Is the federal government firming up plans to introduce a new draft of its much reviled Religious Discrimination Bill before the upcoming elections? 

Liberal MP Kevin Andrews claimed that Attorney-General Christian Porter is ready with a new draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill that will be presented before the Parliament soon.

The revelation was made by Andrews, a government backbencher, in a webinar titled ‘Religious Freedom in Australia: An Update’ organised by the conservative group FamilyVoice Australia on February 8, 2021. The full video of the webinar was posted by the group on YouTube.

Excerpts from the webinar were posted by the Rationalist Society of Australia on their Youtube and Twitter pages. 

Andrews claimed that Porter has prepared a draft of the “compromise” Bill – probably meaning that the compromise has been arrived at by trying to bring about a consensus among various voices in the government with regard to the draft of the Bill. 

‘A huge step’

“I and I suspect other interested Members of Parliament at least on the Coalition side have had widespread ongoing consultation with the Attorney. We worked through that for a period of a good 12 months. My understanding is that the Attorney now has a bill, which he is ready to present to the Parliament. And my hope is that this bill will be presented shortly because there’s only at most a year of this parliament to go,” Andrews said. 

Andrews shied away from going into the details of the draft bill citing the confidentiality involved in the process but added that there was an “appetite” in the Coalition to move ahead with the Bill. Andrews also emphasised the significance of the Bill. 

“It’s a compromise in some regards, because there are various people with various issues and various concerns, but I think overall it’s a huge, if enacted it would be a huge step in terms of protecting freedom of religion in Australia compared to where we are at the present time,” the MP said, adding, “no compromise is ever perfect but politics is often about compromise and trying to move forward.”

The MP indicated that the Bill might be brought before the Parliament before the upcoming federal elections. 

A Licence To Discriminate Against LGBTQI

The two previous drafts of the Bill had been criticised by rights advocates and groups. The Bill was supposedly meant to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, but according to Equality Australia  “the Bill that has been drafted threatens our access to healthcare, and undermines inclusive workplaces, schools and services. Laws which should protect religious people from discrimination will be used to hand a licence to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disability, and others.” 

Equality Australia said that the Bill was “deeply flawed”. 

“Faith-based organisations will maintain an ability to discriminate against others with different beliefs or no beliefs, while enjoying public funding and broad exemptions under other anti-discrimination laws. Corporations associated with religious individuals will be given discrimination protections, while people related to other people are not protected in other discrimination laws. Protections will be extended, and exemptions will be given, in accordance with largely self-defined doctrines, tenets, beliefs and teachings, including where local by-laws are not followed,” the organisation said in its submissions against the second draft of the Bill. 

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