The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, will present a revised bill on religious discrimination to parliament this week, promising to refer it to a Senate inquiry to allay fears it could dilute the protection of gay teachers and students.
Morrison said the new bill balanced “freedoms and responsibilities” for believers, and told lawmakers Tuesday that he wanted to introduce the bill in the lower house to fulfill the promise he made to religious leaders before the 2019 election.
Debate and vote on the legislation will not be held until next week – the last week of the year and potentially the last before the election.
There is a growing expectation that Labor will also support the passage of the bill to the Senate, provided that the subsequent inquiry in the upper house will have it changed.
Morrison said after lengthy consultation, Attorney General Michaelia Cash had landed a “reasonable and reasonable bill.”
“It’s a bill on religious discrimination, not a bill on religious freedom, and it’s important in terms of it being a shield and not a sword and to allow people’s freedom to follow their faith,” he said.
But Morrison’s assurance that the bill would protect freedom of religion and expression but cease to allow discrimination against others was disputed by some Coalition MPs, how many expressed concern at Tuesday’s party meeting about its impact on minority groups.
Equality advocates have also disputed Morrison’s claim, warning that it violates state discrimination laws, especially with the protection of creeds.
Liberal moderates expressed concerns, including Leichhardt MP Warren Entsch, Reid MP Fiona Martin; North Sydney MP Trent Zimmerman and bass MP Bridget Archer, who raised concerns about the provisions on creeds; Senator Andrew Bragg, who expressed concern about gay teachers; and Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, who expressed concern about gay children.
Bragg and Sharma both suggested that the protection of gay teachers and students should be considered at the same time, not 12 months after the religious discrimination legislation.
Martin, whose voters in inner-city Sydney have a mix of both social-liberal voters and religious communities, said even religious communities were comfortable with the status quo.
A consistent list of speakers was in favor of the bill, including Matt Canavan, Ben Small, Julian Leeser, Melissa McIntosh and Nicolle Flint.
Canavan questioned whether international law could be used to override states on religious discrimination, which is why the same was not the case with vaccine mandates, and received a reprimand from Scott Morrison for the contribution being off-topic.
Small suggested that it was absurd that religious groups would use law changes to persecute minorities, while Leeser defended the right of religious institutions as a Catholic university to prefer members of their own faith.
Liberal Senator Hollie Hughes sought reassurance that the bill would not have a detrimental effect on people with a disability. Angie Bell insisted that the bill go to a committee inquiry.
While Zimmerman suggested that this should be a joint committee so that both MPs and senators could have input, Morrison said it would be dealt with by a Senate committee in the normal way, indicating that the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs would deal with it.
Members of parliament from the back table and Labor received a copy of the revised legislation on Tuesday. with the new bill to remove the controversial Folau clause, but preserve the protection of creeds and a clause that allows faith-based institutions to discriminate on the basis of faith.
Earlier Tuesday, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said her party would not support the bill unless it went to a Senate committee.
At the Labor caucus meeting, a member of the opposition asked if anyone knew what was going on in the coalition party room about the bill on religious discrimination.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese replied: “When we receive a bill, we will treat it in the normal way. I support religious freedom.
“People need to be able to practice their faith. It is extraordinary that there has been no attempt by the government to cooperate with us on this issue. “