SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
ABC RN BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Religious Discrimination Bill; Government defeat on changes to Sexual Discrimination Act.
PATRICIA KARVELAS: Attorney-General Michaelia Cash continues to be unavailable for interview, but we are joined by the Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus this morning. Mark Dreyfus, right across from me. Welcome.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Good morning, Patricia.
KARVELAS: Five Government MPs voted with Labor to prevent trans children being singled out. How heartened were you when you saw them cross the floor? What message does it send to the Prime Minister about the bill?
DREYFUS: It sends the message to Mr Morrison that he should, all along, have been working across the Parliament, working with Labor, working with the crossbench, working with those dissenters - and there are a number of them in his own party - to make the bill that he has taken three and a half years to produce much better than it is. That's the message for Mr Morrison, that this Parliament, if invited to work on a bipartisan basis, can produce legislation in contentious areas that serves to unite our country and not further divide it. I'm sorry to say that Mr Morrison's bill, in its present form still, even though we have succeeded in removing the capacity for discrimination against all children, even though we've done that, there's much yet to be improved about this bill.
KARVELAS: Well let's go to that, because you ended up passing the bill which contains other elements you don't like, such as the way anti-discrimination provisions will be overridden. Aren't you having it a bit both ways?
DREYFUS: Let's be clear Patricia. Labor supports ending discrimination in employment and the provision of services on the basis of religious faith. We think that it's long overdue that people of faith are protected against discrimination. And we think that overwhelmingly, Australians on both sides of the Parliament support that core purpose of this bill.
KARVELAS: But with respect Mark Dreyfus, you waved the bill through. You didn't insist on your amendments. You have supported the Religious Discrimination Bill in the lower House.
DREYFUS: Because we now need to continue to work with the Senate to get the improvements we want to this bill. I say again, Patricia, we support this bill in its core. But the way in which it's been produced - it's gone through two exposure drafts - has been a shocking process that Mr Morrison has engaged in. Labor has had its hand out ready to work in a bipartisan way with Mr Morrison since before the 2019 election. What we did last night was to hold him to the promise that he made as long ago as October 2018, that he was going to act to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove discrimination against kids. We held him to that.
KARVELAS: There are those in the LGBTIQ community who say you should have done more in the lower House to try and sink the bill.
DREYFUS: I know that there are people on social media calling out, ringing MP's offices, ringing my office, emailing my office. I know precisely what the demand has been.
KARVELAS: And they're angry about the statement of belief in religious discrimination.
DREYFUS: And so are we. And that's why we moved amendments in the House. And we almost got there. It was a tied vote on the statement of belief, another very significant error in the bill.
KARVELAS: When you were successful, you still voted for this bill.
DREYFUS: And I'm trying to say Patricia that we support the ending of discrimination against people of faith. That's important too. The sad thing about this whole process is that it's taken so long and even now Mr Morrison has brought to the bill something that he's intending to divide Australians with, something that he's intending to try and wedge his own political opponents with. That shouldn't be ever part of a calculation here and instead he's ended up wedging himself.
KARVELAS: Okay, you have a number of amendments you want to get up in the Senate. How do you gauge the numbers on the crossbench?
DREYFUS: We think that we can get our amendments supported in the Senate. We think that the adding of a provision for anti-vilification - something that faith communities have long sought, something that Mr Morrison introducing this legislation said the bill would do, it does nothing of the kind, it doesn't have an anti-vilification provision - we think that should be added, and we think we can get that support for that in the Senate. We think we can get support to make sure that this shocking override of every state and territory anti-discrimination law and the specific override of Section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act, we think that should be ended too. We got a tied vote in the House and we think we can successfully amend that in the Senate.
KARVELAS: If the amendment is passed in the Senate Labor will insist on them which will set up a deadlock between the two Houses with little time to resolve this impasse before the election. How will this be resolved? Is the ball back in the Government's court?
DREYFUS: It's absolutely in the Government's court. Mr Morrison needs to, again, keep another promise that he's broken so far, when he announced the Government's response to the Ruddock Review way back in 2019. He said that he accepted Mr Ruddock's recommendation that there be bipartisan work to produce a Religious Discrimination Bill. He has never worked in a bipartisan way. He has not worked with Labor. He has not worked with the crossbench. He has not listened to even Parliamentary committees. We invite him now, right now, to accept our continuing offer to work with him to make this bill as good as it can be. And it should be improved.
KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus, on the other hand if your amendments are defeated in the Senate, what will you do? Will you end up passing the bill?
DREYFUS: Our amendments are going to succeed Patricia.
KARVELAS: And if they're not?
DREYFUS: Our amendments are going to succeed. We are working towards improvement of this bill and there's more than one way that our amendments can succeed and it's not just the vote in the Senate. Our invitation to Mr Morrison stands. Listen to the 65-59 vote in the House.
KARVELAS: My question is, if you're not successful, will you be motivated by the need to keep religious voters onside especially in multicultural communities in Labor's heartland?
DREYFUS: That's not the way Labor's approaching this legislation. Labor's approaching this legislation on the basis that all Australians have the right to live their lives free of discrimination.
KARVELAS: If you're not successful with those amendments, you will vote down the bill?
DREYFUS: We don't support increasing discrimination against anyone. That's not the right way to approach it.
KARVELAS: And you're not prepared to vote down the bill?
DREYFUS: No, I'm not saying that. I am not saying anything other than that we are going to insist on these amendments and we are confident that they will succeed in the Senate.
KARVELAS: What does insist look like Mark Dreyfus?
DREYFUS: Insists looks like the amendment succeeding in the Senate, and when the bill is sent back amended to the House, insisting there by voting again in favour of those amendments. And I call on Mr Morrison to stop engaging in this kind of wedge politics, to stop trying to get political advantage over something that is too important for that. We need to have a government that is governing for all Australians. We need to have a government that is producing unity, not division and I fear that the only way we're going to get that is to change the government and that's my invitation to the people of Australia if Mr Morrison doesn't do the right thing.
KARVELAS: Now, on this issue of teachers, LGBTIQ teachers, Trent Zimmerman told me earlier that Labor is using the same language that his own government has been using in relation to transgender students to kick that can down the road in terms of protecting gay and lesbian and transgender teachers in schools. Why didn't you act on that?
DREYFUS: I'd be hoping that we would hear more of the same language from all Members of Parliament. I'd be hoping that on that one Mr Zimmerman, listens to what we had to say about this.
KARVELAS: Well, he voted to remove the discrimination you didn't.
DREYFUS: That's right, because we say that there is a very complex and difficult interaction between now potentially three pieces of legislation - the Fair Work Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, that's existing law, and this bill, the Religious Discrimination Bill yet to become law. In relation to employment issues Labor supports absolutely the right of religious schools to preference people of their own faith in hiring decisions in the selection process. What Labor doesn't support is discrimination against teachers on other bases - on the basis of sexual preference or gender identity or any other personal matter. We need to work toward resolving those complexities. That's why we do think that the Australian Law Reform Commission should be permitted to complete the inquiry that has been paused. It was given the inquiry in March 2019. It would have reported in March 2020. But Mr Morrison put it on hold. We don't know why. Perhaps he didn't want to hear from the Law Reform Commission? We do. We think that their report will inform the progress that needs to be made here.
KARVELAS: Mark Dreyfus, just briefly, will there be a religious discrimination act by the time of the election? What's your prediction?
DREYFUS: If there is, I hope it is much improved on the bill that we were working through right to 5am this morning in the Parliament. I hope it's improved on that version.
KARVELAS: It was nice to see you well when I arrived at work. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus thanks for joining us.
DREYFUS: Thank you, Patricia.