Labor Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has criticised the Morrison Government for “secrecy” around their religious discrimination bill and called for proper consultation.
Dreyfus said despite the Coalition “arguing about this issue for more than two years” they want to give Australians “just weeks” to debate the bill.
He said much of the consultation was done “internally through Liberal Party room ‘workshops’ and ‘presentations for Liberal and Nationals backbenchers’.”
“Religious discrimination legislation affects all Australians, not just the Liberal Party room,” Dreyfus said.
“Attorney-General Christian Porter now wants to bring legislation in within weeks, with a final vote before the end of 2019.
“This is despite the fact that the Australian Law Reform Commission, which was commissioned to inquire into [religious exemptions] in anti-discrimination legislation, is not due to report its findings until April next year.
“It is totally unacceptable for such far-reaching, complex and potentially divisive legislation to be decided almost entirely by sections of the Liberal Party.
“The secretive and to date exclusive process being used to develop this legislation is causing anxiety among large sections of the Australian community.”
He said it was important no Australian be unfairly discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
But he added the entire community must get the chance to “properly scrutinise” the government’s proposals.
“[We should not] have this rushed through Parliament because of the Government’s internal divisions,” he said.
Attorney-General Christian Porter says laws will be a ‘shield, not a sword’
Attorney-General Christian Porter’s draft religious discrimination bill was approved by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and cabinet on Tuesday.
He said he expected to release the draft religious discrimination bill in the next few weeks. He expects the parliament to consider the laws before Christmas.
“The laws will protect people from being discriminated against,” Porter said.
“But the laws won’t give them a licence to discriminate against other people.”
“What we aim to deliver was rightly described … as being a ‘shield’ against discrimination, not a ‘sword’.”
He added the draft bill would mirror “other anti-discrimination acts such as those already covering race, sex and aged discrimination.”
But LGBTIQ advocates have said they have been shut out of the consultation process so far.
‘No evidence people are unable to practice their faith’
Equality Australia has also criticised calls from the Catholic Church for broader “religious freedom” protections for religious groups from existing state laws.
CEO Anna Brown said, “Religious institutions should not be above the laws that apply to everyday Australians.
“We’ve just had a Royal Commission into the problems caused by these institutions when they have unfettered power.
“It’s incredibly unorthodox to provide protections for religious organisations. Anti-discrimination laws are to protect people, not institutions.”
Anna Brown said the genesis of the “religious freedom” laws was a “false premise” to begin with.
“The Australian Christian Lobby and other religious institutions like the Catholic Church [said] marriage equality somehow posed a threat to the ability of Australians to express and practice their faith,” she said.
“Since the passage of marriage equality, we have seen no evidence that people are unable to practice their faith.”
Ms Brown said Christian Porter’s office had promised consultation with LGBTIQ groups on the draft bill before it reaches parliament.
“We expect the government to honour this commitment,” she said.
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