Liberal senator Eric Abetz wants an investigation into Rugby Australia’s sacking of Israel Folau as Coalition MPs push for “religious freedom” laws.
Rugby Australia terminated Folau’s $4 million contract last month after an Instagram post claiming “hell awaits” gay people.
Abetz asked the Fair Work Ombudsman and the Human Rights Commission to investigate the decision on discrimination grounds.
“Under the Fair Work Act it is expressly unlawful, and indeed there is a reversed onus of proof, to discriminate against an employee on the basis of their religion,” he said.
“Given – as it has been reported – Mr Folau was terminated on the basis of publicly expressing his personal religious beliefs, it would appear to contradict existing law.
“If that is the case, I would hope that the regulator would fully investigate and consider action on this matter.”
The Tasmanian Liberal senator told The Examiner a majority of Australians considered Folau’s sacking “unacceptable”.
“The fundamental point of the need to protect freedom of speech and freedom of religion is in the DNA of every true Liberal and that is why I am seeking to pursue it,” he said.
“The vast bulk of people in Australia just get that it is completely unacceptable that Israel Folau has been treated in the way that he has.
“You don’t have to be a man or woman of faith of any kind to understand the huge injustice that has been dealt to Israel Folau.”
Eric Abetz said the government needs to introduce “religious freedom” legislation ensured rights that “used to be an absolute given” are “restored”.
“In this parliament, we’ve got a majority in the lower house,” he said.
“In the Senate, depending on how things fall, there may be a very real opportunity to bring about some fundamental reform to protect individual freedoms.”
‘The solution is a national human rights act’
Attorney-General Christian Porter is expected to introduce legislation to create a Religious Discrimination Act to parliament as early as next month.
But LGBTIQ advocate Rodney Croome said the best way to strike a balance between potentially competing rights was a specific human rights bill.
“The solution to the Israel Folau dispute, and to any conflict between competing rights and freedoms, is a national human rights act that protects everyone equally,” he said.
“The solution is not a law that only deals with religious freedom because it could allow discrimination against LGBTI people and other minorities in the name of religion.”
Labor will ‘work cooperatively’ with the government
The Australian reported new Labor leader Anthony Albanese is being urged by Labor colleagues to “work constructively” with the government on religious freedom legislation.
Kristina Keneally, Labor’s new deputy leader in the Senate, told the newspaper Labor’s election campaign was “tone deaf” to the concerns of religious people.
“We lost them on the more traditional, touchstone culture and social issues,” she said.
“I think it is because we were tone deaf.
“If you take the issue of religious freedom, I see a growing concern of people of faith that in this Twitter world, the instant response world we live in, that they are going to be ganged up on.
“The Israel Folau matter, which was frankly a contract issue, spoke to a broader concern people had, and understandably so, that in expressing their faith they are going to be howled down by other people in the community.
“The extent to which Labor wasn’t seen to be standing up for people of faith did hurt us.”
Mr Albanese told The Australian he was prepared to work with the Morrison government on the religious discrimination bill.
“I’m certainly prepared to work cooperatively on issues which should not be the subject of partisan politics, and that includes that issue,” he said.
Last week, conservative Coalition MPs said they wanted the government to expand the “religious freedom” laws even further after last month’s election win.
Former Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said he wants religious beliefs made exempt from employment contracts, after Folau’s sacking.
But Attorney-General Christian Porter downplayed those calls, telling 6PR radio the Folau case was a “very complicated legal question”.
“People enter into employment contracts of their own volition all the time, and contracts of a number of types with a number of terms,” he said.
“We’re not necessarily in the business in government of trying to prevent individuals privately contracting the terms of their employment in a fair and balanced and reasonable way with their employer in a range of circumstances.”
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