Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has refused to sack controversial Muslim woman Yassmin Abdel-Magied from the board of the Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR), resisting pressure from some in government ranks.
Replying on Monday to a letter from former Senate leader Eric Abetz, Bishop said she had spoken to Abdel-Magied and “conveyed the deep concerns of the Australian government” about her Anzac Day social media post.
Abdel-Magied had “apologised profusely to me and the Australian government” for the Facebook posting, which said:
Lest. We. Forget. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine …)
“She told me that she was mortified that her post, intending to be a reference to current global conflicts and crises, was seen as a reflection on and rejection of the sanctity of Anzac Day, and the sacrifice of our veterans and their families.”
“Ms Abdel-Magied acknowledged that her post was inappropriate and had caused deep offence to many in our community.”
In the wake of Abdel-Magied post, Abetz urged her removal from the CAAR board saying she was unfit to be a member. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on radio that his personal view was that she shouldn’t be paid anything by the federal government. Council board members get a fee while on council business.
In her conversation with Bishop, Abdel-Magied confirmed that she had taken down her post on the same day and posted an apology.
“Given that Ms Abdel-Magied did not seek to defend her words, that the post was removed, and that she has apologised, there is no need for me to make reference to the issue of the right to free speech, which has also been raised with me by other members of parliament,” Bishop wrote.
Bishop said she consulted a number of people familiar with Abdel-Magied’s work on the CAAR’s advisory board.
“Without exception, they are of the view that she has made a significant and positive contribution to CAAR and its objectives, and has communicated a positive image of Australia as an inclusive, tolerant and multicultural nation where civic participation of Arab-Australians, and particularly women, is valued.”
Bishop said that, due to the regard in which Abdel-Magied was held, the acting chair of the council, Houssam Abiad, had offered to mentor and guide her to ensure she continued to make a positive contribution to Australian-Arab relations.
Bishop pointed out that Abiad was a leading business, political and community figures in South Australia, deputy Lord Mayor of Adelaide, and chairman of FutureSA.
Abdel-Magied had gratefully accepted the mentoring offer, Bishop said.
Bishop said she had also sought advice from her department and no precedent could be found for terminating a membership across all foundations, boards and institutes.
“In view of Ms Abdel-Magied’s apology, the fact that her social media post was made in a private capacity drawing no link to CAAR, as well as her positive contribution to date and her willing agreement to be mentored by an older and more experienced community leader, I do not intend to terminate her membership of the board of CAAR.”
Bishop also noted that she had been in Gallipoli for the Anzac Day dawn service and was dismayed that “one of our most revered national days was embroiled in a deeply unfortunate incident” as a result of Abdel-Magied’s “highly inappropriate social media post”.
Abetz said on Monday night: “The fact the Minister has acknowledged the need for Yassmin Abdel Magied to have a personal mentor speaks volumes about her suitability and capacity for taxpayer-funded advisory roles.”
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra