Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Religious Discrimination Bill is now facing opposition from the states. After Victoria indicated that they may challenge provisions of the controversial Bill, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has questioned the need for Morrison’s showpiece legislation for the religious right.

“We haven’t needed it (religious discrimination bill) for over a 100 years. Why now?” asked Perrottet during an interview on Sky News Australia.

Morrison had personally introduced the Religious Discrimination Bill in Parliament on November 23. The Bill includes a protection for “statements of belief”. Health practitioners and teachers could make anti-LGBTQI statements on social media and will not face any disciplinary action from professional bodies.

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The Bill also allows faith-based schools, and institutions like hospitals, and aged care facilities to only employ faith-based staff, provided they have publicly stated the criteria.

‘A Man Of Faith’

Sky News Australia’s Political Editor Andrew Clennell asked NSW Premier whether as “a man of faith” he supported what Morrison was trying to do with the bill and whether it should go further.

A devout Catholic, Perrottet replied that he had “always been pretty hesitant in relation to legislation like this.”

“I think when you’re going down a path where you have the Parliament legislating freedom, well, that can cause a lot of challenges and that can be a future government that then can legislate to take those freedoms away,” said Perrottet.

 Perrottet comes from the conservative faction of the Liberal Party. His record on LGBTQI rights has been dominated by his positions in the past against gay marriages, and opposition to the use of gender-neutral pronouns.

During the 2017 Marriage Equality national vote, he supported the plebiscite, and opposed a change in the definition of marriage.

“Marriage is about every child’s fundamental right to grow up with their own mum and dad,” he had said.

However, since taking over as Premier in October 2021, Perrottet has vowed to protect the LGBTQI community from injustice and discriminmation. His government also accepted the recommendation of a bipartisan committee and ordered a judicial inquiry into historical anti-gay and anti-trans hate crimes in Sydney.

The Wedding Cake Example

Perrottet seemed to indicate that the fears of the ‘No’ side during the plebiscite had not been based on facts.

“I remember during the same-sex marriage debate, there was a lot of discussion at the time about how people are going to get discriminated here and discriminated there. The wedding cake example, that the Christian bakers would have to close their businesses. None of that in fact, eventuated,” pointed out Perrottet.

“We’ve got to be careful here in terms of rushing into legislation in this space. It hasn’t been relevant,” said the Premier, adding, “if you’ve got a situation where there’s general bipartisan support, that’s a positive thing and that would give me some encouragement, that they’ve got it right.”

Last week, according to The Age, Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes did not rule out a legal challenge to the Religious Discrimination Bill in the High court to defend the state’s anti-discrimination laws.

The Victorian Parliament is currently debating amendments to the state’s Equal Opportunity laws to remove the exemptions granted to religious schools that allowed them to fire staff for being LGBTQI.

Bill Will Override State Anti-Discrimination Laws

Conservative Christian organisations have been demanding a federal law to override strong anti-discrimination laws in states like Victoria and Tasmania.

Evie Potter, Co-Convenor of the Victorian Pride Lobby, said that the bill seemed designed to specifically target states like Victoria.

Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said that the bill would bolster “the ability of religious schools to refuse to hire staff that affirm or support them”

“What constitutes discrimination today, will be lawful tomorrow, allowing people to say harmful, insulting and demeaning things. Things like a medical worker telling a person living with HIV that AIDS is a punishment from God, or a person living with disability that their disability is caused by the devil,” Brown had said.

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