SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RADIO MELBOURNE ALI MOORE
THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECT: Religious Discrimination Bill; Government defeat on changes to Sexual Discrimination Act.
ALI MOORE: Yes, indeed a very long night in Canberra it was. It did see the Religious Discrimination Bill move from the House to the Senate with some amendments that were put forward by Labor. So, what happens next? Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. Mark Dreyfus good morning.
DREYFUS: Good morning Ali, good to be with you.
MOORE: Have you got toothpicks in your eyes at the moment?
DREYFUS: We sat until 5am and I've had about an hour's sleep.
MOORE: All right. Well let's hope that you can at least focus for a little bit longer but we do appreciate you talking to us. So, for those not following this as closely as you, obviously, have been through the course of the night, what amendments got through?
DREYFUS: Labor believes no child should ever be discriminated against and we're very proud to have succeeded last night, in the small hours of the morning, in passing an amendment to end discrimination against children on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.
MOORE: Basically an agreement to amend the Sexual Discrimination Act, correct?
DREYFUS: That's right. And I'd thank all those Members of the Parliament, the crossbench and those Liberal Members who joined with us in ending discrimination against children. It's very important. We think that there is much good about the legislation that Mr Morrison brought to the Parliament eventually after three years and two exposure drafts, but there's also a lot wrong with it. And that's why we moved a number of amendments in the House. I'm very pleased that this very important amendment has been successful. I’m less pleased that the other amendments we moved, which were also important, didn't succeed, and we're going to be renewing our efforts in the Senate to improve this bill
MOORE: And I will get to that in a minute. But can I just clarify, so that amendment to the Sexual Discrimination Act to ensure that all students, LGBTQI, are protected, does that happen? Has it already happened? Has that amendment been passed to that act? Or is it part of the Religious Discrimination Bill, that there will be an amendment to the Sexual Discrimination Act? Because we're talking about two different pieces of legislation.
DREYFUS: That's right. Well, actually there are three bills. It's often the case that there is more than one bill in a package. There are three bills in the package. One of these bills has now been amended to make an amendment to an already existing act of Parliament, the Sex Discrimination Act - sorry if that's complicated - for the discrimination bill in the parliament. And it's taken the whole term of this government and he's still brought an inadequate bill to the Parliament.
MOORE: So what got knocked back?
DREYFUS: What got knocked back was an amendment that would have put an anti-vilification provision in this bill. We think that's a very, very important thing for people of faith. And very many members of minority faiths have been asking for years - asking the government, asking us - to provide for an anti-vilification provision so that one of the commonest forms of discrimination, which is abuse, vile abuse on the street of Muslim women wearing a hijab or Sikh men wearing a turban or Jewish men wearing a yarmulke, all of that would be prohibited and we would have thought that that went together with a Religious Discrimination Bill. Mr Morrison thought otherwise. He's knocked back that anti-vilification provision. We tried to amend a very, very contentious provision in this legislation which would override every state anti-discrimination law, and a specific provision of the Tasmanian anti-discrimination law, in favour of what are called statements of belief. That vote was drawn, it was a tied vote in the House, and we're going to renew our efforts in the Senate to make this bill a better bill. Because the core of the bill is something that we support. We support the idea that people of faith should be protected against discrimination, that it shouldn't be possible to discriminate against a religious person on religious grounds in employment, or in the provision of services. But there are a number of provisions in this bill that need to be changed. They are divisive, and we think that legislation like this should be bringing Australians together.
MOORE: So you say the core of the bill is good, but you've also pointed out that the things that you tried to change that have been knocked back include the most common form of discrimination. So why pass a substandard piece of legislation?
DREYFUS: There's often a balancing and no one should be in any doubt about Labor's long support for adding to Australia's anti-discrimination set of laws, prohibitions on religious discrimination or discrimination on the grounds of religious faith. But that should not come at the cost of adding to discrimination against other groups of Australians. And that's what we've been trying to work with. There's always a balancing but, Mr Morrison has refused to work on a bipartisan basis with Labor or the crossbench even though he said he would more than three years ago. We are going to try to hold him to work across the Parliament, in the interests of uniting Australians not causing further division. It's very important that when we legislate in this area we don't increase the possibility of discrimination against any Australians.
MOORE: You're listening to Mark Dreyfus. He's the Shadow Attorney-General. Mark Dreyfus, the balancing act that you talk about, what happens to that balancing act in the Senate? If you try again with those provisions that got knocked back in the House, do you think you'll do better and if you don't do better, if your amendments don't get through, what do you do?
DREYFUS: We are confident that they will get through. We are confident that we can get support of sufficient members of the crossbench in the Senate to make these changes to improve this bill so that it is a much better bill, so that it achieves its core purpose of protecting people of faith without adding to discrimination against other Australians.
MOORE: So is that your bottom line? That you have to get those anti-vilification provision and knock out the provision that would allow the overriding of state laws? They're the two things that are your benchmark for passing this bill through the Senate?
DREYFUS: And there's another amendment which we moved last night and again, went within one vote of succeeding on, which is to take out a provision that absurdly would allow aged care service providers who provide in-home services to discriminate on the basis of religion. We think that there is no place for a provision like that. This this was drawn to our attention by COTA, one of the key advocates for older Australians. There's a million older Australians who are receiving service and they deserve to be treated with dignity. We don't understand why the government has knocked back that provision that was suggested to them by COTA and pushed by us. So that's another of the amendments that we want to get through.
MOORE: But are they the bottom line? Are those three amendments the bottom line? If you don't get them through, you don't pass this bill through the upper House?
DREYFUS: We are confident that we are going to get them through.
MOORE: But that's not answering the question. Let's play a hypothetical. You're very confident you're going to get them through. If you don't get them through is that your bottom line? The bill does not pass?
DREYFUS: We've already succeeded, Ali in making a really important change to the package of legislation last night to protect children, all children, against discrimination, and we're going to keep pushing to have these other amendments made in the Senate. And when they are made the bill will be returned to the House. And at that point Mr Morrison will have a choice. Does he choose to legislate in a way that unites Australians that doesn't increase discrimination, that protects all Australians against discrimination, or does he continue on this path of division, which he's been on for so long, which at the moment has only ended up causing division in his own party?
MOORE: I'm curious about the fact that you don't want to call that. You can't say ‘yep, these are these are really important. They cover the most common forms of discrimination. We're confident we're gonna get the changes through. If we don't, we won't pass it.’ Why not commit to that? If you feel that these amendments are so important, why not say ‘if we don't get them, we won't pass it’?
DREYFUS: Ali, of course they're important, but our objective is to legislate in a cooperative and a bipartisan way on a subject like this. It's vital that we do so. Mr Morrison promised more than three years ago to do just that. We're going to try to hold him to that promise, as we've tried to hold him to so many other promises. We know that the crossbench across the Parliament, in both the Senate and the House, are prepared to work with us. We know that some members of the Liberal Party are prepared to work with us. We invite the Prime Minister to look at that and to work with us to produce a unifying piece of legislation, not one that's based on Parliamentary games or Parliamentary tactics, but one that is a genuine unifying piece of legislation.
MOORE: Okay, can I ask you Mark Dreyfus, a couple of text messages here just raising the question about protection for teachers. Because, of course, this is protection for students. The amendment that you passed last night goes to students. Where do teachers sit in this piece of legislation?
DREYFUS: Just to say one thing as a matter of principle, Labor supports removing discrimination against teachers. We also recognise the rights of religious schools to give preference to hiring school staff from their own faith and those two rights need to work together. They need to have meshing between the Fair Work Act, the Sex Discrimination Act - they're existing pieces, of law - and this coming Religious Discrimination Act. Until you can get them to work together you shouldn't be rushing through amendments in the Parliament. There's a current reference to the Law Reform Commission. We want them to continue to inquire and to report as quickly as possible on this particular topic and then we will act. But our principles are there shouldn't be discrimination against teachers on the basis of any personal characteristic. At the same time, religious schools should have the right to give preference in hiring school staff from their own faith.
MOORE: And one of the initial issues with this - and I suppose this is what's led to your amendment to expanding the coverage and the protection of students to include all, because it didn't include transgender students - as part of that amendment, how do you see that playing out in a single sex school, for example?
DREYFUS: We see that all schools should be ensuring that children are treated with love and respect and not discriminated against. We are very confident from the deep consultation that we've had with religious schools right across the education sector that this can be achieved. We think there is no place in 21st century Australia for a child to be ever discriminated against and that's why it's really, really important that we have legislated in this way. And again, I'd say how pleased I am that the crossbench and members of the Liberal Party joined with us to achieve this outcome.
MOORE: And very briefly, Mark Dreyfus, when will it get to the Senate? When is the Senate sitting next? Today?
DREYFUS: The Senate is sitting today.
MOORE: And it will be debated today?
DREYFUS: That's up to the Senate. I'm a Member of the House. I never like to confidently predict what is going to happen in the Senate.
MOORE: No, probably very wise. Thank you very much for talking to us. And I appreciate that it's been a very long sleepless night for you. Thank you for your time.
DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Ali.