Australian Prime Minister to Issue Revised Religious Discrimination Laws

Australian Prime Minister to Issue Revised Religious Discrimination Laws
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison talks to the media at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia on April 11, 2019. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images)
Mimi Nguyen Ly

The Australian government will revise its religious discrimination laws and issue a second version of the draft bill of the Religious Discrimination Act before the end of the year.

The bill will then be introduced to the Australian Parliament in 2020. The Australian Parliament will next week sit for the final time in 2019.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision was made earlier this week and will allow further opportunity for further engagement for interested parties, saying that it’s “about listening and getting this right.”

“Our government takes the issue of discrimination against Australians for their religious beliefs very seriously,” Morrison said in a statement on Saturday, reported AAP.

“We made a commitment to Australians to address this issue at the last election and we are keeping faith with that commitment in a calm and considered process.”

The government released a draft bill (pdf) of the Religious Discrimination Act in late August, which was followed by about 6,000 submissions to the attorney general’s department.
“There were some important issues raised [in the submissions], and not everybody and certainly not the government has the answer to every issue,” Morrison told viewers in a video message on Facebook on Saturday. “That’s why we need to listen and work together to get this right. So we’re going to take a bit more time to get this right.”

“They’ll be some who’ll try and make this process more difficult or be opportunistic or try and derail it. They’re not engaging in good faith,” he later added. “I’m engaging in good faith with the Australian people and people of all different beliefs to ensure we can get this law right. It’s an important protection for our society in Australia.”

Morrison’s latest statements came as nine newspapers on Saturday reported that religious leaders are threatening to withdraw support from the bill unless greater freedoms are granted to Australians of faith.

In a draft letter obtained by the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), a coalition of religious groups said, “We take the view that it would be better to have no Religious Discrimination Act rather than a flawed one.”

According to SMH, the groups include the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian National Imams Council, the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia, the Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia and Seventh-day Adventist, Baptist, and Presbyterian leaders.

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, a conservative coalition senator, welcomed the delay to revise the bill.

“Religious leaders, experts and stakeholders across the faith spectrum have raised serious concerns that the bills fell far short of properly and fully protecting religious freedom,” Fierravanti-Wells said, according to SMH.
She had earlier raised concerns about the proposed 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. However, Fierravanti-Wells said in August that religious leaders and groups had expected the laws to create such a freedom.
The Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.