PM to introduce faith discrimination bill

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will personally introduce the government's religious freedoms bill.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will personally introduce the government's religious freedoms bill.

Discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or activity will be made unlawful in the areas of employment, education and the provision of goods and services, under a bill to go to federal parliament this week.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will personally introduce the government's long-promised religious discrimination laws on Thursday.

Details of the bill were released late on Tuesday after the coalition joint partyroom backed it.

The laws will provide that making a statement of belief, in good faith, would not be discrimination under any Australian anti-discrimination law.

However this would not apply to statements which are malicious, or which a reasonable person would consider would threaten, intimidate, harass, or vilify a person or a group of persons.

The bill will restrict the ability of bodies to impose standards of behaviour on members of that profession, trade or occupation that would prevent a person from making a statement of belief in their private capacity.

And it will allow religious organisations such as schools to give preference to people of the same religion as the religious body in employment decisions.

The government says the bill will not allow discrimination on the basis of age, disability, race or sex.

It is expected the laws won't pass by the end of this year, as they will go to a Senate inquiry.

Mr Morrison told his party room the bill was about tolerance and balancing freedom with responsibility.

"It is a religious discrimination bill, not a religious freedom bill," he told coalition members.

The prime minister also described it as a shield and not a sword.

Some partyroom concerns were raised about the bill, including a contentious clause designed to protect people who made statements about their religious beliefs.

Others stressed the need to deliver on the 2019 election promise and get the legislation to a vote.

Separately, crossbencher Pauline Hanson indicated she wouldn't support the bill in its current form, while Rex Patrick and Rebekha Sharkie didn't see the need for it.

Earlier on Tuesday, Equality Australia, which lobbies for the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, was worried some of the bill's "worst elements" remained.

Chief among the group's objections was the clause for people making statements about their beliefs.

"This will allow someone to be given a defence to a discrimination complaint if they say offensive, insulting, inappropriate, unacceptable things," chief executive Anna Brown told ABC radio.

"In broad terms, it overrides existing protections for vulnerable groups, it compromises access to judgement-free health care and inclusive workplaces."

Ms Brown was concerned a nurse, for example, could be protected if they told someone with HIV the illness was a punishment from God.

"That person on the receiving end (would be, under the bill) prevented from bringing a complaint against the person that made that statement because their statement of belief is protected," she said.

Australian Associated Press