Australia’s refugee policy must not discriminate on the basis of religion, says RSA

Si Gladman / 17 May 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia is calling for clarification from the federal government as to whether it discriminates on the basis of religion in its refugee policy.

RSA president Meredith Doig today said the Morrison government – which has pledged to re-introduce the Religious Discrimination Bill if re-elected to government – should clarify whether it would be preferencing refugees from one particular religious background over others.

Dr Doig noted that the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), in comments made to Christian radio recently, revealed that the Abbott government had adopted an “unofficial whisper-in-the-ear” policy of preferencing Christian refugees from Syria.

In the budget in March, the Morrison government announced it would provide an extra 16,500 humanitarian visas for Afghan refugees.

Dr Doig welcomed the additional refugee places but said Australia’s refugee policy must be implemented based on need and not religion.


The RSA is advocating for Australia’s refugee intake from Afghanistan to include non-religious and atheist Afghans who are fleeing the Taliban regime.

“…those places should go to people on the basis of need and not on the basis of their religion. And, in fact, we know that, under the Taliban, the lives of non-religious Afghans, or atheist Afghans, are under much greater risk than almost any other group,” said Dr Doig.

“So, Mr Morrison, please clarify: is your policy to not discriminate on the basis of religion? Or, as Martyn Iles has said, behind the scenes are you actually discriminating in favour of one religion over others when it comes to refugee policy?”

In 2015, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there would not be any preferential treatment given to Christian over Muslim refugees coming from Syria.

However, in an interview on Vision Christian radio program Twenty20 on 4 April, ACL Managing Director Martyn Iles said the Abbott government’s “unofficial preference” for Christians was kept from the public.

“The unofficial whisper-in-the-ear kind of policy up in parliament and through the channels that they were using to locate those refugees was, you know, this is for Christians. Because, of course, the Christians were the ones who were copping it the worst,” Mr Iles told 20Twenty host Neil Johnson.

“There were some Yazidi and some other minorities, as well. But the unofficial preference was Christians. And, of course, that had to be kept really quite quiet. And that was not announced openly in the media or to the Australian public because of the controversy that it would create…”

At the time, then Labor leader Bill Shorten argued that refugee places should be offered solely on the basis of need and “pay no heed to the colour of a person’s skin or the god they pray to”. 

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

All the more reason.