Treasurer Peter Costello has defended his support of an evangelical church leader who was acquitted of religious vilification, saying the pastor had got a “rough deal”.
Mr Costello said he met with Catch the Fire Ministries leader Danny Nalliah in August, because he had taken “great interest” in the religious vilification case between the leader and the Islamic Council of Victoria.
“I’ve spoken with him on a number of occasions because I reckon he got a pretty bad deal when he was prosecuted under the Victorian vilification legislation,” Mr Costello told ABC radio.
“He was found to have contravened the act but when he appealed, the court of appeal said he hadn’t contravened the act at all.
“I thought he got a pretty rough deal, frankly.”
The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) in 2005 ruled that two Catch the Fire pastors, Mr Nalliah and Daniel Scot, had vilified Muslims under the state’s 2002 Racial and Religious Tolerance Act.
However, the Victorian Court of Appeal later quashed the verdict.
The row was sparked in 2002 when Catch The Fire claimed in a newsletter that Muslims were demons training to make Australia an Islamic state, that the Koran promoted violence and killing, and that Muslims derived money from drugs.
The five-year battle finally ended this year with mediation between the two groups.
Mr Costello today lashed out at the Equal Opportunity Commission for targeting the leader’s sermons for evidence.
“Whatever you think of someone’s religious view, I don’t think we will improve our society by sending people out to collect evidence on preachers,” he said.
“The Equal Opportunity Commission sent some people out, said go out and listen to this man’s sermons and see if you can get offended.
“Lo and behold, they did get offended,” he said.
Catch the Fire is based at Dandenong in southeast Melbourne.