Bill Shorten says religion should not be a topic of argument at an election

Opposition leader Bill Shorten says Labor have always supported religious freedom, but they will need to see the details of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s proposed Religious Discrimination Act before saying whether or not they’ll vote for the legislation to be introduced.

This morning Prime Minister Scott Morrison finally released the long awaited report from former Attorney General Philip Ruddock about religious freedom in Australia. The Prime Minister announced that the issue of whether LGBT students and teachers required protection from religious based schools would be sent to the Australian Law Reform Commission to analyse, but he wanted to bring in a Religious Anti-Discrimination Act as soon as parliament returned.

The Labor leader said he was concerned that elements within the Liberal party were hoping to create an national argument around religion in the lead up to the federal election.

“We support religious freedom, we always have – it’s in our platform, the Labor Party platform. It has been in it for many years. So obviously, we’ll look at whatever proposal the Government has.” Shorten told reporters this morning.

Shorten said it was disappointing that the government has declined to the release the report from former Attorney General Philip Ruddock for seven months, and was now proposing to rush legislation through parliament at the start of the year.

“But when you use that time period of before the next election, gee it’s a shame that the Government sat on this religious freedom review since May. Seven months have passed and now the Government has unfortunately only scheduled 10 days of Parliament in the next eight months – and one of those weeks, three or four of those 10 days will have to be dedicated to the Budget.

Shorten said he was also disappointed that the issue of how LGBTI students and teachers were treated by religious based schools had been referred to the Law Reform Commission for an additional report, a task that would take considerable time.

“I am not sure that Mr Morrison has allowed enough time for us to debate these issues. We will consider the detail but I also must flag that I thought the first cab off the rank, so to speak, was going to be removing discrimination against kids. But unfortunately, Mr Morrison has now proposed a review which on average takes another year.”

Shorten said it was of great concern that there appeared to be a plan by the conservative right of the Liberal Party to make religion a big issue at the next election. The opposition leader said while religious freedom was an important issue to many Australians, it didn’t rate among the top one hundred issue people regularly raised with him.

“There are a lot of issues which are raised with me by Australians. I could not say to you that religion is in the top 100 issues that get raised with me but nonetheless I accept for some people it is a very important matter and it is a principle which the Labor Party supports.” Shorten said.

A growing debate around religious beliefs was an argument the Australian people could do without according to Shorten.

“I get concerned though if we want to see an argument which says that somehow there should be an argument about religion in politics. I don’t think that has been the traditional Australian way.¬†Anyway, we will rather than look at the politics or any motivations behind the far right of the Liberal Party pursuing this agenda, let’s just deal with the issues and I think we can get to the right outcome.”

OIP Staff

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