Federal parliament building, Canberra, Australia. Wikimedia Commons

Australian government revising religious discrimination legislation

By  Michael Sainsbury, Catholic News Service
  • December 6, 2019

SYDNEY -- The Australian government has decided to revisit its religious discrimination legislation after key religious groups -- including the Archdiocese of Sydney -- said they would withdraw their support.

"We made a commitment to Australians to address this issue at the last election, and we are keeping faith with that commitment in a calm and considered process. We're about listening and getting this right," Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in early December.

After releasing an initial draft, the government received 6,000 submissions and is now in the process of writing an amended version of the legislation, which included a new bill and amendments to two existing laws.

Morrison said a second and final "exposure draft" would be released before the end of the year and would "take account of issues raised and provide the opportunity to respond to the revisions made and fine-tune the bill before it is introduced next year." With the long Australian summer break now underway, observers said this is unlikely to be until at least March.

The government reversal came days after a group of religious bodies sent Morrison a letter that stated: "We take the view that it would be better to have no Religious Discrimination Act rather than a flawed one." It said that, in their current form, the new laws would "diminish the religious freedom of faith groups in Australia."

Besides the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, signatories represented the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the executive council of Australian Jewry, the Australian National Imams Council and the Greek Orthodox Church in Australia.

Australian Attorney General Christian Porter has accepted one of the key changes to the original draft, lobbied for by the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference: giving religious schools and aged care providers the right to hire and fire employees according to the tenets of their faith.

Morrison's government only holds a majority of one seat in Australia's House of Representatives and must rely on the support of three votes from minor parties in the Australian Senate; all legislation must pass both houses to become law.

The legislation has been controversial, particularly among human rights and LGBTQ groups.

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