Source: Australia Government – Attorney General
Subjects: Draft religious Discrimination
ALAN JONES: Let me just say this before we go any further here. When I hear the Attorney-General Christian Porter, the West Australian Federal MP, speak on matters political, I’m comfortable that I don’t have to worry. You can’t say that about too many people. Firstly, he’s smart. Secondly, does his homework, and you feel as though I can tick that off, I’ll worry about other things. I think this bloke’s got this, got the handle on this. Now yesterday he released Australia’s draft laws to protect religious freedom. Won’t please everybody. Many religious leaders say the laws which would make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of religious belief don’t go far enough. They say they weren’t sufficiently consulted about the law. That pompous Dreyfus, the Shadow Attorney-General, he wasn’t consulted. We don’t need to hear from him ever again.
No, the consultation will start taking place now. This is draft legislation. Public consultation will begin. Christian Porter says he’ll work constructively with interested parties before introducing the legislation. The laws include a so-called Israel Folau provision aimed at preventing the sacking of employees for expressing religious views outside work, but an employer would still be able to sack such workers if the employer were able to establish the worker’s comments outside the workplace caused the employer, quote, unjustifiable financial hardship.
On the other side of the coin, outfits like Equality Australia claim the new legislation would enshrine religious exceptionalism and override existing protections for LGBTI people. Now look, the laws may well require fine-tuning before they’re put to Parliament, but if church leaders’ disappointment is based on the fact that the draft laws are anti-discrimination laws rather than laws enshrining a religious right, I think you’re on the wrong tram. Because the problem is you legislate one human right and you open a Pandora’s Box for a bill of rights and that’s the last thing we need.
Let’s go to the Attorney-General and see if we can present this as simply as we can. He’s on the line. Christian Porter, good morning.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning to you, Alan.
ALAN JONES: Thank you for your time. So rather than a religious freedom act, you are proposing to place religious freedom under the same discrimination umbrella as things like gender and age and race and disability, so in layman’s language you can’t discriminate on the basis, generally, of religious belief?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Correct. We’re protecting people from discrimination rather than providing a positive right framework where they have a sword to argue that they can do X, Y, or Z. We assume that people have the greatest possible ability to freely express themselves on religious and other matters, but where that expression is being impinged on because a company or because another group or because an individual discriminates against you based on your religion, they should be prevented from doing that. So a very good example is that in New South Wales last year, a very senior member of the Jewish community was refused entry to a function at State Parliament House that he’d been invited to and that was clearly because of the religiosity of his position. Now that’s just absolutely outrageous, and it should be unlawful to refuse someone entry into a room they’ve been invited to, to a multi-cultural event based on their religion. But in New South Wales that is not unlawful and we’re saying it’s should be.
ALAN JONES: Should be able to. I liked what you said yesterday that it should not be underestimated how important religion is to the composition and success of the life of the Australian nation itself, and that therefore this matter must be treated with empathy and understanding. Now, you’ve got Dreyfus going on, you can forget about him, but I mean basically you’re saying now there will be, quote, wider community discussion. Are you going to allow maximum time- how does that discussion manifest itself? Where can people have an input into this?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So you can go on to the Attorney-General’s Department website, you can put in written submissions, you can telephone my office. We will publicly show when we’re doing road show events. So we’ll be starting in Melbourne next Tuesday, I think, and then in Sydney on Wednesday. But the consultation looks like old fashioned sitting around a table and talking through the legislation, section by section, and receiving people’s views about what the effects of it will or likely be in anticipatable situations, and then hearing people’s views about how you might tweak or improve the draft or things that might want to come out or things that might want to go in. So it’s a genuine consultation process. But I would say, look, you can’t rationally consult on a draft until you’ve actually developed the draft.
ALAN JONES: Oh, don’t worry about that other bloke.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There’s got to be some space to develop a draft.
ALAN JONES: Absolutely. Just the negative, right. Some religious leaders are obviously unhappy. They believe that religious should be an absolute and that having religious discrimination legislation means the courts will have the final say, which poses the question should the courts be determining when religious freedom applies or doesn’t apply? Some would say if it is the courts therefore that makes us less free. How do you address that?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well no freedom or right is absolute. They all come into conflict with other freedoms, alright. So to some extent, there’s always going to be arbitration via court. But under the positive rights model, where you just say there is a right to freedom of religious expression then list all the other rights, there’s huge public policy decisions to get transferred to the courts. Under this model, there are very clear guardrails around the types of circumstances that we anticipate and we direct the courts as to the things that they should take into account.
You mentioned the larger employers, you know, it’s obvious- clearly meant to deal with the Rugby Australia-type situation and there are clear set of guidelines that would go to the court’s decision maker. And ultimately, the question the courts might have to decide is in an Israel Folau-Rugby Australian situation, was the rule that was applied to all employees and which Israel Folau, you know, had a problem with, is that rule in all the circumstances reasonable? And it seems one of the reasons why these larger companies are getting into this space of busy-bodying around people’s private lives is that they argue that something this might be said or done in private time which damage the inverted commas brand of the organisation and caused them financial hardship. Well that might be a justification but you should need to have to actually show that …
ALAN JONES: Yeah.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … and some people might argue that Rugby Australia’s own handling of this situation has caused more financial damage than the actual issue that arose in the first place. But if they say that those rules are about financial hardship, well they should be put to the proof on that.
ALAN JONES: Good on you, good. Listen, before you go. Well done. Now, we say we’re a Christian society and here we are. I’m saying, do we practice it? I put my comments about this Sri Lankan family up on the Facebook page. You’re a person who responds and understands what the public mood is. It’s only been up there for an hour, there’s over 20,000 people who have seen it in relation to this Biloela family.
Roland says why is it so often felt that the ones that they let stay should be deported and the ones we think should stay are deported? Bob says where are the Administrative Appeals Tribunal? They tried to allow rapists and murderers and terrorists to remain here when Dutton wants to deport them. Here we have a fine family with children born in our country, not a peep. Susan says what a disgrace to treat people like this. Craig: these are Australian born kids. Gladys: immigrants who want to work and contribute to a regional community should not be deported. David: Scott Morrison, where are your Christian values now? Errol: my heart breaks, this is horrendous, this can’t surely happen in Australia. Maggie: appalling, these are the right people we need in Australia. Leslie: well said Alan.
Now, Christian I can only assume the guilt of government here is manifest in the fact that none of my letters have been answered, which I find disgraceful. When an election is around of course, everyone from the Prime Minister down wants to sort of get on and let’s promote the whole deal. But when we’re dealing with an outfit here we say no kids in detention. These have been in detention; they’re swept up in the middle of the night like a vacuum cleaner; they’re carted out. I mean okay all the High Court will decide. Well we don’t know what the High Court was asked to decide, but the opportunity for one of these little girls to get her case before the High Court has been denied by Home Affairs. Where is Christianity in practice here, Christian?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I think the first thing I’d say is that I understand that this matter is actually now back before the courts on that final issue that you raised. So I’ll be a little bit careful because that’s a matter in the proceedings and it’s obviously- the details of this are fully known to the Home Affairs Minister.
The difficulty here arises because of the fact that in each case, the parents arrived unlawfully as unlawful maritime arrivals i.e. people smugglers were paid to affect their transmission to Australia. And as you are well aware, our border protection system harks back to a very firm central (indistinct) …
ALAN JONES: (Talks over) Correct.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … set of rules.
ALAN JONES: They can also have – you also have the right to make your own determination. I mean they came here because this woman’s fiancé at the stage was actually burnt to death in front of her. She left.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So- and as I understand it, all of the many layers of judicial appeal, which are still ongoing, has been to the issue …
ALAN JONES: (Talks over) Correct.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … about whether or not that decision should fall in their favour … ALAN JONES: (Interrupts) But you’ve got discretion. You are elected by us, you have discretion. It’s a community and outfit working in (indistinct) but they can’t get employees. You can’t get anyone to work in the Biloela abattoir; they’ve been there for three years in the abattoir. They’ve got a petition of God knows how many people have signed it. These are good people. Don’t we want these sorts of people here, or do we sort of play the, you know, some obscure rule in argument?
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Well I just- again, the facts of this matter are going to be better known to the Home Affairs Minister so I don’t want to talk about how …
ALAN JONES: (Talks over) That’s right. I understand, I understand.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: … he may or may not exercise that discretion but the goodness of people is one consideration. The method of how people come to Australia and whether they actually make- the meet the criteria for a protection visa is another one and a more complicated matter and I just don’t have those facts.
ALAN JONES: Okay. It’s good to talk to you. Thank you for your time and we’ll talk again.
ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks, Alan.
ALAN JONES: That’s the Attorney-General Christian Porter.