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4BC Drive with Scott Emerson

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash
Transcript

E&OE

Subjects: Religious Discrimination Bill

SCOTT EMERSON: Tomorrow the Prime Minister will introduce the Religious Discrimination Bill into parliament. This is something he's first promised the legislation at the last election. The bill was presented and supported unanimously at a Coalition party room meeting yesterday. Now, some concerns have been raised by moderate Liberal MPs. Among the concerns raised were whether gay teachers would get sacked and gay students be expelled or suspended from religious schools under the legislation. Once a bill is introduced, it will be reviewed by a Senate committee and is expected to report back to Parliament by February next year. Michaelia Cash is the Federal Attorney-General. And she joins me on the line now. Senator, thanks for being on the show.

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

SCOTT EMERSON: Now, what is the main aim of this bill?

MINISTER CASH: Well, basically, we're delivering as a government on our commitment to protect people from discrimination on the basis of religion. As you already know, we have existing federal anti-discrimination legislation, we've got the Age Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, the Racial Discrimination Act, and the Sex Discrimination Act. But there is no federal religious discrimination act. We are a culturally and religiously diverse nation. In fact, over 14 million Australians actually hold a religious belief, you know, and despite this, many of them experienced discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs each and every day in their public life. This is just wrong. And on that basis, that we're going to provide them with protection from discrimination on the basis of their religion.

SCOTT EMERSON: I mentioned to you Attorney-General, that some moderate Liberals have raised concerns. Now it did go through the Coalition party room yesterday. Is there a concern also that some people may claim that the comments they're making are reasonable, even though they may offend someone, but use the excuse that well, that's their religious belief, and so they're entitled to make those kinds of claims?

MINISTER CASH: Okay, so what the bill actually does, is it ensures that people can't be prosecuted for moderately expressing a reasonable opinion. You and I could have a lovely conversation, it could be a robust conversation, just say, I was an atheist, and you are a religious person, as long as we are both expressing our statements of belief in good faith. That is okay. You know, a key aspect of protecting religious belief and activity is protecting the ability of individuals to explain, to discuss, and to share their beliefs. But what the bill also does is this, it draws a very clear line against harassment, against vilification, against intimidation and against threatening behaviour. So, if you make a statement, and it's malicious, it's not made in good faith, that is not a statement of genuine belief.

SCOTT EMERSON: Now, I mentioned this was an election promise at the 2019 election, we're getting very close to the end of this term now. Why has it taken so long to finally have this bill introduced into parliament?

MINISTER CASH: Well, obviously, we had the global pandemic, and that meant the government literally had to focus on more pressing issues at that time, and that was very much in terms of, you know, saving lives, and saving livelihoods. COVID-19, a global pandemic, and we responded to that. We did continue on the Religious Discrimination Bill. And when I became Attorney-General, the Prime Minister asked me to deliver on that commitment. I have consulted widely, and I believe the bill that we have now released, it's a fair bill, and it is a balanced bill. And I think it strikes the right balance between ensuring that people have religion, they have their rights respected, so that right balance between religious discrimination and in protecting human rights. The Prime Minister himself will formally introduce the Religious Discrimination Bill into the parliament tomorrow.

SCOTT EMERSON: Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, thanks for being on 4BC Drive this afternoon.

MINISTER CASH: Great to be with you as always.