Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has signalled he would like to see the Religious Discrimination Bill legislated during Labor’s first term in parliament.
Speaking after attending a church service prior to the opening session of the new Parliament on July 26, the prime minister noted that he respected all people of faith and would look to address the issues of religious discrimination at the earliest opportunity.
“I respect people of faith. That all people, regardless of their faith, should be respected, that’s something I have always done, and something that my government will do as well,” he said.
“We’ll do that during the term of parliament. We’ll do it in a way which is much more consultative and brings people together in a way that I hope characterises the way my government functions,” he added.
The comments from Albanese come after the centre-right Morrison Coalition government failed to get their Religious Discrimination Bill passed prior to the election in May 2022.
The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 seeks to protect people from being discriminated against on the basis of their religion or religious activity and provides a mechanism for a remedy under the Religious Discrimination Act or the Fair Work Act.
A Contentious Past
The Bill was considered contentious due to its alleged lack of protections for religious schools and students who may attend those schools and only managed to pass the lower house of the federal parliament after a marathon debate.
In fact, on Feb. 10, five Liberal MPs—Bridget Archer, Trent Zimmerman, Fiona Martin, Dave Sharma, and Katie Allen—crossed the floor to support amendments by the then-opposition Labor Party, which were designed to prevent discrimination against gay and transgender students by religious schools.
Openly gay—now former—North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman told Parliament the Bill provided the opportunity to address what he saw as “permitted” discrimination against gay and transgender students by religious schools under the Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) banner.
“At the moment, the SDA allows schools to discriminate based on all those characteristics I mentioned before. Of course, the reality is it’s uncommon for that to happen,” he said.
However, religious groups said the amendments were a “price too high to pay,” with the director of politics at the Australian Christian Lobby, Wendy Francis, saying it would take away protections for Christian schools to operate according to their faith.
“With the amendments so damaging to religious freedom, the government should immediately withdraw the bills,” she said.