- Peta McCartney
Five Australian Coalition MPs walked across the floor to vote in favor of amending the National Sex Discrimination Act to protect transgender students in the early hours of Thursday, as the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill of the federal government was adopted.
The bill, which ultimately passed by a 65-59 vote, will now be debated in the Senate, where the federal government does not have the numbers to pass its bill without amendments.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaking in the Federal Parliament on February 8, 2022. The Federal Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill passed the lower house in the early hours of Thursday February 10. PHOTO: Reuters.
It came after five coalition MPs crossed the floor in support of an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act aimed at protecting transgender students by Labor and non-banking representatives.
The community and parliament are concerned that the Religious Discrimination Bill will enshrine in law the ability of religious bodies, such as schools, to discriminate against members of the LGBTQI+ community.
Among other things, the bill prohibits discrimination based on a person’s religious beliefs or activity in a range of areas of public life, including employment, education, access premises and the provision of goods, services and accommodation; establishes general and specific exceptions to the prohibition of religious discrimination; and provides that certain statements of belief do not constitute discrimination for the purposes of certain specific Commonwealth, State or Territory anti-discrimination laws.
Deputy Attorney General Amanda Stoker told Sky News the coalition government would discuss the change with stakeholders.
“We are very committed to honoring the commitments we made to multicultural groups and religious groups and LGBTI+ groups in the consultation process,” she said. “We are checking with them, trying to make sure we fully appreciate the implications of this amendment before we have to deal with it in the Senate.”
But there are other stories of discrimination from a religious perspective, with a debate earlier today citing examples.
During Wednesday’s debate, Liberal MP Julian Leeser, from the state of New South Wales, told parliament that Christians were increasingly suffering from discrimination.
He mentioned a committed Christian who was banned from a Canberra cafe in 2020 for reading the Bible and praying with an autistic friend. Another example was the public furor experienced by a Christian GP and her practice of posting a notice informing patients that she was not consulting on contraception, assisted reproductive technology or termination of life.
“When his opinion went viral on social media, the public furor was intense. Two activists filed a complaint with the medical commission about his practice, challenging his professional registration. The practice was embroiled in a media storm,” Leeser said.
Before announcing his support for the legislation, Leeser said the nature of being a person of faith is different from the inherent attributes of, for example, being male, of color, or living with a disability, because “the religion provides a moral and ethical framework ordained by God, or any supreme being in which a person might believe and a series of related practices by which he should live”.
“To the true believer, religious doctrines, practices, or commandments are not suggestions. When a Hindu does not eat beef, it is not like vegetarians who choose to be vegetarians because they do not like meat. They [Hindus] don’t eat beef because they believe the cow is a sacred animal.
Liberal MP Julie Wicks, MP for Robertson in New South Wales, said she had spoken to a number of ministers and community leaders from her constituency, all of whom backed the government’s bill.
“Father Greg from the Catholic Diocese of Broken Bay in East Gosford told me that ‘this bill is long overdue and necessary for Australia’s future’ and that ‘the Federal Government is right to pass it. Pastor Martin Duffy of Elim Church Global said, “The bill is a positive development for the protection and preservation of faith-based organizations.” Pastor Joel Small of Erina Community Baptist Church said that he “will always advocate for the welcome and inclusion of all,” she said.
“He said, ‘The gospel of Jesus is first and foremost a gospel of love’ and he doesn’t see how this bill goes against that value. “It’s not about discrimination. It is about freedom to believe and practice with respect.’”
Dr Helen Haines, an independent member of Indi in Victoria, said Australia is a “proud secular society”.
“Over time, we have strived to be as inclusive of various faiths as possible and have come to celebrate that diversity. I want us to continue in that direction,” Haines said, but added that she could not. not support the bill in its current form.
“I will be watching the Senate debate very carefully, when it occurs, and any other proposed amendments with great interest – with great interest. I will monitor them carefully and reassess this bill if it returns to the House in better shape. But that would take a lot.
“There is a world in which this bill could be improved to a level that I could support, but at the moment we are not there. Unfortunately, the time to pass this bill is not now.