21 March 2024

Religious discrimination legislation proving too hard for Labor

| Chris Johnson
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Parliament House of Australia

Labor’s religious discrimination bill won’t be debated in parliament any time soon. Photo: File.

Finding the balance between protecting LGBTQIA+ staff and students from discrimination and providing legal protection for religious schools seems to be beyond the Federal Government.

The Australian Law Reform Commission’s final report on the issue is about to land after the government commissioned it to consult with stakeholders and propose a way forward.

One of Labor’s election promises was to introduce legal protections for religious beliefs while also protecting LGBTQIA+ staff and students.

Scott Morrison found it too hard to implement – now it’s Anthony Albanese’s turn.

The Prime Minister has suggested this week that he won’t go much further without the Coalition coming to the party.

But the Opposition insists it can’t offer bipartisan support if it doesn’t know the government’s intentions.

Mr Albanese told his caucus that with the rise in both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in Australia due to the current conflict in the Middle East, now was not the right time to reveal details of any proposed legislation that could risk more ugly division over religion.

“If there is no agreement, then now is not the time to have a divisive debate,” he said.

But Opposition Leader Peter Dutton says the PM is using the Coalition as an excuse to put plans on the back burner, and his Senate leader, Simon Birmingham, said while it was a reasonable ambition to seek bipartisanship, the government had to work to achieve it.

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Instead, he said, the government has been “quite secretive” about the whole process.

“The Opposition has not yet seen the proposals from the government, so it’s very hard to give bipartisanship to something you have not seen,” Senator Birmingham said.

The Coalition is not likely to support significant chunks of what Labor would be hoping for and would lean more towards protecting religious beliefs than the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.

But with the ball firmly in the government’s court, it’s Labor that is now being pressured to deliver on its promises.

In Question Time on Wednesday (20 March), the Prime Minister said no Australian should be discriminated against on the basis of their gender, their sexuality or their faith.

“I support religious liberty and I think it would be an important step forward if this parliament were to pass legislation,” he said.

“The government has prepared two pieces of legislation – a religious discrimination bill and a Sex Discrimination Act amendment bill to achieve the objectives of ensuring that people of faith can practise their faith free of discrimination, that religious-based schools can operate on the basis of their faith, including on employment issues.

“We have consulted widely … and what I have said from the very beginning … was that there needed to be bipartisan support for this position because, as Senator Birmingham said this morning, I think it is a reasonable ambition to want to seek bipartisanship.

“If it is going to be passed through the Senate, given its nature, it needs the support not just of the government, but it needs the support of either the Coalition or the Greens political party.

“That’s just the numerical facts of what is there. We will work with everyone, including the crossbenchers, on these issues. I have said, though, that we wouldn’t go through a parliamentary committee process.

“It is now time to determine whether we’ll progress forward. I’m for progressing forward based on a bipartisan position, and I hope that can be achieved.

“If not, then that will, of course, be a decision for this parliament as well.”

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Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who crossed the floor on the issue in the Morrison government, said delaying tactics weren’t helpful to anyone.

“I think if we were waiting for bipartisan agreement [in parliament], we wouldn’t get anything done. It’s a function of this parliament that legislation is brought forward by the government or by others at times, and there is a contest of ideas. We examine that legislation, consult with our communities, and hopefully arrive at a consensus decision that is in the best interests of Australia,” she said.

“That’s what I expect the government to do … I would urge the government to get on with progressing this issue and to bring something forward as a starting point that we can collaborate on.”

ACT independent Senator David Pocock agreed, saying the government had to make the first move.

“The Australian people have elected a Senate where neither of the major parties have the numbers,” he said.

“I would urge the government to come forward with their proposed legislation and let us look at the detail … but it’s very hard to deal with hypotheticals.”

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William Teach8:38 am 24 Mar 24

IMO the law shouldn’t directly address religion at all. Instead there should be 4 provisions:

1. Anything funded with federal grants must, come hell or high water, be used to deliver the public benefit of that grant until such time as that becomes redundant or has zero book value (in which case the fair value is zero).

2. Should anything funded with a federal grant or contract cease operation, the government may specify that special bankruptcy rules apply, allowing it to appoint an administrator to ensure continuity of service over and above protecting creditors.

3. Anything federally funded must act as if it were part of the APS in terms of hiring policy, transparency, record keeping, FOI, and so on.

4. Nothing in any federal law shall be interpreted as a restriction on states imposing equivalent obligations, unless there is an explicitly notwithstanding clause.

Separately, IMO there shouldn’t be any religious exemptions to any laws whatsoever, and ideally we’d adopt a rule like France where public institutions aren’t even allowed to recognise religion as a special kind of thing.

Stephen Saunders7:34 am 24 Mar 24

When one considers the nous and tactical skills that Mr Albanese brought to The Voice, a favourable outcome seems assured. Not.

These reforms are important for the protection of LGBTQIA+ staff and students from religious discrimination. The only way we are going to get wide-ranging democratic reform in this country and restore trust in our political system to drive change is if we have more like minded independents elected. A larger pool of smart Independents who are willing to take on the big issues and work together to progress reform rather than the dominant 2-party system. At the moment both major parties are unwilling to cooperate and blame each other when the going gets tough. Labor unfortunately has become a party too timid to drive reform and the Liberals are only intent on promoting fear and division.

This one should just be dropped. Why did they even touch it? One of those where no one will be happy.

Will the proposed laws apply to schools of a certain religion beginning with the letter I? If not then it’s a farce

The crux of this debate has absolutely nothing to do with “faith” and everything to do with organised religion.

There is absolutely no need to legally protect “faith” which is a personal choice to believe something, which does not need to be publicly professed.

The religious lobby on the other hand wants legislation which protects their version of overtly stated belief from any scrutiny or dispute and they also want a legally enshrined “right” to discriminate against “non believers” however and whenever they choose.

To seek to legally protect exclusivity and discrimination being practiced by any group is a recipe for division.

GrumpyGrandpa5:04 pm 21 Mar 24

Morrison allowed SSM through the parliament but walked away from his Religious Freedom legislation, because he couldn’t get support from the ALP.
It now appears that Albo wants the Libs to agree to their terms. Not going to happen Albo.

Either Anti-discrimination laws, discriminate against one’s right to practice their Faith or one’s Faith discriminates against Antidiscrimination laws.

Do we really need Religious Freedom legislation? We already have the right to practice our own religion in this country.

In my opinion, if you attend a Church and don’t like it’s beliefs, move to a different church. If you want a job, don’t apply for a position in an organisation that doesn’t share your values.

Not everyone can pack that much rubbish into so few words, GrumpyGrandpa.

“Morrison allowed SSM through” (???)
He was not the PM, Turnbull was.
He voted consistently against it. The vote was 131 for, 4 against, 11 abstentions, showing in what minority Morrison stood.

When he became PM, Morrison governed with a majority — he withdrew his ‘free to discriminate’ bill after members of his own party advised they would cross the floor, as was publically known.

Your subsequent argument is a version of the “love it or leave it” jingoism, prejudice supervening actual or potential contribution.

Yes, you have the right to practise your religion in this country. Just practise on yourself and not on others.

Exactly! Yes, you have the right to practise your religion in this country. Just practise on yourself and not on others. And keep your “fingers” out of Parliament House. And do it without the tax dollars you receive from the people you are happy to discriminate against.

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