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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27221

Mr BAIRD (10:45 PM) —There is no doubt that the tourism industry is one of the most successful sectors in Australia today. It is growing strongly: some five million international visitors came to Australia last year; an expected 5.2 million, perhaps more, will come this year; and, according to some estimates, 10 million international visitors will come by 2010. The number of jobs created by this industry is outstanding: at least 600,000 direct jobs and a further 400,000 indirect jobs. The hotel industry is one of the best recipients of the growth in tourism in Australia. It has created jobs, and the extent and variety of hotels in Australia is noted by all.

It is therefore disappointing that a leading hotel chain last week took a decision which was out of keeping in terms of the Australian environment. This particular hotel chain took the decision to remove all Gideon Bibles from their hotels because they felt that they were offensive to many of their clientele. Their claim was that we now live in an interfaith community where we must recognise and be sensitive to the backgrounds of those people who are visiting us from other countries. By all means, we are a tolerant country, we are tolerant of other people's beliefs and we certainly view highly the freedom to worship one's God in one's own way. But it seems to me that to remove Bibles from hotels as part of this is political correctness gone too far. Certainly, this decision ignores the fact that the last census showed that 70.3 per cent of Australians classified themselves as Christians. It is for Australian Christians in the main, or those from overseas, that these Bibles are available. In times of need, particularly in times of stress when people are living away from home, people may take the opportunity to read passages in the Bible and be inspired by reading psalms. This arbitrary decision by a hotel chain that may be based overseas is simply out of keeping with this tradition. It is a long tradition in Australia and one which is quite voluntary: if people do not wish to take advantage of this facility, that is perfectly acceptable.

There have been a number of recent examples of similar decisions. I recall that, during the Olympics, SOCOG put restrictions on where Christians could distribute their literature within the city. They also forbade the Bible Society from distributing to IOC members and members of the Olympic family special memento Bibles which celebrated the Olympics. Of course they ended up being sent to the homes of these people through lists supplied. By saying that we are a multicultural, multifaith environment that needs to be all things to all people and that we do not want to offend people from various countries could lead us into a position where we negate our own heritage, negate our own situation.

It was particularly interesting that, on a mission to Japan a couple of years ago when I was involved in the tourism industry, I met the marketing manager of Japan Airlines. He actually said that one of the things that he did not like about his visit to Surfers Paradise was the extent of Japanese signs that were there. He said, `When I go to Australia, I want to have an Australian experience with Australian language in a Western culture. If I want a Japanese experience, I will stay at home.' I thought that was particularly interesting. When we create our own tourism experience, it is important that we retain the best of our culture and our heritage.

If we continue to class ourselves as a tolerant and accepting society, all religions and belief systems should be treated with respect. It seems that, in our efforts to accommodate the wide variety of other religions that have a strong presence in Australia, it has become okay to be disrespectful of the beliefs and sensitivities of Christians. I agree that there is an important role for political correctness, but this is not one of them. I am very glad to see that this hotel chain has reversed its previous decision and that the Gideon Bibles are back in the hotel rooms.