The meeting was about 3 hours, and had representatives from most of the major religions in Australia, with indigenous and Hindus being notable exceptions. There was a warm and inclusive feeling at the meeting, and I felt welcomed and encouraged to participate. Chatham House rule applied. Many of the representatives were very professional, in the sense that they are actively employed or formally studying in this area. As such they brought a detailed and informed perspective that I was not able to do.
The focus on the meeting was "strong harms" that people have faced due to their religion. This includes things such as physical violence, terrorist acts, abuse, and the like.
The major religions that suffer this are Islam and Judaism. While it is well known that Islam suffers from bad image—the number of negative articles in Murdoch press is quite shocking—but I did not realize how difficult it is in modern Australia for the Jewish community. Apparently they have to have serious security at events on a regular basis. One person told of when they attended a Jewish event, and their shock when their car was canned for bombs.
Accurate data is hard to come by, and it seems that Australia, unlike US, Canada, and UK, fails to keep any records of religiously-motivated harm. Some data collection is being done by the religious communities themselves, but it is very patchy. Lacking accurate data it is virtually impossible to get government to do anything.
Another area that was identified was lack of training and resources among police. Cops often do not know how to differentiate between religious or ethic/racial incidents, and of course, this is not easy. But with a proliferation of people from different backgrounds, languages, religions, and so on in Oz, it becomes essential to understand what the motivation is for an incident.
Despite the lack of data, there was a strong agreement among participants that Australia was seeing a major rise in religiously-motivated harm. This obviously relates to the rise of the alt-right globally. We did not discuss the role of Australia's current administration in enabling or promoting such views.
One proposal that was broadly supported was setting up an interfaith consultation council at the federal level. APRO has, in fact, proposed this and discussed it a number of years ago, but it has never gained traction. Perhaps this time will be different.
From a Buddhist perspective, I said that we do not experience, to my knowledge, such "serious harms". We do however suffer from many structural forms of discrimination. I mentioned, as an example, our long-term and ongoing efforts to get a more appropriate visa for Buddhist monastics. I expressed the Buddhist community's solidarity with other religious groups, and invited them to contact us whenever they need support. I also mentioned that the Buddhist community feels a strong connection with their countries of origin, and that events in the home countries, such as the Easter Sunday attack in Sri Lanka, are felt deeply and painfully here. The Buddhist community in Australia has been very strong and pro-active in working together on an interfaith basis in response to such problems.
I was honored to take part on behalf of the Buddhist community! Please let me know if there is any other questions. Also, please feel free to use the above and modify it if you wish to share or post, etc.