Religious Discrimination Bill 2021

Freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief is a fundamental human right.

The idea that it should be unlawful to discriminate against someone in employment, in the provision of services or in other areas of public life on the basis of a person's religious belief or activity is not, or at least should not be, controversial.

It is already unlawful under the antidiscrimination laws in most states and territories for individuals to be discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs or practices.

For us from Queensland, it has been that way since Wayne Goss introduced these laws in 1991, more than thirty years ago.

And today, less than one percent of the cases that come to our Human Rights Commissioner in Queensland are cases of religious discrimination.

Most liberal democracies passed their religious discrimination laws decades ago.

In Queensland, we passed ours thirty years ago. And in navigating these reforms, those countries rarely experienced controversy, bitter community division or nasty public debate.

And yet, for more than three years now, our Parliament has turned itself in knots over this one.

The public debate over this bill has lacked nuance. It has lacked much needed nuance and dare I say tenderness for the people most affected by this debate, watching on.

Instead, it has been polarizing.

It has forced everyone, coming at it from all perspectives, to feel that they need to justify their own identity.

And that’s on the man in the top job. The person who wants this bill.  But we have a Prime Minister wants this bill to divide us, not to unite us. This Prime Minister who seeks only to wedge, not to bring people together. Only another era of power for himself, not an era of tolerance, acceptance and understanding for all Australians.  

A little over three years ago the Prime Minister promised that he would update the laws to protect LGBT students as soon as possible. Those were the Prime Minister's words: 'as soon as possible'. He has not done it in three years. There are nine sitting days left of this Parliament.

And this draft, this latest draft that he has managed, well even the Prime Minister and the Assistant Attorney-General cannot agree on how this form of the Religious Discrimination Bill would work in practice, with each offering different and contradictory views about the way in which particular provisions would operate.

If the Prime Minister cannot even agree with his own ministers about the effective aspects of these bills, it is awful, simply awful, that he is content for the rest of the country to be divided and pitted against one another now, at his behest, in this national debate, all in the name of a political win for himself.

Good legislation comes from listening. Good legislation comes from patiently working through the issues. Good legislation does not divide the community.

I have been carefully reading all of the correspondence coming into my office and platforms about this issue. I am conscious of the harm this debate is having on vulnerable people watching on and I choose my focus and arguments carefully so as not to make that damage any worse. One particular letter I felt captured the essence of what is wrong with this bill in its current form and I thank this particular constituent for sharing her story with us.

I am a mother, wife and healthcare worker…I also happen to be married to a woman for the last 15 years. 

We have two boys who are handfuls, cheeky, caring and wonderful. We have a large number of same-sex families living in 4017 and our community is supportive.

 Last year we started applying for private high schools for our oldest child. 

 When interviews were released last year, my son was the only child in his school and greater community that applied that was not offered an interview at the large school. 

Instead we were waitlisted. The second school we were offered an interview. We again were waitlisted. Again he was the only child not offered a spot. 

It is hurtful to be kept out of spaces deemed only worthy for some.

My children will face many hurdles through life. 

My fear is that this bill will give the ruling majority the power to diminish my childrens light, to ensure they must grow smaller or deny who they are or where they come from.

What government weaponises an issue like this one?

A lot of constituents have asked me to kill the bill, and I understand that. But we cannot do that. The government has the numbers in the House. It is what makes them the government. We cannot change that until election day.

Ultimately, my duty is to my constituents, all 110,000 of them.

Part of a national story that is a lot more interesting and diverse and vibrant than the narrowcasting Australian story that this Prime Minister seeks to rule over.

I want our community to be a place where these two 4017 school kids are not discriminated against because of whom their mothers choose to love.

And I want our community to be a place where a muslim woman walking along Handford Road in a hijab will not get spat on and a group of Sikh men practising their religion along  Lemke Rd will not fear for their safety.

And I fight to protect them all.

Tonight we are fighting for laws that protects them all. We are moving amendments to protect them all and if we lose we will keep fighting in the Senate to protect them all.

This bill needs substantial amendments, and tonight we are fighting for amendments to:

  • Protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination by religious schools on the grounds of sexuality or gender.
  • Amend the statements of belief clause to preserve existing rights against discrimination, including preventing it overriding state laws.
  • Ban vilification on the grounds of religion.
  • Prohibit discrimination in provision of in-home aged care services.

Those are the amendments I will be voting for, and I urge the cross bench and those moderate Liberals who have pledged to do the same, to come together with us now, work together like our constituents are asking us to and display a unity of purpose that can substantially improve this bill and protect those children’s light.