemingly inexhaustible topic of halal certification – already under the microscope of a Senate Inquiry – was served up by the investigative program overnight.

The ABC has on many, many, many, many, many occasions given serious attention to issues associated with halal certification as well as the bloggers and campaigners who oppose it for ~definitely not bigoted~ reasons. This time, the program’s producers emphatically told us, we were going to get The Truth.

So what did we learn?

Here are the big takeaways from the latest look at an issue that just won’t go away.

 

1) An Indonesian Based Certifier May Be Taking Kickbacks, Including From An Australian Certifier

Not a very grabby headline, but definitely the show’s most substantive point.

Briefly, the program alleges Majelis Ulema Indonesia (MUI), a global player in halal certification, has been taking bribes in exchange for granting certification and enabling access to Indonesia’s lucrative market.

The program shows the Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria, which it says has a monopoly over red meat exports from Victoria to Indonesia, has provided funding for a mosque in West Java being built by a foundation linked to MUI’s halal chief Amidhan Shaberah.

It wasn’t made explicitly clear what this means for Australian consumers, if anything, although the extra cost would presumably be a problem for those offloading meat to the Indonesian market.

2) Still No Links To Terror

Aside from the above, the program really didn’t add too much to what we already know.

As Barnaby Joyce was left to observe, if there were links to terror organisations you would think someone like the Australian Crime Commission, the Federal Police, ASIO, or AUSTRAC would have picked them up.

As has been reported many times before, they have not. The program noted that the development in West Java did not have any links to extremist preaching or to terror.

Also equally apparent, and re-exposed by the show, was that opponents of halal are not bothered by the absence of evidence.

“The links [to terror organisations]may be tenuous,” Cory Bernardi told reporter Geoff Thompson. “They may be more direct than, than we know but, um, you know, extremism is being funded by somewhere and it’d be nice to know where it is.”

3) Cory Bernardi Has Learnt At Least One Thing From The ABC

Unfortunately for Four Corners the program’s biggest revelation was technical and a tad dry. Thankfully, Bernardi was there to provide the episode’s most entertaining moment, as he tried to argue a link between halal certifiers and groups listed by Australia as proscribed terror organisations, listing Hamas as one example.

“Hamas itself is not a proscribed terrorist organisation in this country,” Thompson coolly pointed out.

Bernardi stared back at the camera for a moment.

“Well, there you go,” he eventually responded.

4) Kirralie Smith Is Still Getting A Free Ride

In fairness, some of Four Corners’ digging made the most charismatic and acceptable face of the anti-halal movement look self-evidently ridiculous.

The program also struck a solid gotcha moment with Restore Australia and former One Nation candidate Mike Holt, who was unable to name any links between Australian halal groups and terror organisations on camera.

But the show gave Smith a hearty amount of airtime without pushing her much deeper to explain her worldview, which can fairly be described as a conspiracy theory. This is a woman who, as we’ve noted here before, believes in a global Islamic conspiracy.

It’s hard to see what Smith added to the program and it’s probably time for media outlets to stop giving her a platform. At a moment when Australian commentators and policy makers are seriously suggesting we prioritise refugees on the basis they’re not Muslims, her sentiments provide fuel for a discourse that has real life and death consequences.

5) If There Are Questions About Halal Certification They’re About Regulation, Not Multiculturalism

One of the most interesting parts of the halal ‘debate’ is that members of Australia’s far right end up aligning with calls for greater regulation and intervention into the market. It puts those like Cory Bernardi, supposedly champions of the free market, in an awkward position.

It’s also a little bit boring.

Should government intervene to break monopolies? Would it be possible or preferable to have federally mandated standards of halal labelling and consumer information? How can we gain access to vital foreign markets if big players based overseas have issues with corruption?

Agree that the halal industry could be better regulated but let the process be free from hysteria and prejudice #4Corners

— Mariam Veiszadeh (@MariamVeiszadeh) September 7, 2015

While there is a legitimate discussion to be had here, the answer for most Australians will be ‘who cares’. The reason this debate draws such great attention is because it gives those opposed to multiculturalism and the place of Muslims in Australia the chance to vent incognito, disguising deeper anxieties about race, culture, religion, and terrorism, all of which end up being conflated.

A better-regulated market, or crackdown on corruption in Indonesia, will do nothing to assuage those now deeply ingrained fears.

Max Chalmers

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.

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