The divisive Religious Discrimination Bill could soon be making a comeback to the national political debate, with one senior government backbencher signalling that a ‘compromise’ bill was ready to be presented to parliament.
In a webinar interview with the conservative FamilyVoice Australia group on 8 February, Kevin Andrews said he was hopeful that the newly drafted Religious Discrimination Bill would be introduced into parliament “shortly”.
Mr Andrews revealed that Attorney-General Christian Porter’s new bill was a “compromise in some regards” after the first and second exposure drafts were widely criticised, including by the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA).
“If enacted, it would be a huge step in terms of protecting freedom of religion in Australia,” said Mr Andrews.
In response to the initial drafts, the RSA warned that the proposed legislation would create community division and go too far in providing a ‘sword’ for religious communities to attack the increasing number of Australians who are non-religious, instead of providing a ‘shield’ to protect religious people from discrimination.
The RSA joined with a number of pro-secular community groups as part of the #DontDivideUs campaign, which was backed by former Justice of the High Court, The Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG.
In the webinar interview, Mr Andrews was confident that the new draft bill would pass the House of Representatives but was not so sure about whether it could win enough support in the Senate.
Asked whether the parliament should pass the legislation before the upcoming federal election, he said Australians would welcome it.
“My view is that the broad cross-section of ordinary Australians would be supportive of this,” he said.
“If they see this as something reasonable which is not bashing anybody else up, I think the Australian view is that this is something appropriate.
“I also think that most Australians, whether they have a religious belief or not, think that people should be able to broadly express themselves, whether it’s their faith or their values system. And provided they’re not inciting hatred or violence in the streets, that’s an acceptable thing.”
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