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2GB Drive with Jim Wilson

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash


Subjects: Religious Discrimination Bill, CIC

JIM WILSON: I think the clock is running down for Scott Morrison to check off all the items on his legislative wish list before the end of the year. And depending on the date of the election, there's a good chance this is the final opportunity for the government to make any new laws before we head to the polls. Now pretty high on that list is the Prime Minister's long promised religious freedom review bill. And it's said to be introduced to parliament this week. But after a handful of Coalition senators crossed the floor yesterday to vote for One Nation's delegate's mandatory vaccination, there could be trouble getting the laws through the upper house. The first hurdle this morning has been the Coalition party room. And I understand there's been some developments there. So let's go to Australia's Attorney-General, Senator Michaelia Cash, who joins me live on the line. Senator Cash, welcome back to Drive.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you, Jim. And hello to your listeners.

JIM WILSON: Now, as I mentioned, time's running out for you to get these laws through the parliament before the end of the year. You presented the Religious Discrimination Bill to the party room this morning. Did it get the approval you were after?

MINISTER CASH: Yes, it did. I'm absolutely delighted that the Prime Minister will later this week introduce what, you are right, is our commitment to the Australian people to ensure that we deliver on our promise of a Religious Discrimination Bill.

JIM WILSON: There are Liberal MPs who have raised concerns about these new laws and think it's being rushed through. Was this raised in the party room today? And how are those concerns of your colleagues being addressed?

MINISTER CASH: There was overwhelming agreement that Australians should not be discriminated against because of their religion or lack thereof, as they go about their everyday lives. And this is a fundamental principle that will be set out in the Religious Discrimination Bill. I look forward to working with the Labor Party, because what I want is bipartisan support for this bill. I think we can all agree that religious protection is an important issue for many Australians. Australians strongly believe in fairness, we have laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender, of race, of age, of disability. However, there's no standalone legislation to protect people of faith against discrimination. And I would hope that we can all unite in the parliament support this bill, and challenge that.

JIM WILSON: You mentioned the opposition and bipartisan support, and there are certain aspects of the bill which they say they will support including anti-discrimination for kids in schools, when will the contents of the bill be presented to parliament and also debated?

MINISTER CASH: The bill has now been formally released. So you can go on to the AGD website, the Attorney-General's website, and you will be able to access a copy of the bill. And I understand that the Prime Minister will himself, because this is his election commitment; this is the fulfilment of the commitment he made to the Australian people at the last election. We went to the election with this commitment, and the Australian people, they did endorse us at the last election. And he will formally introduce the bill into the parliament himself, later this week.

JIM WILSON: You're dealing with quite an unpredictable Senate at the moment, and I'm going to play some audio very shortly on the programme from Senator Jacqui Lambie, a short time ago in the chamber. But even some of your own colleagues in the Coalition say they won't support the government's agenda until the issue of mandatory vaccination is dealt with. Does the government have the numbers to pass these laws?

MINISTER CASH: Well, this bill will be as appropriately referred to a Senate committee, the Senate committee in the normal course of events will then examine the bill over Christmas and into the New Year. It will then report back to the parliament early next year, at which point in time the Senate will formally consider the Religious Discrimination Bill. But in the first instance, it's all about delivering on our election commitment to the Australian people, building on Australia's proud record as the most successful multicultural and multi-faith nation on earth. And as I said, I look forward to working with the Labor Party, with Mark Dreyfus, to get bipartisan support in relation to a bill that really is just about helping protect what we value as Australians - difference, fairness, choice, charity and the right, you know, to live our lives as we please as long as we're not hurting others.

JIM WILSON: Before I let you go, what about setting up a federal anti-corruption commission, a federal version of ICAC? I mean, this has been one of the government's key legislation items. It hasn't happened yet. Would you be able to set up a corruption watchdog in the few sitting weeks remaining in this term?

MINISTER CASH: Well at this point in time, we have a very strong legislative agenda as we move towards the end of the year. And certainly the Religious Discrimination Bill is a key priority. The government has a bill in relation to a Commonwealth Integrity Commission and Labor has made it very clear: they don't support that bill. We have a bill. The Labor Party don't have a bill and they don't support our bill, so in terms of a decision to be taken to list it, one has not been made yet. But in terms of the Religious Discrimination Bill, I mean, religious protection is an important issue for many Australians, you know, ensuring free speech, and civil respectful discussion and debate that's important for all Australians. And I'm forward to working with the Australian Labor Party to get a bipartisan position on this bill and deliver on the Prime Minister's commitment that he took to the last election and the Australian people voted for.

JIM WILSON: Will we have a federal anti-corruption commission before the next federal election?

MINISTER CASH: Well again, we have a bill, the Labor Party has indicated that they don't support that bill. So a decision is yet to be taken as to when to list it. But at this point in time, I'm focused on the Religious Discrimination Bill; that is an important election commitment. You know, as I've said, this is all about helping protect what we value as Australians. We believe in fairness. You know, we rightly have laws that already protect people from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, age and disability. And this bill fills a gap by providing similar protections to people of faith.

JIM WILSON: Senator, as always, thank you for your time this afternoon.

MINISTER CASH: It's great to be with you Jim.

JIM WILSON: Good on you. That's Attorney-General, Senator Michaelia Cash.