Coalition split over bill on religious discrimination, with a Member of Parliament having ‘serious concerns’ over the Folau clause | Australian politics

Coalition MPs are divided over the government’s revised law on religious discrimination, with Attorney General Michaelia Cash holding emergency meetings with MPs before parliament returns to try to resolve the issue.

The push to introduce a bill at the last meeting in fourteen days this year comes almost three years after Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to introduce a new law on religious discrimination following a review of religious freedom by Philip Ruddock in 2018.

Cash, who took over the bill’s progress from Christian Porter when she became public prosecutor in March, is now consulting on a third iteration of the bill in an attempt to overcome internal opposition and fulfill an election promise.

Three issues are thought to meet some resistance in the party room: the inclusion of a “Folau clause” that would provide legal protection to a person expressing a creed; provisions on conscientious objection that would allow doctors to refuse to provide certain treatment; and the ability of religious institutions to discriminate against staff on the basis of religion in order to maintain a “faith-based ethos”.

The Australian Christian lobby has boasted that it has successfully pressured the government to include a Folau clause – a provision that would legally protect a person from having their employment terminated as a result of expressing their religious views. The question emerged after footballer Israel Folau was fired by Rugby Australia for posting on social media suggesting that homosexuals, adulterers, atheists and other “sinners” would go to hell.

Liberal MP Warren Entsch, who attended one of a series of briefings with Cash this week, said he did not support the Folau clause.

“I just have serious concerns about a number of issues in this regard [the bill] and the Folau clause is a major concern, ā€¯Entsch told Guardian Australia.

He said his position had not changed after previously stating that he would not support a bill that “reintroduced” any form of discrimination through a religious discrimination law.

The third draft of the bill, which is still being finalized by Cash, comes more than two years after Porter released the government’s first exposure bill in early 2019.

The bill, which was described as “unfriendly”, received nearly 6,000 submissions during the consultation process and was later revised after the setback.

The government’s second draft of the exposure, designed to allay the concerns of religious groups, was heavily criticized by the Australian Commission on Human Rights, the Australian Medical Association and the LGBTQ + groups.

Conservative lawmakers, however, are pushing to make the bill a priority, warning that denominations expected Morrison to live up to the promise made before the last election.

It is understood that WA Senator Matt O’Sullivan spoke to the party room over the last fourteen days on the issue and questioned the government’s priorities after signing a bill legalizing mitochondrial donation.

Before the last election, Morrison wrote a five-page letter to church leaders in which he promised to legislate a law on religious discrimination as an election obligation.

He said in the letter that he would enact legislation “to make it illegal to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious beliefs or activity, including on the basis that a person has no religious beliefs or participates in any religious activity”.

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South Sydney Anglican Bishop Michael Stead would not comment on his discussions with the government on the legislation, but said the bill was “well and truly delayed”.

“It is indefensible that there is no protection for religious freedom,” Stead told Guardian Australia.

“We are very keen to see this resolved during this term of office, we do not want this to be an election issue and we hope for bipartisan support, for the Labor Party’s support for the bill.

“We recognize that Covid has had an impact, we are not insensitive to the fact that a whole lot of the government’s legislative timetable and obligations have been disrupted, but that is why we are very keen to see it resolved now. “

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