Religious leaders will advocate for changes to the draft Religious Freedoms laws recently announced by Attorney-General Christian Porter, as many leaders felt left out of the consultation process during the drafting process, expressed concern over parts of the legislation.  Their reaction comes after leaders from the Catholic Church boycotted Mr Porter’s speech at the Great Synagogue in Sydney over disappointment at the consultation process. Michael Stead, Anglican bishop of South Sydney and Chair of the Religious Freedom Reference Group, said that he and Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies had “very significant concerns” about the consultation process and the draft bill.

”I expect there will be minor tweaking around the edges and that there are probably little things that need to be improved.  But I don’t expect that they will be substantive changes to the architecture of the bill.  I think the Attorney-General has made it very clear that the overriding framework is not going to change.” Mr Stead said.  He also expressed concerns about Mr Porter’s flagging that the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) recommendation process would be delayed despite the consultation for the religious freedoms exposure draft bill proceeding.

“What concerns me more is what’s not in the bill, and specifically, that the ALRC process is now going to be delayed so that its recommendations can’t be considered in parallel with this bill.  It’s a very significant concern, because the ALRC is looking at the removal of religious exemptions from other anti-discrimination acts.  This is about religious discrimination, there is an obvious overlap between those two things.  And the really thorny issues, as the Attorney-General indicated, are actually in that space of intersection.  But we’re not allowed to talk about those two things together.” Mr Stead said.
“Actually the real concern is not so much what’s in this bill, but the fact that it’s not going to be able to talk to the recommendations of the ALRC.  And we may end up with something embedded in this bill that becomes unworkable.” Mr Stead said.  Mr Stead said he was also concerned at the lack of clarity of how the laws would impact workplaces and corporations who sacks employees for expressing religious views, and said the situation of Israel Folau and Rugby Australia had not been made any clearer by Mr Porter.  He also said he was not surprised by Catholic Church leaders boycotting the speech, and said “some of their concerns are well founded”.

Bilal Rauf, the spokesman who accompanied the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim Mohammed to Mr Porter’s speech said he was disappointed at the consultation process leading up to today’s draft release.  “It’s only now the consultation process seems to be beginning.  Prior to now, there has been very little discussion and there has been very little involvement with us.  “It’s more been a case of people pushing to try and get across views without really understanding what the government had in mind.  This is the first opportunity we have to get real insight into what their thinking is.  And I think leading up to now there hasn’t been that same level of discussion.”

He said he was concerned that given how developed the draft is, further significant change would be unlikely.  “It seems to be quite advanced in its form. I think the reality is that there will be little scope to achieve structural or significant changes.” Mr Rauf said.  Mr Rauf also noted the “positive rights” model that the Australian National Imams Council had put forward in writing was not reflected in the version released today.  “We were part of the group that were putting forward certain views as to the approach, namely, a positive rights approach.  “We are hopeful that there will be fulsome consultation and the opportunity to engage and provide feedback.

We hope to attend the next consultation phase.” he said.  Peter Wertheim, Co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said he was also concerned about the impact of the delay of the ALRC recommendations as the Religious Freedoms draft proceeds.  “I’m more concerned that the referral to the ALRC, concerning exceptions to the anti-discrimination laws that benefit religious institutions, has now been narrowed somewhat, according to what the Attorney-General has announced.  “It will make it difficult given that the timetable has now been extended out to next year, to evaluate both exposure draft and any recommendations.” Mr Wertheim said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

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