Attorney-General Christian Porter is pushing back on calls from within the Coalition to exempt religious beliefs from employment contracts, which could afford legal protection to views like those expressed by rugby player Israel Folau.  Mr Porter cautioned the government was not necessarily interested in “trying to prevent individuals privately contracting the terms of their employment”.  His comments follow a call from Barnaby Joyce to expand new protections against religious discrimination to include clauses preventing employers creating contracts that penalise people for their religious beliefs.

Mr Porter is preparing to present a religious discrimination bill to Parliament this month.  This was a Coalition election commitment and was born out of Philip Ruddock’s religious freedom review, completed last year.  Emboldened by the strong support from religious voters at the recent federal election, some Coalition MPs are now calling for more far-reaching religious freedom provisions in the new laws.  Mr Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia after a social media post that said gay people and adulterers would go to hell.  The former Wallabies star has said he is considering his options, including legal action.

Mr Joyce said Mr Folau’s case “got a lot of people annoyed” during the election.  The Nationals MP said: “People were shocked that someone could lose their job because of what they believe.”  But Mr Porter told 6PR radio that the Folau case was a “very complicated legal question”.  The Attorney-General said: “People enter into employment contracts of various types and terms of their own volition all the time.  What I would say is that as a Government we’re not necessarily in the business of trying to prevent individuals privately contracting the terms of their employment in a fair, balanced and reasonable way with their employer in a range of circumstances.”

Earlier, NSW Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells said the government did not need to wait for the findings of a review being undertaken by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) into exemptions to anti-discrimination laws currently enjoyed by religious schools.  Senator Fierravanti-Wells said “Whilst the ALRC is not due to report until April 2020, given its diverse and broad terms of reference, I believe that the recent election has reinforced the need for more immediate legislative action,” she said.  Mr Porter said he noted that the Law Reform Commission’s report was a separate piece of work to the upcoming religious discrimination bill.

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