Religious freedom curtailed in liberals’ attempt to quell unrest

Coalition MPs on the backbench legal affairs committee were given a five-page briefing note at a meeting on Monday that presented significant changes to the most recent version of the bill, known under the name of the second exposure draft.

The memo revealed that a provision on rules of conduct for employers had been removed from the draft, removing a key section that would prevent employers from taking action against someone who spoke in the same way as Mr Folau.


However, the memo made it clear that terminating a contract could still be illegal under other articles of the bill relating to direct and indirect discrimination on the basis of faith.

The revised bill also retains a separate provision that would make it illegal for a qualified body to sanction someone for making offensive remarks.

In its new form, the Religious Discrimination Bill would allow an employer to terminate the contract of someone like Mr. Folau but would prevent a qualified body, in fields as diverse as accounting or medicine, from withdrawing from the contract. that person has the right to work for other employers.

The bill does not change protections in other laws such as those Mr. Folau cited when he challenged his dismissal under the Fair Work Act.

Two people at the meeting, Liberal backbench MP Katie Allen and National Liberal Party MP George Christensen, stood up to view the bill itself, rather than the briefing note, before to decide their position on the changes when Parliament returns next week.

“It’s so typical of the ramshackle way Michaelia Cash has gone,” said one liberal who sought clarity on the changes.

The government’s reluctance to reveal the revised draft to its own backbenchers is unusual when the standard process is to give a backbench committee access to the bills before the entire party hall has gone. the Coalition only meets on Tuesdays when Parliament is in session to approve legislation.

“It would be very strange for them to go to the village hall on Tuesday asking us to support a bill that we have not seen,” said an MP.

A quick decision on the final law is unlikely as Senator Cash would normally present the bill to the Senate in the hope that it will be investigated before an upper house vote that could amend the government bill before any. decision of the House of Representatives. .

With just two sitting weeks before Parliament rises for its summer recess, the religious discrimination bill is not expected to become law this year and may not be enacted until the federal election.

Religious groups such as the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Seventh-day Adventist Church have supported the bill for its provisions on statements of religious belief as well as its protections for people of faith who work in education or health.

But the Australian Medical Association and other leading health groups have warned that part of the bill that introduced new federal protections for doctors and others who have chosen to refuse treatment or care. health to people for religious reasons.


Leading health groups have argued that professional standards and state law already set rules that allow a number of conscientious objections from physicians while ensuring that patients receive proper care. .

A key issue was the call of health groups to ensure that doctors informed patients of their religious beliefs if this was a factor in their care, and then ensured that patients were referred to another practitioner who could. take care of them.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and the Royal Australian College of Physicians have all opposed the bill in its earlier form.

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