Government senator warns of electoral backlash if bill fails to meet expectations of faith leaders 

Si Gladman / 28 September 2021

A conservative government senator who wants to see positive religious rights enacted into law is warning of electoral backlash if the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill fails to meet religious leaders’ expectations.

This evening, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told a webinar hosted by Christian lobby group FamilyVoice that the current bill – soon to be introduced into the parliament – would inadequately protect religious freedom.

Divisions have deepened in the Morrison government in recent months after moderate backbenchers warned Attorney-General Michaelia Cash against putting forward a third draft that would privilege religious rights.

Queensland MP Warren Entsch said he would vote against any bill that appeared to be a ‘Christian Bill of Rights’ and undermined LGBTIQ rights.  

Senator Fierravanti-Wells (pictured) told the webinar that she agreed with the view of some religious leaders that no bill would be better than a flawed bill.

“At the time of the last election, the Morrison government promised that people’s religious freedom would be protected. However, what they are being afforded is some protection against discrimination,” she said.

“…ultimately, Australians of family and faith will look to assurances given by faith leaders to their congregations that the bill fully protects their religious freedom.

“Whatever the politicians may say, what matters here is what the faith leaders will preach and tell their congregations, which will dictate if those expectations have been met. In short, unless those faith leaders assure members of their congregation that what happened to Israel Folau will not happen to their congregations or members of their congregations, then the threshold for adequate protection will not be met.”

Senator Fierravanti-Wells argued that many people in faith-based communities in south-western Sydney had shifted their political allegiance on the understanding that a Morrison government would legislate for religious freedom. 

“A lot of the areas where I operate in and have connections are very much those seats where there are a lot of migrant communities, and most especially those communities that strongly voted ‘no’ in the same-sex marriage survey,” she said.

“So if we’ve gone out there and said, ‘We’re going to protect your religious freedom’…ultimately, the arbiter of whether that religious freedom has been afforded is going to be the imam, the bishop, the priest, the pastor.

“[With] the current bill, certainly, as it has been presented to me by many people, there is a strong belief that it falls far short of adequately protecting religious freedom.”

Senator Fierravanti-Wells, who criticised the second draft of the bill for not going far enough in providing positive religious freedoms, said she would prefer the government pursue the consolidation of federal and state discrimination laws to better ensure equality of rights.

Asked about the potential passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill through the parliament before the upcoming election, she expected that it would move through the lower house but then have to contend with reference to a Senate committee, which would involve delay.

“It is possible that the committee may still be undertaking hearings and that [the bill] may not have been considered by the Senate, depending on when the election is,” she said. 

The RSA joined with a number of other pro-secular community groups in supporting the #DontDivideUs campaign against the first two drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill. You can support the campaign here.

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

Image: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (Facebook)

All the more reason.