Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is to bring a major rewrite of the contentious Religious Discrimination Bill to parliament by December, sparking new debate over faith-based and gay rights before the next election. Religious leaders are calling for major changes to the Bill, a key 2019 election promise from Scott Morrison, including overriding Victorian bans on gay conversion therapy and broadening the definition of faith-based institutions. Both Liberal MPs and faith leaders say Senator Cash’s final Bill will be significantly different to the drafts put out by her predecessor, Christian Porter, before the Bill was shelved during the height of the Covid-19 crisis. But the nation’s leading LGBTQI advocacy group said it would not accept any incursion on the rights of gay, bisexual and transgender Australians.
Senator Cash said the Bill would be put forward before the end of the year, possibly avoiding a clash with a federal election campaign in early 2022. “Our government takes the issue of discrimination against Australians on the grounds of their religious beliefs seriously,” she said. “I am working to progress the Religious Discrimination Bill so that it can be considered by parliament by the end of this year. I am meeting with stakeholders so that all input can be considered.” Religious leaders have been anxious to restart the push for religious discrimination protections during the pandemic when many faith institutions faced strict Covid-19 restrictions. Before the pandemic, there were already concerns that Mr Porter’s draft legislation was too limited and did not have the power to significantly protect faith-based groups.
Victoria’s ban on conversion therapy, a practice designed to turn a gay, bisexual or transgender person straight , has sparked new concerns among religious leaders pushing for a federal religious discrimination Act. Presbyterian Church of Australia moderator-general Peter Barnes said that he wants any federal legislation to have the power to override state discrimination laws. “The Victorian conversion therapy law criminalises Christianity, it affects prayer or counselling” he said. “The draft legislation was useless, but the Victorian situation has really shown its weakness.” The push for a religious discrimination Act was sparked by the 2017 national vote for same-sex marriage and LGBTQI rights groups have warned the government against bringing in any religious-focused legislation that would end up increasing discrimination against gay people.
Equality Australia chief executive Anna Brown said religious people should be protected from discrimination, but called on Senator Cash not to prioritise faith-based institutions over LGBTQI rights. “Our laws should protect us all, equally, but the current draft Religious Discrimination Bill is deeply flawed, containing unprecedented and dangerous provisions that would undermine access to healthcare and inclusive workplaces,” she said. “Instead of prioritising laws that privilege religious institutions and entrench new forms of discrimination, the new Attorney-General should deliver on the government’s commitment to protect students at religious schools, and wind back outdated exemptions that allow religious institutions to treat people unfairly because of who they are or whom they love.”
Other faith leaders also hope Senator Cash’s restart of the religious discrimination Act process will make changes to the drafts presented by Mr Porter. Executive Council of Australian Jewry chief executive Peter Wertheim said the government had to use the reset to broaden the Bill’s definitions of faith-based institutions to cover a wider base than places of worship and schools. “Given the broad range of criticisms of the two previous exposure drafts of the Bill, the government would be wise to consider a fresh approach,” he said. Some faith community leaders like Mr Wertheim want the federal government to base its legislation on the work done by a NSW Legislative Council committee, which examined the religious freedoms Bill authored by state One Nation leader Mark Latham.
The NSW Bill, which the committee backed as a “useful template” for a state religious freedoms law with amendments, would give individuals greater protection against being sacked for religious statements made in a personal capacity, and safeguard religious not-for-profit organisations. Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli is due to meet with Senator Cash, government MPs and members of the Labor Party to discuss a religious discrimination Act. He said there was room to move on improving the draft legislation. NSW senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, who works closely with faith communities, said the draft legislation could not work as a final Bill. “The current bill falls far short of adequately protecting religious freedom. It reinforces my view that no bill is better than a flawed bill,” she said.
Source: Compiled by APN from media reportsPrint This Post