Senator Cash faces uphill battle with religious freedom laws

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is facing an uphill battle to develop long promised religious freedom legislation, as members of her own party warn they will not accept proposed elements of the bill.

Senator Cash has been given the task of taking a third stab at developing a religious freedom bill, following failed attempts by her predecessor Christian Porter. Some of her Liberal colleagues however are warning that many parts of the proposed bill are unacceptable to them, including a section dubbed ‘Israel Folau’s Law’.

The Attorney-General has promised to put the newest version of the bill to parliament before the end of 2021. Just seven sitting weeks remain in the 2021 sitting calendar, with a large part of the four weeks in August set aside for dealing with the federal budget.

One of the contentious sections of the bill calls for protections of ‘statements of belief’ in they are made in the name of religion. The provision would stop large employers from taking action against employees for expressing their religious beliefs in a private capacity, unless they could show the statements would cause their business unjustifiable financial hardship.

The section has been developed in response to Rugby Australia terminating the contract of player Israel Folau after he made biblical based statements on his personal social media page, that were deemed to be out of line with the values of the organisation. The two parties later reached an undisclosed settlement.

Liberal MP Dave Sharma he said he had serious concerns about this element of the bill, alongside several other sections.

“I’ve got strong objections to the bill as it is currently drafted,” he said. “The bill should be narrowly cast so it provides the same level of protection against discrimination on the basis of religion that people have on race and gender. But it shouldn’t go any further than that.” Sharma told the Sydney Morning Herald.

Speaking to the Star Observer, Sharma said he would looking closely at the next version of the legislation put forward by Senator Cash.

“I will be looking at the draft legislation very closely, and working to ensure it does not undermine or detract from the rights of the LGBTIQ community,” Sharma told Star Observer.

The member for Wentworth also urged Senator Cash to consult with LGBTIQ+ communities before presenting her any revision to the legislation.

“I believe there is place for a law which protects the rights of people to practice their faith and religion, but it cannot be at the expense of the rights of other groups. I believe the LQBTIQ+ community should be consulted and heard by the Attorney General before any draft legislation comes before Parliament, and I will certainly be making that case,” Sharma said.

During the last parliamentary session Greens senator Janet Rice put forward a motion compelling Senator cash to undertake consultation with communities that would potentially be affected by the new legislation. The bill was voted down with the government not supporting the move.

Last month Queensland MP Warren Entsch said he was prepared to cross the floor and vote against the legislation if it undermined existing rights for LGBTIQ+ Australians.

“I don’t see it as a religious discrimination bill. I see it as a Christian bill of rights. I didn’t waste 19 years of my political life removing discrimination from elements of our community just to sit back and let them discriminate again. I will not do it, and I will cross the floor.” Entsch told Melbourne radio station JOYFM.

Victorian MP Tim Wilson has also voiced his concerns about the religious freedom legislation saying it should not become a ‘bill of rights’ for religion.

“I suspect developing a ­religious discrimination bill (that is) consistent with other anti-­discrimination laws and treats all Australians equally should be a relatively straight forward exercise and would bring together people in good faith,” he said. ­

“Reinterpreting our promise to advance a religious bill of rights is less likely to do so.” Wilson said.

Western Australian senator Dean Smith has indicated that while he supports anti-discrimination protections for people of faith, any new laws should not roll back existing rights or protections for other groups in society.

OIP Staff

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