RSA seeks meeting with Attorney-General as concerns mount over Religious Discrimination Bill

Si Gladman / 08 June 2021

The Rationalist Society of Australia has written to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash seeking a meeting to discuss the Religious Discrimination Bill, as Christian groups ramp up their lobbying efforts.

In the letter sent yesterday, our president Meredith Doig (pictured) urged Senator Cash to also consult with the significant and growing non-religious section of the Australian community on the third draft of the bill.

Concerns are mounting that pro-secular and non-religious sections of society are being ignored as the Morrison government looks to introduce a revised version of the legislation to the parliament before the upcoming election.

As reported by the RSA last week, the government has so far declined to provide details on who it has been consulting on the bill since late last year, even though Assistant Minister Amanda Stoker revealed she had held “a number of meetings… and teleconferences” with “people who wish to be heard on this matter”.

On the weekend, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Senator Cash would this week be meeting with Christian legal think tank Freedom for Faith.

Yesterday, Martyn Iles, the head of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), indicated that he too would be meeting with government decision makers this week.

“…we have some very high-level meetings later this week about getting this back on the agenda with the government. The government have indicated to us and to others that they are interested to do that. So that’s really, really good news,” Iles told Christian Vision radio show 20Twenty.

It is believed the RSA was the only pro-secular group invited to consultations when the previous Attorney-General, Christian Porter, met with a wide range of religious and other groups on the first version of the Religious Discrimination Bill in September 2019.

In her letter to Senator Cash, Dr Doig noted that the RSA had not had the chance to discuss later iterations of the bill.

“We hope that you will be willing to hear the views of the significant and growing section of the Australian community that we represent,” she wrote.

Christian lobbyists are ramping up their efforts, starting with their Religious Freedom Weekend on 11-13 June, to pressure the Morrison government to deliver what they say is an election promise. 

Iles said the ACL would soon launch a television ad campaign, a petition and other activities to change public opinion.

“This issue is not going to get real progress just because we’re sitting here asking for it. The way it gets real progress is when you start to change public opinion and when you get the broader public onside,” he said.

“One of the things that we’ve got to get good at – and this is what ACL exists for – is convincing the broader public of the need on this issue. And that’s really what’s going to create the groundswell for change.

“Scott Morrison will say, where’s my support? Where are the people who want this changed? Where’s the public sentiment?’ So we have to be able to change that, as well.”

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


RSA letter to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, 7 June 2021

Dear Attorney-General,

I write to seek an opportunity to discuss the government’s Religious Discrimination bill.

The Rationalist Society had the benefit of consulting with the previous Attorney-General on the first version of this bill back in September 2019, However, since then we have not had the chance to discuss later iterations of the bill.

We note that your Assistant Minister, Senator Stoker, has said publicly that she is consulting with a number of community groups over the development of a third version of the bill. As an organisation that represents the nearly one third of Australians who do not identify with a religion, the RSA would appreciate the chance to share our views with you.

The RSA has always maintained that we would not oppose a bill that mirrors the anti-discrimination provisions in other federal legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act or the Racial Discrimination Act. In general, these laws act as a shield to protect individuals from discriminatory treatment. The draft Religious Discrimination bill, however, goes way beyond this, in effect providing a sword that activist religious groups could use to impose their worldviews upon those of us who do not share their views and values and to discriminate against individuals and groups in the community.

We hope that you will be willing to hear the views of the significant and growing section of the Australian community that we represent.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Dr Meredith Doig

President, Rationalist Society of Australia

All the more reason.