Liberal MP Tim Wilson said he expects Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deliver on his promise to appoint a religious freedom commissioner, during this week’s Q&A.
Wilson, a former Human Rights Commissioner, added that the current Human Rights Commissioner could deal with freedom of religion and the rights of LGBTI Australians in the meantime.
In December last year, Morrison said that a religious freedom commissioner would be appointed to the Australian Human Rights Commission to handle religious discrimination complaints.
Yet, much like the Coalition’s plans to tackle religious exemptions, this commitment has stalled, after Morrison failed to deliver on a promise to remove laws that allow discrimination against students “as soon as practicable”.
Wilson’s recent comments were given in response to a question posed by a Q&A audience member around concerns that religious freedoms might be taken away.
“The Liberal Party just won the unwinnable election, that even the secular press acknowledged as a miracle,” the audience member said.
“But unbeknownst to them, there has been a huge groundswell of united prayer that has gone across our nation, the likes of which I’ve never witnessed before.
“Two major concerns for us are religious freedom being taken away and parents’ rights being taken away – what is the Liberal Party going to do to address these issues?”
Wilson responded by saying that “freedom of conscience” was core to the Liberal cause.
“I know there are many people who are concerned about religious freedom, and their freedom to exercise their faith,” he said.
“There was a report commissioned by the previous parliament into freedom of religion, and we referred it to the Australian Law Reform Commission to look at addressing some of the tensions that exist in that law.
“Australian anti-discrimination legislation was frankly designed at a time where freedom of religion transcended the rights of other minority groups within the community, particularly LGBTI Australians.
“I think we need to review and look at that law, to improve it, so that everybody’s rights are protected, rather than just trying to tinker with existing laws.”
Q&A host Tony Jones then prodded Wilson, asking him how soon the public should expect Morrison to appoint a religious freedom commissioner “as promised”.
“Any appointment of any commissioner to the Australian Human Rights Commission has to be done through legislation, and I don’t know the time frames for that,” Wilson responded.
“[But] when I was Human Rights Commissioner, it was part of a package dealing with human rights issues, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and the rights of LGBTI Australians.
“I think our existing Human Rights Commissioner can cover those areas in meantime, and make sure they’re given a voice… but I’m expecting the PM to deliver on all of our promises.”
Labor’s Shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, then entered the conversation, and highlighted parliament’s bipartisan commitment to remove the exemption that currently exists for LGBT students in religious schools.
“It’s a promise that Mr Morrison made to the people of Australia during the Wentworth by-election, that that exemption would be removed, and it’s a promise that Mr Morrison hasn’t yet kept,” he said.
“The Ruddock Review, which Tim Wilson referred to before but didn’t name, concluded that religious freedom in Australia was not in imminent peril.
“I don’t think that there is any present great risk to religious freedom, notwithstanding a whole lot of fear campaigns that were run during this election campaign we’ve just had.”