PM Scott Morrison pulls religious discrimination bill promises new draft in 2020

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced his religious discrimination bill will not be introduced into parliament next week, and a new draft will be developed for consideration in 2020.

Religious groups has voiced their concern that the proposed bill did not provide sufficient protections for believers and needed to be more robust, while equality campaigners argued the draft would allow discrimination to occur against LGBTIQ people, people of colour, women, single mothers and other minority groups.

The Prime Minister had promised that the bill would be introduced into parliament before the end of 2019, but has now taken it off the table for parliament’s final sitting week. The Prime Minister said the new draft would be made public before the end of the year.

“This second and final exposure draft will be released before the end of the year, and will take account of issues raised and provide the opportunity to respond to the revisions made and fine-tune the bill before it is introduced next year,” he said.

“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. We’re about listening and getting this right.”

Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally described the bill as “friendless” saying nobody liked what it proposed.

“I have yet to see any wholehearted or enthusiastic support coming from either religious organisations, equality groups or the business community,” Keneally earlier today before the Prime Minister announced he was withdrawing the proposed draft.

“It is currently, as a draft bill, a friendless piece of legislation.” Keneally said.

Earlier Labor’s Chris Bowen has used similar language when appearing on The Guardian Australia’s political podcast.

“I represent a very religious community,” Bowen said. “My electorate voted no on same-sex marriage and I voted yes, and I knew there would be a political price to pay for that, because I wasn’t representing the views of many of my constituents, but I was honest with them and upfront with them.”

“I think I’m right in saying I represent the most Catholic electorate in Australia, certainly in New South Wales, and there’s a heavy representation of Orthodox Christians,” Bowen said. “They are not just Christians, Christianity is very important to who they are.”

“But this bill is friendless. It is friendless”.

“The government has cocked it up so badly – I’ve got my religious leaders saying, we don’t like it, we think it is a pretty ordinary piece of legislation.”

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said the government should move on from the long and drawn out religious discrimination argument.

“This is a bill no-one needs, non-one wants, and no-one supports.” Croome said. “It’s time for the government to throw it in the bin and move on.”

Yesterday it was revealed that a coalition of religious groups had written to the Prime Minister outling that they would be withdrawing their support for the bill because it did not deliver enough protections for their followers.

Among the group is the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian National Imams Council and the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia.

The decision to withdraw the bill follows a week that was full of missteps for the federal government. Their union busting bill failed after Pauline Hanson’s One Nation sided with Labor and opposed the bill, and the government couldn’t shake questions from both the opposition and the media about the performance of Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

The Australian Christian Lobby has welcomed the announcement describing it as an opportunity for the government to put forward an alternative bill that addresses the concerns of religious leaders.

“We welcome the promised second exposure draft for consideration before a Bill is tabled in 2020. Religious freedom reform should protect people of faith expressing religious belief and quoting religious texts, in public, online or in workplaces. They shouldn’t be sacked or face severe penalties.” said Managing Director Martyn Iles.

“Faith based bodies must retain the freedom to recruit likeminded staff as ambassadors for their mission, without being sued for discrimination.”

“A hurried Bill risks unintended consequences and diminished religious freedom.”

“Millions of Australians for whom religious faith is central to their identity will benefit from this extended consultation process. ”

“The Australian Christian Lobby has consistently and succinctly outlined concerns with this Bill. We have worked with the government in good faith on sensible reform. The government’s decision to renew consultation and slow the process vindicates our advocacy for people of faith. We will continue to advocate to protect people of faith from discrimination.” Iles said.

The lobby group’s former leader Lyle Shelton who lead the campaign against marriage equality said the government needed to put forward legislation that would allow those who were opposed to marriage equality to maintain their beliefs.

Shelton said the ‘Yes’ campaign has promised a “no consequences” outcomes of the marriage postal survey and it was the government’s responsibility to create legislation that reflected that promise.

“It has unleashed a rainbow-striped tiger that threatens to devour anyone who fails to celebrate the sexual and gender-fluid expressionism of its political movement.” Shelton said.

Glen Davies, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney praised the Prime Minister’s decision to withdraw the bill.

“Delaying the Religious Discrimination Bill is the wisest course of action. I commend Scott Morrison for his careful and consultative approach. We are confident the government understands the concerns of faith groups and that a delay will ensure Australians get a better bill.” the Archbishop posted to social media.

While the government has consulted widely with religious groups, it has not held meetings with groups representing the LGBTIQ+ community. The consultation process for the draft legislation however received over 6000 submissions, most are believed to be critical of the wording of the bill.

The development of the legislation has been a long drawn out process. Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promised a review of religious discrimination in the wake of the marriage postal survey showing support for allowing same gender couples to wed.

An inquiry was lead by former Attorney General Philip Ruddock, but the committees final report sat on the Prime Minister desk for many months. After Scott Morrison toppled Turnbull for the leadership the report’s recommendations were leaked to the media.

The current legislation put forward by the government has been criticised for including elements that were not among the Ruddock Review’s recommendations, but religious leaders have maintained the legislation still does not go far enough.

OIP Staff