Sikhs are seeking an exemption from wearing motorcycle helmets on up to 500cc bikes on local 50/60km/h streets through a submission to the Religious Discrimination Bill.
It comes five years after a Coffs Harbour Sikh group unsuccessfully sought a similar exemption.
Amar Singh, 38, of Turbans 4 Australia is preparing the submission to Parliament in consultation with community and religious groups.
He says it is not just about motorcycle helmets but also hard hats for workers and bicycle helmets for school children and senior citizens.
“Not allowing kids to wear a turban on their bicycle puts fear into their minds that they are not acceptable in Australian society,” he says.
“And many seniors who were used to riding pushbikes in India can’t even go to the local shops or temple.”
Amar says he has not been able to ride the 1970 Jawa his wife bought him for his 38th birthday last year because he cannot remove his turban to fit a helmet.
Sikhs are being granted helmet exemptions to wear their turban instead of a helmet in several countries around the world on religious grounds.
The UK introduced the exemption in 1976 and it has now spread to include New Zealand (up to 50km/h), India, Pakistan (Peshawar only) and most recently the Canadian provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia.
The exemption move hit a hiccup in July when Germany knocked back a plea by a Sikh rider to wear a turban instead of a helmet on religious grounds.
Applications for turbans to be worn instead of helmets have also been knocked back in France while Denmark is cracking down on helmet exemptions for health or religious reasons.
Religious Discrimination Bill
Australia’s Religious Discrimination Bill protects “religious activity” such as the wearing of a turban, but does not override state laws, including road rules.
Victoria is the only state to grant a helmet exemption on religious grounds, but that is for cyclists only.
Amar says he will also apply to each state for the exemptions.
“The turban exemption is already approved for cyclists in Victoria; all the states have to talk to each other,” he says.
In 2014, the Central Coast of NSW Sikhs campaigned to Coffs Coast Council for the right to not wear helmets on city streets signposted up to 60km/h.
However, the matter had to be decided by the NSW Centre for Road Safety (CRS). Neither council nor the CRS could find any record of contact from the group.
NSW Roads and Maritime Services says they have not granted any exemptions for religious reasons.
The CRS has conducted standard bicycle helmet tests on the Sikh turban and found it did not offer impact protection.
In some cases, helmet exemptions can be granted on medical grounds.
And in one case, a trike tour operator successfully sought an exemption because his head is too big.
Sikhs have been in Australia since the 1880s.
There are now about 126,000 Sikhs here, according to the 2016 Australian Bureau of Statistics census. It is the fifth largest religion after Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.
Victoria has seen the sharpest increase in the number of Sikhs with 52,762. The state with the second highest Sikh population is NSW with 31,737 Sikhs, Queensland 17,433, Western Australia 11,897, South Australia 8808, ACT 2142 and Northern Territory and Tasmania have under 700 Sikhs each.
Amar says it takes about half an hour to wrap a turban which he describes as his “spiritual crown”.
He also points out that Sikh soldiers fighting with Allied forces at Gallipoli did not wear helmets.
The Sikh Council of Australia’s website gives this explanation for wearing the turban.
Unshorn hair (‘Kesh’) are also an essential part of the Sikh Code of Conduct. This makes Turban an essential part of a Sikh’s attire. Like the ‘Kirpan’ issue, this is another issue where the Government and its departments as well as the wider Australian community need to be informed about the importance of the Turban for a Sikh. More importantly, in order to tackle the hate crimes and discrimination based on the ‘looks’ the Australian community is being educated about the distinction between a Sikh and other members of the community who may also wear a Turban or cover their head or perhaps may look the same due to other items of clothing (for example the salwar and kameez for the women). Hopefully the Government will introduce measures which will allow the wider Australian community to be more aware and tolerant and not discriminate against someone wearing a Turban and not assume that they might be a terrorist.