Eric Abetz says Religious Discrimination Bill ended up a “shemozzle”

Liberal senator Eric Abetz has described the Religious Discrimination Bill a “shemozzle”, saying people of faith in Australia were better off with nothing that the bill that was before the senate.

Despite being Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s signature legislation, the government decided to shelve the bill and not continue debating it in the senate, even though they’d just completed an extended session in the lower house that saw MPs sitting until four o’clock in the morning.

“The legislation has been so emasculated in the House of Representatives, that to pass it up to the senate would have been to repudiate that which we had promised to the Australian people and that was genuine religious freedom legislation.” Senator Abetz told the The Bolt Report on Sky News on Thursday evening.

“What the Labor party did to it meant that it longer represented that which we had promised.” Senator Abetz said, saying that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had made the right decision by pulling the plug on further debate.

While the Labor party had failed to get any amendments to the Religious Discrimination Bill in the lower house, an amendment to the associated Sex Discrimination Act that was put up by Centre Alliance member Rebekha Sharkie was adopted with support from Labor, The Greens, crossbench independents and five Liberal MPs who crossed the floor. The successful amendment allowed for transgender students to be protected from expulsion from faith-based schools over their gender identity.

‘What I woke to this morning was a complete shemozzle, and I’ve got to say whilst we have the right of Liberals to cross the floor and make decision contrary to the party room, that is a freedom we have in our party, if the Labor party didn’t have such an iron disciple – which is expulsion for crossing the floor – I’m sure there would have been quite a few Labor people who would have voted with the government and then the legislation in it’s original form could have proceeded.”

Senator Abetz said the amendment that was passed made the Bill completely unacceptable to the government.

“The amendments were just so atrocious.” Abetz said, adding that a condition of allowing marriage equality in 2017 was a promise that Religious Freedom legislation would be delivered.

“This legislation had it’s genesis in the same-sex marriage debate, where both Liberal and Labor promised if same-sex marriage got through, Religious Freedom would be legislated and protected.”  Senator Abetz said.

“We as a government have tried to do that, but Mr Albanese has tried to wedge the government by moving amendments that he must have known would be unacceptable to the government, to try to stop Mr Morrison from achieving that which he had promised.”

Senator Abetz also commented on reports that the Prime Minister had proposed a “horse-trading” deal on the Religious Discrimination Bill, suggesting moderate MPs and independents could be bought over with a promise to bring in legislation for a federal integrity commission.

The Australian newspaper has reported on a cabinet leak that suggests the Prime Minister was poleaxed by his own cabinet who refused to go along with the deal. Senator Abetz said the reports were “speculation” but his belief was each piece of individual legislation should be treated individually, and deal making was never a good idea in politics.

“I’m not in cabinet these days, so I’m not able to verify or otherwise that speculation, but my own view is in relation to legislation, you should treat each bit of legislation on it’s merits. When you start engaging in horse trading and accepting bad legislation in an attempt to get some good legislation through, you do a great disservice to the Australian people.” Senator Abetz said.

Despite the legislative backdown and embarrassing cabinet leak, Senator Abetz said he did not believe the party would be looking to change leaders, saying Prime Minister Scott Morrison still had the support of the party room.

“Scott Morrison clearly has the confidence of the party room and my prediction is he’ll lead us to the next election.”

OIP Staff


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