Non-religious and pro-secular Australians not “irrelevant” in debate over new bill, says RSA

Si Gladman / 30 September 2021

The Morrison government appears to be ignoring the fastest-growing section of society – the non-religious – and pro-secular Australians while it consults with religious lobbyists ahead of the release of the revised Religious Discrimination Bill.

Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) president Meredith Doig is now calling for Attorney-General Michaelia Cash to hear from non-religious and pro-secular voices before the legislation is introduced into parliament.

Earlier this month, the Attorney-General claimed she had been “working day and night with stakeholders” in the redrafting of the legislation.

In an answer to a question taken on notice during May’s Senate estimates hearing, the Attorney-General’s own department said it had held consultations with a number of “relevant stakeholders” via teleconference and in person.

Religious lobbyists such as Freedom For Faith and the Australian Christian Lobby have told their supporters that they have been holding high-level meetings with the government to discuss the bill.

During a webinar hosted by Christian group FamilyVoice on Wednesday night, Freedom For Faith’s executive director, Rohan McHugh, revealed that his organisation had been involved in consultations with the government “since the bill was put back on the agenda earlier in the year.”

“And we’ve been pleased to provide drafting advice on several clauses to ensure that the religious community is faithfully represented,” he said.

In early June, the RSA sent a request for a meeting to the Attorney-General, but is yet to receive a reply.

“I’m concerned that the Morrison government is deliberately ignoring the fastest-growing section of our society, which is those who identify as non-religious, when it comes to drafting this third version of the Religious Discrimination Bill,” said Dr Doig, in a video posted on her @MeredithDoig Twitter page.

“And it’s not just those who positively reject religion. It’s also those people who may be religious but appreciate the value of a genuinely secular society.

“So our voices…are relevant. Attorney-General, will you consult with us?”

The RSA believes it was the only pro-secular group to have been invited to consultations when former Attorney-General, Christian Porter, met with a wide range of religious and community groups on the first version bill in September 2019.

The first two drafts were widely criticised for proposing to give religious individuals and religious groups a “sword” to discriminate against others instead of a “shield” to protect them from discrimination.

At Senate estimates in May, Attorney-General Cash promised to provide details to questions about the groups that she, Mr Porter and assistant minister Amanda Stoker had been consulting with on the bill. 

Among the number of answers published on the parliament’s website recently, the Attorney-General’s Department did not, however, provide details of whom the government had met. Instead, the department said that the government had held “numerous consultation meetings” with a “range of stakeholders” since late last year, while referring to “relevant stakeholders” in one.

The RSA supports a law protecting people from discrimination on the ground of religious belief or non-belief, but opposes giving religious people a licence to discriminate against others.

The RSA has joined with a number of other pro-secular community groups in supporting the #DontDivideUs campaign against 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

All the more reason.