A story has developed these days in Australian, linking the debate on the legalization of the Abortion pill and the current rate of abortion in the country, with the fear of an Islamisation of the country. The assumption is based on merely demographic facts raised by an Australian law-maker.
The issue was raised by Dana Vale, an Australian lawmaker, who has set off a storm after comments tackling two subjects many consider taboo. The member of Prime Minister John Howard's ruling coalition, told a press conference that Australians were "aborting ourselves almost out of existence."
Vale linked the concern with worries about the growth of Australia's Muslim community. "I'm talking about the ramifications it actually has for the community and the nation we'll become in the future."
Vale and three other female lawmakers were addressing the media on their opposition to a bill on the RU486 abortion pill which has triggered emotional debate in parliament and the media. If passed, the measure is expected to make it easier for women to get hold of the controversial drug, which is now effectively banned.
Howard called the slogan "offensive" and said it was ironic that at a time "when everybody is being lectured about being sensitive to Muslims in our community" -- a reference to the Mohammed cartoon uproar -- a lawmaker was sneering at a Catholic devotional practice.
Many critics have been made following Vale's remarks, with some coalition colleagues distancing themselves from them, the opposition Labor leader calling her "an authentic representative of this government's growing extremism," and Islamic leaders describing the comments as racist and xenophobic.
While the "us" and "them" implication, "Australians" versus Muslims, was the most sensitive element of what local media described as a "gaffe," available statistics do bear out some of Vale's concerns.
Here are the basic demographical facts underpinning her argument. Australia has a population of just 20.4 million, and about 250,000 children are born each year. A further 100,000 pregnancies end in abortion.Australia's total fertility rate (TFR) has dropped from 3.5 in 1961 to 1.7 in 2005. At the end of World War II, fewer than 3,000 Muslims lived in Australia. That number grew to around 22,000 in 1971 and - following an influx from Lebanon after the outbreak of the civil war - reached some 281,000 in 2001, when the most recent census was conducted.
Today estimated at more than 300,000, the Muslim population still remains a small percentage of the total.
But according to the Department of Foreign Affairs, the 2001 census revealed "a remarkable rate of growth" in Australia's Muslim population -- "an increase of some 40 percent in five years, while the Australian population as a whole only grew by 5.7 percent in the same period."