Freedom of belief doesn’t require discrimination

Published on Thu 10 February 2022 12:31am

We will fight to change these unacceptable bills, then we’ll fight to give Australians the competent and caring government that they deserve.

Mr Wilson (12:31am) – Thank you, Deputy Speaker, and I’m glad to make a contribution to the debate on these bills to which in their present form, I’m strongly opposed.

There’s no question that the protection of fundamental freedoms and the fight against harmful discrimination are important causes. They deserve to be approached seriously, carefully and in the right spirit. That’s not the case with these bills. What we cannot have is a rushed, badly-shaped last minute set laws that put Australia’s core ethos – of egalitarianism, social inclusion and social cohesion – at risk.

What we cannot have is a set of changes that in reality enables discrimination and more than that set of changes that will cause real and immediate harm and anguish to LGBTQIA+ Australians. And more than that, changes that will cause harm and anguish to vulnerable children. That’s not acceptable. So these bills as they are not acceptable.

Like most contributors to this debate, I’ve been contacted by hundreds and hundreds of people in my community on this issue. My constituents, most of them in reality are strangers to me, some of them, my family and friends. Overwhelmingly, those people are contacting me to say, Don’t do this. Don’t allow a bad piece of law to amplify intolerance. Don’t let this government turn the wheel back the direction of prejudice. Don’t enable discrimination might hurt my kids that might hurt her, or him, or them.

Deputy Speaker, these bills without considerable change will hurt young people. These bills will enable conduct that doesn’t genuinely improve freedom of religious belief in any meaningful way, that absolutely impacts on the well-being of people who already experienced cruel and hurtful discrimination and who are already at risk. On this side of the chamber, we’re not going to stand for that.

The Leader of the Opposition in his deeply thoughtful and principled contribution to the debate earlier said that on this side we will insist on considerable changes that must be made to these bills, we will insist on them.

Deputy Speaker, as I’ve said, making laws in this area should be done with clarity and with great care. It should be done consultatively with an emphasis on collaboration and consensus because, of course, above all we want to maintain and encourage in the Australian community tolerance and unity and social cohesion. We want to build by example, even in this place, respect, and empathy, love for one another.

There are churches and mosques and temples and faith groups and faith-based schools in my electorate that practice respect and empathy and love all the time. Those are not the qualities that animate these bills. These bills have been sprung on the Parliament at the very end of this parliamentary term. The Committee process had to be rushed and conducted over the holiday period. The government itself had not settled on a final form of the bills before this week. And the government itself still doesn’t have a unified position on these bills.

Sadly, on this issue, as on almost every issue, the Morrison government’s approach has been largely chaotic, self-serving and dysfunctional. It has made promises that it simply hasn’t kept. The Leader of the Opposition detailed how the Prime Minister gave a commitment on the question of protecting children from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or gender. Yet, these bills before us break that commitment.

We won’t stand for that.

Labor’s leader, the member for Grayndler, had previously offered to work with a Prime Minister on a careful and sensible means of improving the protections for people of religious faith, especially for those like Sikhs and Muslims and members of the Baháʼí faith and others who commonly face discrimination and that work is important.

But the government spurned that offer because it always prefers silly political games to proper policy reform and responsible government.

Deputy Speaker, in this area we have to start by acknowledging that freedom for one person can involve discrimination against another. That one person’s freedom can directly infringe on another person’s freedom. And people of faith know that, people of faith know that because it’s people of faith who have been discriminated against for their religion, mostly by people of other religions. That’s the history of the world. That’s the history of some of the worst inhumanity that mankind has ever managed to inflict on itself.

So the question of protecting religious freedom is a delicate one. It is complicated. Of course it’s worthwhile, but it has to be done carefully. And some of the deep flaws in these bills need to be fixed precisely because they could well, and more than likely will, enable discrimination and vilification in the Australian community.

It’s not hard to understand that we make changes in this area badly, it’s not just possible, but it’s likely that intolerance will grow, that division will grow that discrimination and vilification will increase, and that freedom will actually be constrained, and that vulnerable people get hurt.

In relation to the freedom of religious belief and expression, I do want to make the point that this has always included the right to hold no religious belief whatsoever. We should remember that some of the most harmful prejudice in history has been from people of religion towards people accused of having no religion, of being essentially regarded as godless, one way or the other, and that includes Indigenous peoples the world over, and that certainly has included the Indigenous peoples of Australia.

Deputy Speaker, I’m not religious. I respect the right of people to follow and express their faith. Same time, those who are not religious deserve the same respect in return.

Finally, Deputy Speaker, there can’t be any real debate about the fact that these bills are a terrible mess. They do not carefully and meaningfully improve the protection religious freedom in Australia and may will increase religious intolerance and conflict and they will certainly enable discrimination and they will cause harm in their present form. That is why it’s only by making considerable changes that these bills can be made acceptable. And through the parliamentary process in its entirety, we will insist on those changes. We will fight to change these unacceptable bills, then we’ll fight to give Australians the competent and caring government that they deserve.

Share this article...

Get Involved
Subscribe for updates
Contact Josh