Religious Discrimination bill referred to parliamentary committee for scrutiny

The government has referred the Religious Discrimination bill to a parliamentary committee for further scrutiny. The surprise move comes as the government ends a week which saw disunity and disagreement within its own ranks over multiple issues.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the legislation to parliament yesterday saying it was a promise he’d made prior to the last election and his government was determined to meet people’s expectations. The legislation however has been widely criticised from all sides of the political spectrum with many members of his own government raising concern about the bill and how it might undermine existing anti-discrimination laws.

Now the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, has written to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and asked them to look at the bill, and report back by 4th February 2022.

The move means they will not be a vote on the bill on the floor of the House of Representatives next week. The decision to delay the process of passing the bill comes as Prime Minister Scott Morrison ends a week where several times members of the coalition have voted against, or spoken out against government policy.

Several moderate Liberal members have expressed concern over the bill and the fact it overrides some existing state based anti-discrimination legislation, and that there has still be no action on amending the Sex Discrimination laws which allow discrimination against LGBTIQ teachers and students. The Attorney-General has asked the Law Reform Commission to look into those laws, but the report is not expected until 2023.

Liberals including Fiona Archer, Dave Sharma, Katie Allen, Andrew Bragg, Warren Entsch, Fiona Martin and Trent Zimmerman have all expressed concern.

Labor MP Graham Perrett, who is the Deputy Chair of the Human Rights committee said once again the Prime Minister was delaying.

“He’s kicked the can of worms down the road,” Perrett said.

The Prime Minister has also changed his tune on the issue on discrimination against teachers who may face discrimination from religious based schools over their sexuality and gender identity.  Three years ago Scott Morrison said he would take action to stop students being expelled from schools, but he’s never expressed the same concern over teacher’s losing their jobs.

Speaking to the media on Thursday the Prime Minister said  it has “always been [his] view” that gay students should not be expelled and gay teachers should not be sacked from religious schools.

The interaction between the Sex Discrimination laws and proposed Religious Discrimination laws have been a point of contention as the government has tried to sell their proposal.

On Thursday morning prior to the bill being introduced to parliament Senator Amanda Stoker appeared to avoid confirming that the Religious Discrimination bill might allow discrimination against students and teachers. Appearing on the ABC’s RN Breakfast Senator Stoker was repeatedly asked if the bill would allow teachers to be fired.

Tasmanian equality advocates have welcomed the decision to refer the bill to the committee.

Equality Tasmania spokesperson, Rodney Croome said the inquiry would show that some of the state’s current laws are more effective than the federal government’s offering.

“The inquiry will help expose the way this Bill allows more discrimination against a wide range of Tasmanians including LGBTIQ+ people, people with disability, women and people in minority faiths.”

“We will be encouraging all Tasmanians who are concerned about our gold-standard Anti-Discrimiantion Act being overridden by the Federal Bill to make their views known to the inquiry.” Croome said.

Croome thanked Tasmanian Federal Liberal, Bridget Archer, for making her concerns about the Bill known to the Prime Minister.

“I thank Bridget Archer for standing up for all those people who will face more denigration and discrimination if the Religious Discrimination Bill becomes law.”

Graeme Watson 

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