PM Morrison says he will pass the unamended Religious Discrimination Bill

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced that the Coalition will pass a Religious Discrimination Bill. In a previous letter to religious leaders, he said that passing a bill would require “a consensus.”

But asked during his visit to Tasmania whether a Religious Discrimination Bill was “dead in the water,” he responded:

“No, I’ve been clear and I’ve written to religious leaders around the country. I was devastated that that wasn’t passed, along with faith communities. It was a great disappointment to me. But what I propose to do and have made very clear is I will take it forward, but I’ll be taking it forward as standalone legislation. It will deal with the RDA, and won’t be dealing with other issues. It’ll just be dealing with that issue. And that’s what I intend to do.”

He has also clarified his position in a letter to the conservative Christian lobby group Family Voice. “If re-elected, we will pursue passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill as standalone legislation in the next Parliament and will not accept any attempts to make changes to other laws that undermine protections for religious institutions.

“I want to assure you that guaranteeing Australians are safe from discrimination on the basis of their faith remains a priority for me and my Government. I will also not allow this issue to be used by Labor and the Greens to undermine existing protections.”

This promise commits the PM to a Religious Discrimination Bill that leaves the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) intact. Section 38(3) of the SDA, which allows religious schools freedom of action concerning enrolling and disciplining LGBTIQ students, was the target of amendments moved by independent Rebekha Sharkie in the last Parliament. Five Liberals crossed the floor to support the amendment causing the Morrison Government to withdraw the bill.

By promising no changes to other laws, the PM is pursuing a more conservative stance than last time, when the Government was prepared to modify SDA section 38 (3) to prevent discrimination in schools enrolling gay and lesbian students.

In giving this assurance, the PM is banking on having the numbers to steer the bill through Parliament with fewer dissidents in his ranks.

These announcements give conservative Christians who support the Religious Discrimination Bill before the last Parliament a clear option to vote for a major party.

A Labor spokesperson tells Eternity that an Albanese Government would give religious schools the right to preference staff of faith. They will not adopt the Victorian model of “inherent requirements.” But (as previously announced), the ALP is committed to a process of consultation with stakeholders and getting the Australian Law Reform Commission to review the SDA exemptions.

Their policy is based on these principles:

• Prevent discrimination against people of faith, including anti-vilification protections.

• Act to protect all students from discrimination on any grounds; and

• Protect teachers from discrimination at work whilst maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in selecting staff.

Eternity understands that a Religious Discrimination Bill is a priority for Labor and will be passed in the first term of an Albanese government. Labor has given this assurance in writing to several religious groups.

The Greens have announced a plan to strengthen LGBTIQ protections by amending the Sex Discrimination Act, removing the exemptions for religious schools regarding both staff and students.