The Bill will go to the Coalition party room on Nov. 23 and will be introduced into the lower house this week.
In a joint statement, Catholic, Jewish, and Islamic faith leaders from across the country said while the introduction of “substantive protections” against faith-based discrimination was welcomed, retaining certain protections such as employment-based protections would have been preferred, The Australian reported.
“Although we have not seen the Bill, we understand from our discussions with the government that some of the measures present in earlier exposure drafts have been removed, such as the protections against employer codes of conduct that restrict religious speech outside the workplace, and the conscience protection for healthcare professionals. We would have preferred that these protections had been retained in some form,” the statement read.
“Such protections are needed because federally, there is at present little if any legislative protection against discrimination directed at a person based on their religious identity and belief, and there are inconsistencies in the manner in which States and Territories have addressed the issue, if at all.”
The Bill, which was part of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s 2019 election promise, sparked controversy over the inclusion of the “Folau clause,” which would legally protect individuals and organisations from termination were they to express a religious tenet or belief.
The “Folau clause” was named after Australian professional rugby league footballer Israel Folau who was terminated from his employment following a 2019 social media post where he said “hell awaits” for “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters.”
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has since removed the “Folau clause,” including the ability for health providers to refuse treatment on the basis of “conscientious objection.” It is reported that the move by Cash was aimed at appeasing opposition to the Bill among moderate members.
Crossbenchers Rex Patrick, an Independent Senator, and Rebekha Sharkie, Centre Alliance MP, have indicated that they don’t see the Bill as necessary.
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told Sky News that while he had not yet seen the Bill, he assured his support for religious freedom.
“[Y]ou can protect religious freedom while not taking away the freedom of others,” he said.
“People should be able to practice their faith, I’ve always been very respectful of people of faith, and it’s something I was raised with, and something I will always hold dear.”
The revised Bill will include a “statement of belief” clause that would override other commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.
Under the Bill, hospitals, schools and aged-care homes that religious groups and organisations run can prioritise hiring people from their faith.
This follows the introduction of the religious exceptions bill in Victoria that would restrict religious organisations and schools from employing staff with the same religious beliefs. The religious exceptions bill is expected to be debated in Victorian parliament’s lower house this week.
A spokesperson for Attorney-General Michaelia Cash told AAP the federal government’s religious discrimination bill would ensure “individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their religious belief or activity.”
“The religious discrimination bill will not affect the operation of existing religious exemptions under anti-discrimination law, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.”