Draft Religious Freedom Bill intends to be a ‘shield’, not a ‘sword’
Attorney-General Christian Porter yesterday released the draft version of the Religious Freedom Bill, which he said intended to prevent discrimination on the basis of religion rather than allow vilification or discrimination on such grounds.
Speaking yesterday from Sydney, Mr Porter said the draft bill will be the subject of “extensive consultation” in the coming weeks before being presented in final draft form to the parliament by October.
“Australia has a strong anti-discrimination framework with specific protections for people against discrimination on the basis of their age, sex, race and disability. This draft bill released today extends those protections to provide protection for people against discrimination on the basis of their religion or religious belief, or lack thereof,” he said.
“The bill would make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in key areas of public life. The bill does not create a positive right to freedom of religion.”
The package unveiled by the Attorney-General comprised three bills: The Religious Discrimination Bill (which intends to provide comprehensive protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity and establishes a new office of Freedom of Religion Commissioner), The Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments Bill) 2019 (which would make consequential amendments to existing Commonwealth legislation to support the introduction of the Religious Discrimination Bill) and The Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion Bill) 2019 (which would amend the Charities Act 2013 and Marriage Act 1961 to provide certainty to charities and religious education institutions).
All three of the bills would implement various recommendations from the Ruddock Review of Religious Freedom.
“While there will always be competing views on issues such as this, the government considers [that] the draft bill strikes the right balance in the interests of all Australians,” Mr Porter posited.
“I expect the bills can be introduced in October and considered by both the House and Senate before the end of the calendar year, allowing time for a Senate inquiry.”
The draft bill comes as the Australian Law Reform Commission continues its inquiry into religious exemptions to other discrimination laws across the country.
“The ALRC inquiry is designed to ensure that existing legislative exemptions to discrimination based on a person’s identity are redrafted or removed, while also protecting the right of religious institutions to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos,” Mr Porter explained.
“The ALRC is due to report next year. What the bill I am releasing today aims to deliver was rightly described by Anglican Public Affairs Commission chairwoman, Carolyn Tan, recently as being a ‘shield’ against discrimination, and not a ‘sword’.”
“The laws will protect people from being discriminated against but will not give them a licence to discriminate against other people or engage in harassing or vilifying speech.”