Coalition Rift Over Draft Religious Laws

Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.
August 30, 2019Updated: August 31, 2019

A conservative coalition senator has raised concerns about the federal government’s proposed religious freedom laws, saying they’re likely to “fall far short” of expectations.

The draft laws are aimed at protecting people of faith from discrimination, but do not create freedom of religion.

Liberal senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells says religious leaders and groups had expected the laws to create such a freedom.

“It is clear from my ongoing consultation and engagement with religious leaders that the bills are likely to fall far short of properly and fully addressing their requirement,” she told ABC’s Radio National on Friday.

Many people in “Labor heartland” seats voted for the coalition in May’s federal election believing their religious freedoms would be protected, she said.

The senator says religious people want to know if they will be in trouble if they espouse beliefs in line with their faith.

“And if that answer isn’t given appropriately, then we may lose that electoral support,” she said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, who unveiled the draft laws during a speech at The Great Synagogue in Sydney on Thursday, says creating an outright freedom of religion would be too problematic for the courts.

“Under this model there are very clear guard rails around the types of circumstances that we anticipate,” he told 2GB Radio.

“And we direct the courts to things they should take into account.”

Concerns over religious discrimination catapulted into the public sphere in the case of Rugby Australia and Israel Folau who was sacked over a social media post saying drunks, homosexuals, fornicators and others would go to hell.

Under the draft legislation, Rugby Australia could argue its rule on player communication was necessary to protect its brand and avoid unjustifiable financial hardship.

“Some people might argue that Rugby Australia’s own handling of the situation has caused more financial damage than the actual issue that arose in the first place,” Mr Porter said.

“But if they say that those rules are about financial hardship, well they should be put to the proof on that.”

Queensland MP George Christensen said the bill would protect the ability of people of faith to express their beliefs.

“It is a sad state of affairs when we need to pass laws in parliament to protect the rights of people to express their religious beliefs in the various aspects of their lives,” Mr Christensen said.

“But this is the crossroads we are at.”

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus is disappointed Labor was not consulted about the bill, and said it was clear almost no religious or LGBTI groups had been consulted either.

Public submissions can be made until October 5.

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