Mark Dreyfus MP

Member for Isaacs
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Parliament House Joint Press Conference with Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese 10 February 2022

10 February 2022

SUBJECT: Religious discrimination bill.



SUBJECT: Religious discrimination bill.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, LEADER OF THE AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY: Thanks very much for joining us. Last night, or this morning more accurately, we saw a long sitting of Parliament. Labor met yesterday as a Shadow Cabinet and as a Caucus and determined our position on the religious discrimination legislation that was before the Parliament. We determined as a matter of principle something that we hold very dear, that we support the removal or the extension of any discrimination legislation to cover discrimination on the basis of religion, or on the basis of faith, but we don't believe that should be at a cost of increasing discrimination against other groups.
In particular, we were concerned about the impact against students who may be struggling with their gender identity, or who have sexual orientation which they are coming to terms with, and which the pressure on a young person at that time should be something that is respected. Labor believes very clearly that we need to respect every child for who they are. That is a fundamental principle we took into the Parliament and were determined to pursue, along with other amendments to improve the legislation as it stood. The amendment carried will prohibit schools discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, relationship, or marital status. That makes an enormous difference.
It is unfortunate there has been division over this process. This should have been something that united the country and took us forward as one with respect for our common humanity. We're a diverse nation, made up of young and old, people of different ethnicities, different religions, different sexual orientations. We need to respect every Australian for who they are. And Labor will continue to argue for additional amendments in the Senate if the legislation gets there.
But I say this about this Prime Minister. The Prime Minister tried to wedge Labor and ended up wedging himself. He could have had constructive dialogue and dealt with the provisions consistent with what he himself had argued. In 2018, during the Wentworth by-election, he said he would protect students. The Prime Minister wrote to me in December and said that there's no place in our education system for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. Had the legislation passed without this significant amendment, against the Government's wishes, it wouldn't have fulfilled that commitment and statement of the Prime Minister. And then, when the amendment was carried, the Government, in an act of extraordinary petulance, voted against their own legislation on the floor of the House of Representatives, something I haven't seen occur before. Because the legislation regarding students, the relevant provision that was amended, came in a separate bill about human rights legislation that the Government had moved.
I'm very proud of the collective action that Labor took. I'm proud of the fact we were prepared to work with the crossbenchers and with others in the Parliament, including some in the Liberal Party who voted with us in the early hours of this morning. That's a good thing.
I say to the Government that they need to stop looking for division and look for ways in which we can unite the country and take us forward.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much, Anthony. I echo everything that Anthony has said and say the result of the bills that have now gone to the Senate could have been so much better than it was. Labor has been ready and willing and able to work with the Government for more than three years that this has been coming, to produce a much better outcome for Australia. One, as Anthony has said, that unites our country, not one that increases division. Of course, Labor was ready and wanting to see added to our set of anti-discrimination laws a law that prohibited discrimination in employment, discrimination in the provision of services based on religious belief. It's long past time that people of faith in our country were protected in that way. But Mr Morrison has resolutely turned his back on Labor's offers to help, resolutely turned his back on any suggestion of bipartisanship. It's been a shocking process through two exposure drafts, not one, but two exposure drafts. A shocking process where acting on recommendations made by Mr Ruddock's panel of inquiry way back at the end of 2018 and going into 2019, the Government did the right thing, set up a proper inquiry with the Law Reform Commission, which would have reported in March 2020, only to then turn around and put that on pause, repeatedly, so that the Law Reform Commission still hasn't started its inquiry into these important matters.
We've tried our best with the limited ability that we have in Opposition to improve some of the bad aspects of this bill. We moved amendments late into the morning in the House of Representatives, to try and put an anti-vilification provision into this legislation, actually holding Mr Morrison to something that he had said in his second reading speech when he introduced these bills on 25 November.
He said that he deplored vilification against people of faith. He said that this bill would do something about it. But it does nothing of the kind. And that's why we moved an amendment. We didn't quite get the necessary support from the House of Representatives for that anti-vilification provision to be included in the legislation. But we will try again in the Senate. And so too, we moved an amendment to deal with a dreadful provision dealing with statements of belief which, the Government knows is flawed, knows it hasn't got right, they know they shouldn't be seeking to interfere with every single anti-discrimination statute in Australia. And that's we tried to take out last night. Again, we didn't get there. But we'll persist with that when this legislation goes to the Senate. And, extraordinarily, the other amendment that should have been completely non-contentious, to make sure there wouldn't be discrimination against older people in Australia who receive in-home care, almost a million Australians, older Australians, receiving in-home care, the services from religious providers to them should not be able to be provided with discrimination. We thought at first that there was some error in the bill. This was drawn to our attention by COTA, one of the most important advocates for older people in our community, and extraordinarily the Government said no, it was deliberate, they tried to sneak it in, and they persisted with this absurd provision in the bill which means that while aged care provision in residential care must be free of discrimination, apparently this Government wants to say that it will be open to a religious provider of in-home care to discriminate. We think that's wrong. And we'll be persisting with that amendment too.
The fourth amendment that we had put up, that was ultimately moved, and I thank her for it, by the Member for Mayo, Rebekha Sharkie, that succeeded and has meant that we have the excellent outcome now that all children in religious schools will be protected from discrimination. The battle is not over. Labor will continue to work to improve this legislation.
JOURNALIST: You have conceded that this legislation is bad legislation and that it could have been better. What do you say to Australians who are waking up to see that Labor has ultimately allowed it to pass through the House?
ALBANESE: We fixed the major issue that was raised with us by having a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives. Had we simply said, ‘We're just voting against that legislation’, and not tried to improve it, that would not have occurred, and the legislation would have passed, without amendment. That is what we would have been dealing with. As a direct result of the position that we took, this bill has been improved. And students, children in schools, will be all protected from discrimination and from any action based upon objections of who they are.
I'm very proud of what we've managed to achieve. And those people who argued that we should just vote no and not participate also ignored the fact that the issue of discrimination against people on the basis of their faith is real. And it is something that Labor supports action on. Just like we support removing discrimination on the basis of age, on the basis of gender, on the basis of disability. Labor has a proud record in that area. And two, some people today, who might be a woman of Islamic faith being vilified on the streets because she happens to be wearing a hijab, someone identifiable, a group of Jewish students being attacked because of their faith, discrimination against people on the basis of who they are, Ed Husic gave a pretty powerful speech in the Parliament about the discrimination that he had applying for a job as a Member of the House of Representatives, where the attacks on him when he first ran for Parliament on the basis of his faith were very real and had a real impact. There are many people of faith who are discriminated against, from employment and other areas because of their faith. This is a real issue. It's one that Labor supports action on. But we support action on that without increasing discrimination against other groups.
JOURNALIST: Will you be satisfied if this legislation actually becomes law and passes through the Senate without any further amendments?
ALBANESE: We will be pursuing further amendments. And we've been successful in changing the legislation. As I said, if we had of taken the view that some people on social media suggested we should, the legislation, we wouldn't have sat till 5am trying to improve this legislation. We fought hard, as I have fought every day I've been in this building as a Member of Parliament, for the rights of people to not be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality or on the basis of who they are. That is something that I have fundamentally fought for. It's something that I believe in. And it's something that Labor believes in. But we also believe that people of faith can suffer from discrimination as well. And they are deserving of protection as well.
JOURNALIST: Do you not see this to be a little bit of a gamble, hoping that you'll be able to pass additional amendments through Senate when that isn't guaranteed?
ALBANESE: No. I see this as ensuring that we act on the basis of our principles. This isn't our legislation. This is Government legislation. What we managed to do on the floor of the House of Representatives is do something that doesn't happen too often, which is to defeat the Government on the floor of the House of Representatives. And we did it with a significant majority. We did it by working with crossbenchers and with the goodwill of other people in the Parliament, including some members of the Liberal Party. One of the votes was 62 each in the Parliament as well. And we fell just short. But we'll pursue those issues. It's not our job to sit back, see bad legislation just carried, not participate, not trying to improve it, and then just complain about it from the sideline. Our job, as the Labor Party, is to try to get the best outcomes possible. It's something that we will continue to pursue in a principled way. And we have said that we will insist on any amendments that we carry. We've already carried amendments in the House of Representatives. I expect that there is a debate in the Senate. There are other issues that could be dealt with there.
JOURNALIST: Can you quickly summarise the key amendments that you will bring to the Senate?
ALBANESE: They are the amendments that Mark outlined. Thank you.