Attorney-General says ‘religious freedom’ bill is top priority for Morrison government

attorney general christian porter religious freedom review scott morrison religious discrimination
Photo: Sky News

Attorney-General Christian Porter says one of the re-elected Morrison Government’s first acts will be introducing “religious freedom” legislation to Parliament.

Porter told The West Australian the government would introduce its bill responding to last year’s Ruddock review when parliament returned in the coming months.

“There was enormous concern in religious Australia,” Porter told the publication.

“From schools to churches to groups any way involved in organised religion.

“They were concerned and we saw it become a key issue during the election.”

The Morrison government announced in December it would enact a dedicated Religious Discrimination Act.

Porter told Sky News: “We have anti-discrimination acts based around someone’s attributes being sex, or race, or for Australians with a disability.

“The idea that that can also be done for people of strong religious conviction is something that we promised that we would do.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also announced in December he would appoint a dedicated Religious Discrimination Commissioner, despite the Ruddock review finding it was unnecessary.

Labor’s shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told the ABC’s Q&A on Monday the Ruddock review did not find there was “any great risk” to religious freedom in Australia.

“The Ruddock Review … concluded that religious freedom in Australia was not in imminent peril,” he said.

“I don’t think that there is any present great risk to religious freedom, notwithstanding a whole lot of fear campaigns that were run during this election campaign we’ve just had.”

Tim Wilson says anti-discrimination laws are outdated

He said the parliament’s bipartisan commitment to remove exemptions allowing discrimination against LGBTIQ students in faith schools had not been addressed.

“It’s a promise that Mr Morrison made to the people of Australia during the Wentworth byelection, that that exemption would be removed,” he said.

“It’s a promise that Mr Morrison hasn’t yet kept.”

Liberal MP Tim Wilson told Q&A the government had referred the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission to review “some of the tensions” in that law.

“Australian anti-discrimination legislation was frankly designed at a time where freedom of religion transcended the rights of other minority groups within the community, particularly LGBTI Australians,” he said.

“I think we need to review and look at that law, to improve it, so that everybody’s rights are protected, rather than just trying to tinker with existing laws.”

Wilson, a former Human Rights Commissioner, said he expected the Prime Minister Scott Morrison to appoint a religious freedom commissioner.

But he said “part of the package” of the existing Human Rights Commissioner’s role was dealing with both freedom of religion and the rights of LGBTI Australians already.

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