The LGBTQI community in Australia is looking on with concern as the federal government under Prime Minister Scott Morrison gets ready to unveil its promised Religious Discrimination Bill in Parliament next week. 

LGBTQI organisations have pointed to the lack of detailed consultations with community groups and opposition MPs urging Attorney general Michaelia Cash to send the Bill to a Parliamentary inquiry. 

Religious and conservative organisations had revealed last month that they were driving hard bargains over various provisions of the proposed Bill, including the controversial ‘Folau clause’

Some government MPs had indicated they will not hesitate to cross the floor if provisions like the ‘Folau clause’ find place in this new third draft of the Bill. The larger concern for the community as well as MPs have been the opaque process of consultations. 

“The only information we have is what has been publicly provided via Senate Estimates last month and media reports that the Liberal Party is planning to introduce their bill before the end of the year,” Australian Greens Senator and  LGBTIQA+ spokesperson Janet Rice told Star Observer

Right To Discriminate With The ‘Folau Clause’

“I’m incredibly concerned about those reports. The Folau clause does the opposite of what an anti-discrimination bill should do. Instead of acting to protect a group of people, this clause would make it easier for one group of people to target others on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity,” said Senator Rice.

The Australian Christian Lobby had claimed last month that they had successfully put pressure on the government to include the ‘Folau clause’. 

The so-called Folau clause, seeks to protect “statements of belief” made in the name of religion, and proposes to ban indirect discrimination by preventing employers from framing policies and social media codes to bar employees from expressing their religious views. 

The clause is named after Israel Folau whose contract was terminated by Rugby Australia over his homophobic social media posts, Folau had posted that “hell awaits”  “sinners” including “drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolators” and they they should “repent”.

Conservative groups have said that the Folau clause is non-negotiable and the Morrison government, which promised the bill before the last elections, is unlikely to want to upset the groups before the forthcoming elections. 

‘It’s About Winning The Elections’

“Everything Morrison and his government does is about winning an election. He promised far-right groups like the ACL that before the next election, he would enshrine the ability for them to discriminate; now he’s scared of the millions of dollars far-right groups could put towards campaigning against him if he doesn’t deliver,” said Senator Rice.

“Groups like the ACL, and the extreme far-right MPs of Morrison’s party are trying to push their fear-mongering ‘culture war’ agenda to fire  up their base and discriminate against LGBTIQ+ Australians, women and people with disabilities.”

The Greens Senator believes that the issue should be “beyond party politics” and said she would work with other like-minded MPs. Some Liberal MPs including Dave Sharma and Warren Entsch have been vocal about ensuring that the Bill does not discriminate against the LGBTQI community and other vulnerable groups. 

“I’ve worked closely with MPs across the Parliament in advocating for LGBTIQA+ rights, including passing marriage equality into law, and will continue to do so This should be beyond  party politics, it’s about making sure that any bill genuinely prevents discrimination, rather than overriding existing protections in the law,” said Rice. 

Lack Of Consultation With LGBTQI Community

Earlier this month Attorney General Cash had met with some LGBTQI groups to discuss the bill. However, Rodney Croome, spokesperson for Just.Equal said that wider consultations are needed to ensure state specific laws like the Tasmanian Ant-Discrimination law and Victoria’s conversion practices ban law are not overridden by the new federal law. 

“I fear Tasmania’s gold-standard discrimination law might again become the sacrificial lamb if the bill’s pointed attack on the Tasmanian law is waived through in return for improvements elsewhere in the Bill,” Croome said in a post on Twitter.

Just.equal has written to the government and parliamentarians to support a Senate inquiry into the bill. 

“If the previous drafts of this Bill are anything to go by, it will take existing rights away from women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people and others. “Those Australians who will be deprived of their rights by this Bill deserve to have their voices heard and concerns addressed,” Croome said in a statement. 

“Previous consultations by the Government aren’t a substitute for a fully-fledged public inquiry by Parliament, particularly given the Government’s obvious interest in having this Bill pass,” added Croome. 

A Senate Inquiry

greens janet rice adam pulford

Adam Pulford and Janet Rice at the 2019 Melbourne Pride March. Image: Supplied.

Senator Rice told Star Observer that the Greens will continue to push for a Senate inquiry. 

“The Greens would expect that any bill of this magnitude, with such significant implications for human rights and people’s wellbeing, would go through a full and thorough Parliamentary process. That would provide an opportunity for LGBTIQA+ community groups, women’s groups, disability advocates, members of minority faith groups, and all those whose rights could be overridden to have their voices heard, and the legislation thoroughly scrutinised outside a right-wing echo-chamber,” said Rice. 

“A whole range of community organisations including women’s groups, disability advocates, minority faith groups and LGBTIQA+ communities and others have expressed their deep concerns over a bill that would remove protections against discrimination and make it harder to create safe, inclusive spaces. Unless the Liberal party is locked in to Morrison’s hard right religious agenda, they should listen to the broad coalition of community groups, and not ram through any legislation that removes protections against discrimination.”

“Any bill that’s introduced should go through a full, transparent Parliamentary committee process, and I’ll be advocating to ensure that happens,” added Rice. 


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