09 February 2022

Religious Discrimination Bill

House of Representatives – Wednesday 9 February, 2022


I believe that protecting religious belief and protecting all Australians from all types of discrimination is something we can all agree on. 


People of faith should be free from discrimination.


I think we all wanted to see a just and fair balance of human rights in this Bill.


Some of this Bill contributes to that, but unfortunately this has not been achieved by these bills in totality.


That is a real shame, and why Labor will be moving amendments here and, if necessary, in the Senate.


Because if passed through the Parliament without amendment, this Bill will remove access to rights and to justice that Territorians and other Australians have today.


Without amendment this bill is discriminatory.


So I rise today to not only provide some context from the Territory but also to express my deep disappointment with the spirit behind this bill and how it has been handled, and finally to express hope for a way forward.


Strengthening protections against religious discrimination is something that those opposite promised more than three years ago.


They should have done it then.


But instead, in the final few sitting days of this parliament, the Government have brought this bill on for debate, despite it being so divisive.


Just yesterday morning, many of us from all sides of this place gathered at the Greek Orthodox Church in Kingston for the annual ecumenical service that begins every parliamentary year.


I’m co-chair of the Parliamentary Christian Fellowship, and last year I proposed moving to an Orthodox Church this year, in acknowledgement of the diversity of voices within the Christian faith.


The Greek Orthodox Archbishop gave a fine sermon reflecting on St Paul’s message about we humans being designed in God’s image, and that we should respect each other and love one another as such.


I’m a practising Catholic.


I went to a Catholic primary school and a Catholic College for a few years. 


I have particularly held Saint Paul’s key message of Hope, Faith and Love.


These have guided me in life, helped me to recognise the needs of others and to act to assist others.


They’ve also helped me in hard times. 


I believe that being caring and considerate of others are sound values and ones that my wife Kate and I are instilling in our kids, having had them instilled in us throughout our lives.


I believe that the way that this Bill is being handled is an example of the opposite of caring and consideration of others. 


Rushing this bill through now, as a deliberate wedge, prior to an election, is creating division rather than building harmony and respect of others, and that is a shame.


Australia is an incredibly diverse country; one of the most diverse and multicultural countries on the planet.


The Territory is even more so, with so many ancient First Nations languages and cultures joining those from all over our planet.


We welcome everyone, and we invite them to feel safe, to celebrate their cultures and traditions, and to live their lives according to their beliefs – provided that they do not discriminate against others.


You do you and I’ll do me – and let’s be happy.


There are, of course, tensions. 


All of our lives touch the lives of others, and all of our rights intersect with the rights of others.


The Freedom of Expression Vs the Freedom from Vilification for example.


But we should never, in the name of opposing religious discrimination, allow others to be discriminated against.


Many new Australians know what it is to be persecuted for their beliefs. 


They, like all of us, just want a shot at living their lives in peace, practicing their own beliefs.


So it concerns me that this current legislation, while seeking to protect religious freedoms, would not, for example, prohibit the vilification of people on the basis of religious belief, dress, or activity.


For example, it won't protect the young Muslim woman who was discriminated against at a fast food chain in Darwin last year.


Religious organisations and people of faith have the right to act in accordance with the doctrines, beliefs, or teachings of their traditions and faith.


Mr Speaker, Labor believes that any extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework must not remove protections that already exist in the law to protect Australians from other forms of discrimination.


So we’re also worried by a clause which could allow the federal legislation to override state and territory anti-discrimination laws, and weaken them.


I thank Sally Sievers, the NT Anti -Discrimination Commissioner, for her advice on these issues.


This bill should be about more protections, not less. 


And I understand why some Christian Churches have contacted me, very concerned that some of the provisions in the Bill could embolden dangerous discrimination in the wider community. 


In my experience, schools and other faith-based institutions have not sought to discriminate, but rather have sought to act as responsible managers of the culture and ethos in accordance with their faith.


I want to acknowledge that, and also Labor’s support for their right to preference.


When it comes to schools, it is concerning that the Government thinks that trans children, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our community, don’t deserve the same protections as other children.


We know that rates of suicide and ill health for our trans community are horrifyingly high, including in my electorate and including young kids.


We. Must. Protect. These. Kids. 


Speaker, I believe that we are all, all, God’s children, and we should be doing everything in our power to protect all our fellow Australians from discrimination – as the Government said they would.


I want to thank all the people of faith and those of no religious belief that have shared their views on these important matters.


I sincerely hope that our amendments are accepted in good faith and that a spirit of good will resides in this place that will prevent Australians from suffering from discrimination and make our country even greater, even fairer and more free.