Many Muslim Australians feel inadequately protected by the Racial Discrimination Act, a new report by the Human Rights Commission has found. The finding again opens up a debate on legislation that until recently had been set to be watered down. The Freedom from Discrimination report launched on Thursday coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act. The report takes into account testimony from consultations with community groups in the first half of the year. Many Muslim groups spoke of a spike in attacks on members following last year’s Lindt cafe siege in Sydney. The race discrimination commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, said their comments echoed information he had received. “Representatives of Muslim and Arab organisations also reported that members of their communities experienced racial and religious vilification with regular frequency, not only in verbal form, but also through offensive letters and pamphlets,” the report said. “Much of this is linked to the issue of terrorism and national security.” “According to various participants, the raising of the official terror alert in August 2014 has made many Australian Muslims feel a sense of ‘us versus them’. Such sentiment intensified following the siege in Sydney’s Martin Place in December 2014,” the report said. Recommended:Islamophobia and the case of #IStandWithAhmedCommunity and religious leaders questioned the relevance of the Act in protecting Muslim Australians, as religion is not one of the areas covered by the legislation. The Act makes it an offence to discriminate on the basis of race, colour, ethnicity, nationality and immigrant status. “There was some scepticism about the relevance of the Act, however, in protecting Muslim Australians, ” the report said. “One participant in Melbourne, for example, said that racial discrimination legislation was ineffective in protecting against anti - Muslim abuse because perpetrators would simply claim, ‘I’m not a racist; Islam is not a race’. ” “One participant in the Sydney consultation criticised the absence of religion as a protected attribute in the Act, arguing that this represented a ‘big deficiency’ in the Act’s scope, ” it said. Soutphommasane said Muslims have “limited avenues” of appeal through the legislation, which imposes civil penalties rather than criminal ones. Some states and territories have protections against discrimination on religious grounds, and some have avenues of criminal prosecution for racial abuse. “Many Muslim Australians feel vulnerable to discrimination, ” he said. While the Human Rights Commission is not advocating for the inclusion of religion in the act, the commissioner said the government “should be open to having a discussion with all members of the community” on how to strengthen the legislation, Soutphommasane said. The Coalition had pledged to water down section 18C of the act, to remove clauses making it an offence to offend, insult or humiliate someone based on their race. The changes would also include vilification on the basis of race as a new offence. The then prime minister, Tony Abbott, dumped the changes in August 2014, following public backlash. Soutphommasane said it was not surprising the public had shown strong support for keeping the act as it is, saying the views of minority groups were often not heard “above the bluster of the powerful”. Parliamentarians, he argued, were often “detached from the lived experience of community members when it comes to racial discrimination”. A number of Coalition senators have vowed to support crossbench legislation to water down the act. The Family First senator, Bob Day, has led the charge to change the act, even after the Coalition decided to keep it as it is. But with both the Coalition and Labor opposed to the changes, theact is unlikely to be changed. The report found there there needed to be greater awareness of the Act within the community, as the legislation depends on groups and individuals to bring forward cases of discrimination. The Human Rights Commission can not take action, even if it is made aware of instances of discrimination. “The consultations also revealed a lack of awareness about the Act and its operation among some sections of the Australian community, particularly newly arrived migrants and young people, ” the report said. “This may explain to some extent why there may be an under - reporting of racism, with many people declining to lodge complaints when they experience racial discrimination or vilification. ” As such, the commission will convene an annual national forum on tolerance and harmony, the first of which will likely be held in 2016. “Nothing of this sort currently exists, ” Soutphommasane said. He has also vowed to advocate for the national school curriculum to include components on diversity and inclusion and work with media organisations to improve the treatment of issues of race and tolerance in the news. The report also strongly advocates for reform of the nation’s constitution to remove racist clauses and recognise the role of Australia’s first peoples. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience high levels of institutionalised racism, much of which is subtle and not always easy to identify, community representatives said during national consultations. Australians from diverse cultural backgrounds also suffer discrimination in the workplace, the report said, noting many with non - Anglo names failed to secure employment. Others suffered workplace exclusion due to their race or ethnicity, it found. Soutphommasane said while there were areas that could be improved, the Act has worked well. “It’s doing an important job, and doing it effectively, ” he said. “It has symbolic value, but its value is not confined to that. ” More than 6,000 discrimination complaints have been successfully conciliated since 1975, when the Act commenced. In the 2014-15 financial year, the Human Rights Commission finalised 405 complaints, 12 of which proceeded to the federal court for resolution.This article originally appeared on The Guardian