2GB Drive with Jim Wilson
Subject: Religious Discrimination Bill
JIM WILSON: Twelve past five, lets move to Canberra where the federal government is on the ropes, after the Prime Minister was forced into an embarrassing back down on his Religious Discrimination bill. Five Coalition backbenchers cross the floor last night to support Labor's amendments to protect transgender students and now the PM has pulled it from the Senate. On the line is the Attorney-General Michaelia Cash. Attorney-General Welcome back to drive.
MINISTER CASH: It's great to be with you, Jim and hello to your listeners.
JIM WILSON: So firstly, first thank you for your time. Why do you consider this bill to be so important?
MINISTER CASH: Because there's over 14 million Australians who have faith. We are an incredibly diverse country. And despite this, many Australians experience discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs or activities in public life every day. Jim, your listeners would know, we have Age Discrimination legislation, Sex Discrimination, Racial Discrimination, Disability Discrimination legislation, but we don't protect people of faith from being discriminated in their daily lives. And that is exactly what Scott Morrison and the Liberal Government is committed to, protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their religion.
JIM WILSON: Well you've got five back benchers in your own party who have crossed the floor and voted with Labor. I mean obviously, whats happened today is a huge blow.
MINISTER CASH: Well, the religious discrimination bill actually did pass the the House of Representatives and it passed with the government's amendments. So that is a positive thing for Australians. You're right, it still needs to come to the Senate. But in relation to the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, what we had said as a government was we'd move an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act because we all agreed Jim, kids, students should not be expelled on the basis of their sexuality. We bought Australians with us, we bought people of faith, we bought the LGBTIQ community with us and we all agreed that was an appropriate amendment. Labor went a lot further though and what they have said is 'let's just get rid of exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act holos bolos for students.' What that does is create a lot of uncertainty. And I've had schools calling me now for the last two days saying Michaelia, we just don't know what to do, we don't have the practices, the procedures, the processes. We need this to be further considered. So I have to say we had a great process, the Australian Law Reform Commission, they would have looked at how do you actually do that and get it right. So really, it's up to Labor. Do they want to stand with Scott Morrison and the Coalition Government and protect people from discrimination on the basis of religion or not. And unfortunately, I'd say they just don't want to do that.
JIM WILSON: The bottom line is it's on hold now. It's highly unlikely this will be passed before the election. Do you agree?
MINISTER CASH: No, not at all.
JIM WILSON: Do you think the bill will be passed before the election?
MINISTER CASH: We are committed to delivering on this bill for the Australian people. But you are right in its current form, it cannot be. Ideally, I would like Mark Dreyfus to work with me, and actually deliver on a bill that does give those protections to people of religion. We are committed to it. Now, as I said, the bill did pass the parliament. But unfortunately, Labor decided to play games with unintended consequences and as such, the bill hasn't come to the Senate.
JIM WILSON: Did you get legal advice from the Australian Government Solicitor suggesting the bill had problems and that's why it was pulled?
MINISTER CASH: No, in relation to the amendments that the Labor Party moved last night and the amendments that passed, there is uncertainty now in relation to exactly what they do. And they actually have the potential to effectively enhance the grounds of discrimination against students and prospective students, as opposed to do what Labor said they would do. But you see, that's what happens when you rush something without consultation. When you don't understand what the practical and legal effects of the amendment is. What we could have done yesterday, is actually remove from the Sex Discrimination Act the ability to expel a student on the basis of their sexuality or their sexual orientation. Instead, unfortunately, we now have created huge uncertainty, and in particular, amongst religious schools, schools of faith.
JIM WILSON: But your own MP's crossed the floor, obviously, there is divisions within the Coalition ranks about this bill.
MINISTER CASH: Well ultimately that is a decision for those Coalition MPs. I do come from the side of politics, where ultimately, you are able to exercise, you know, your own decision. As I said, the bill itself the Religious Discrimination Bill, it did pass the parliament. But in relation to the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, there are some unintended consequences that have now been raised, in particular by the school community. But ultimately, this is all about the government continuing to deliver on its commitment to protect people from discrimination on the basis of religion.
JIM WILSON: Trent Zimmernan said he couldn't live with himself if he didn't cross the floor. I mean, what do you say to your colleagues, those five colleagues who crossed the floor?
MINISTER CASH: Well, ultimately, at the end of the day,
JIM WILSON: You must be disappointed -
MINISTER CASH: Of course I'm disappointed because this was a commitment that we took to the 2019 election. This was a commitment that the Australian people voted for. We had brought a practical and reasonable bill to the Australian Parliament. We had an amendment in relation to not expelling students on the basis of their sexuality. But again, ultimately, I do come from that side of politics, where people are able to exercise their own decision. And remember though as well Jim, all of those Labor MPs on the alleged right side of the Labor Party, who say that they believe in protecting people from discrimination. They now need to go back to their electorates, Kristina Keneally, you know, in the seat of Fowler, you know, Chris Bowen, Michelle Rowland, and they need to explain why yesterday, they denied the people of faith in their electorate, the ability to have protection from discrimination on the basis of their faith. They have to go out and say to their communities, you know, we believe that a Muslim should be discriminated against in employment, a Catholic, a Sikh, a Hindu, an Anglican. That's what they need to explain to their communities.
JIM WILSON: Well Labor is disputing suggestions that you got the Australian Government Solicitor. This is obviously a legal minefield with what's unfolded this afternoon. I mean they say it's not clear where the advice came from to pull the bill. What do you say to that?
MINISTER CASH: Well, I say serious concerns have been raised in relation to the amendment that went through the House of Representatives last night. I have been inundated with calls. There was no consultation on this amendment. Nobody understands exactly what the implications of the drafting are, and that's why the better process was saying to the Australian Law Reform Commission, we all agree that students should not be discriminated against, but we need to get it right. Have a look at it and tell us how we can get it right. But that wasn't done.
JIM WILSON: You're now pushing for this inquiry, the Senate inquiry into this bill, was that simply to avoid the circus that would have resulted from Coalition Senator Andrew Bragg crossing the floor to support Labor's amendments?
MINISTER CASH: No, not at all. This was to understand what exactly are the implications of the amendments that have been passed? Do they actually create further grounds for discrimination against students instead of allegedly removing grounds of discrimination? What impact do these amendments have on same sex schools in Australia? Is it the end of same sex schools in Australia? But again, I've always said I would like to find a pathway through working with those who tell me that they're also committed to providing people of religion with protections.
JIM WILSON: So Okay, Parliament sits for three days. Do you want to pass this bill then? And can you commit to that?
MINISTER CASH: That'll be a decision for the Prime Minister, at the time, but ultimately, we have given our commitment to the Australian people. We engaged in a very, very long consultation process. I listened to both sides of the debate, both sides compromised, and we brought forward a practical and reasonable bill to the parliament. Ultimately, the Labor Party, they decided to play games, they decided that they didn't want to deliver these protections to people of faith.
JIM WILSON: But five of your colleagues, five of your colleagues had issues with it, Senator Bragg had concerns with it. I mean on Tuesday the Prime Minister told the party room to unite, clearly it hasn't. It's not a show of faith, in him with an election just around the corner.
MINISTER CASH: This wasn't all about just the Liberal Party or the National Party. This was about, and Mark Dreyfus kept on saying he wanted to work in a bipartisan manner. Well last night, there wasn't a display of bipartisanship on display was there? I've said, Scott Morrison, he made his commitment to the Australian people very, very clear. This is a practical bill. It is a reasonable bill and it protects those of faith and those not of faith from discrimination on the basis of their religion.
JIM WILSON: Attorney-General, thanks for your time this afternoon.
MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you.