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Multicultural media briefing — joint online session with Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and Minister Alex Hawke

Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Minister for Industrial Relations
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate
Senator the Hon. Michaelia Cash

Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs
The Hon Alex Hawke MP


Subject: Religious Freedom Bill

HOST: Good afternoon, Minister. Can you hear me? Welcome. Please go ahead.

MINISTER HAWKE: Thanks for the opportunity. Sorry, we're running a tiny bit late, the parliament is very busy at the end of the year, but I really appreciate all your time and being available today for myself and Minister Michaelia Cash to - to speak about the religious freedom bill and any other important matters.

So I just start by acknowledging our traditional owners and elders, past, present and emerging on all of the lands that we're meeting on and yourselves as community leaders, in a very difficult two years in the pandemic, in stepping up and helping us as a government deal with some of the most challenging times health-wise, economic-wise, culturally, socially. And many of you will have seen this week even in our latest index of social cohesion, Australia's come through so well in terms of our social cohesion because of the work that you've done and your community has done. So thank you again. And we really do value everything you've put in, in the last two years, to make us succeed so well. So thank you again.

It's a privilege to be able to say a few words today about the religious freedom bill and the work the government's done in this over a number of years. I know Senator Cash is going to come on. As the Attorney-General and the responsible minister she will be able to answer some detailed questions about the legislation and how it might impact your community. Discrimination law is a difficult body of law but the government's worked hard, consulting stakeholders, trying to get the balance right to ensure we have that important protection for religious freedom in Australia.

The Prime Minister gave a very strong speech and Rosa is here from the Prime Minister's office today representing him. He obviously passes his apologies as Parliament is sitting and he's working on some things in Parliament but he gave a very strong speech. I'd recommend you go and watch it. Obviously, a very personal speech for him. He put a lot of effort into that and I think it - it quite clearly explains his commitment and passion to the issue of making sure our faith-based communities in Australia are protected from discrimination. Definitely worth watching.

I'd say to you as well, given that we have about 120 different faiths and I know we've got a lot of them represented here today online, we see as a government this is a very important issue and the Prime Minister sees it as a very important issue that we've talked about for about two to three years, that we've worked on consultation for two to three years, developed legislation, and now we're at the point of enacting that legislation so we can just put in place those proper protections for faith-based communities to be able to practise their faith in their own homes, in their own places of worship and amongst their - their families and friends and in their schools and educational facilities.

So we see this as very important delivering on an election commitment and obviously one of the Prime Minister's priorities as well. It's - it's obviously our strong belief, as a government, that people should not experience discrimination in Australia because of their religious belief and that's what this legislation is about. So sometimes we hear from different elements in the media and from different other parties in the Parliament a conflation of issues but that's what the government is doing: a simple protection so that people of faith are not discriminated against, and that, at its core, that's what this bill is about.

And it's important to remember that is the basic premise of why we're doing this law. Discrimination law has protections against gender discrimination, against discrimination on sexuality, ethnicity and race, but there is no protection at law for religious faith-based activity in Australia. And we believe that's a gap that is very important to correct given the volume of activism and challenge that you're seeing people of faith facing on an ongoing basis right around the world but some of it comes here into Australia as well. And I think this speaks to our proud multicultural nation as well. We welcome more people here from more places in the world than I think any society on earth in a better way, and we continue to do so through the migration program. That will mean more faiths. It will mean more people of different faiths and a diversity of faith. And so this issue, I think, only continues to be important in the long-term and important that we act now to guarantee that social cohesion and continue the journey that we've talked about where we have built great social cohesion. And we've seen discrimination fall in - in the last few years and attitudes, negative attitudes in particular, towards people also decrease by an even greater level.

So I do welcome your contributions and your questions. I know you've got some today. I'm not sure if Minister Cash has joined us but the Attorney-General's done a great deal of work and I know many of you will have had the opportunity to have some input in that process over the last few years, and some will not and some will have some questions on how it will function and how it will work. I'm happy to try and answer some of those questions. I understand there could be some immigration-related questions as well.

I just wanted to make sure you understood that the Prime Minister's commitment, the government's commitment to this issue is very important to us. It's very strong and we're going to take this forward that, simply that people of faith in Australia should be protected from discrimination like so many other areas. Thank you, Rosa. I'm not sure how we'll do that but I don't know when Michaelia is coming on.

HOST: I think she's just a couple of minutes away but I do have --


HOST: -- a question from Keith Tan from the Australian Chinese Daily. Keith, are you able to unmute yourself, please?

KEITH TAN: Yes, can everyone hear me?

MINISTER HAWKE: Yes, I can hear you well, thank you.

KEITH TAN: Hi, Minister Hawke.


KEITH TAN: A quick question here. The emergence of the new variant has led to Australia once again delay opening our borders. For international students who choose to study abroad, studying abroad is not only to complete their studies but also to experience the different cultures and different countries, of course, in a different country. Due to the long-term border closure, the value of studying abroad is greatly reduced as foreign students are now only studying online. What plans are there to help international students get the best study experience while abroad?

MINISTER HAWKE: Yeah, thanks Keith. I mean, that's a very good question. Our plan of course is to, well, not bring that to an end but to open the borders again so people can come and have that experience that they want to have here and work and obviously experience Australian life. And, look, that is - that is, you know, very, very close notwithstanding Omicron. I mean, that was a necessary decision that we've had to take on medical advice. Other countries have had a look at it as well. It's a pause for a few weeks but in a few weeks we'll see that return of people.

I still think there'll be people studying online. I think that's - I think that's a good point that you make. You know, the world has changed a bit. There will be more people that will probably think about online courses than doing online education courses in the past. But we still feel the bulk of people will want to come and have the genuine on-campus experience and study here in Australia. And there's so many options here in Australia. In fact, the concessions we've given them in terms of work will remain for the time being and sectors they can work in and other opportunities.

So I think there will be a great opportunity for those people that come back. For those online, we have actually worked with the universities about this, what kind of cultural or other experiences could we offer as products. Some of them had some innovative things they are doing for students who study online and, you know, it's something we'll continue to work with the sector with. But, you know, I still think the bulk of people will come back to an on-campus experience, yeah, once we get there. But it's an important question. There'll still be people studying online post the border reopening.

KEITH TAN: Thank you.

HOST: Thanks, Minister. I understand Minister Cash has joined. So we're just bringing her into the briefing now.


HOST: Won't be a moment.

MINISTER HAWKE: Well, thank you everybody. So I might have to go back to the Parliament as well. So I will just again endorse the Attorney-General's great work on this bill. And I've already spoken with Michaelia so I just wanted to let you know I've - I've - I've informed them of your great consultative work and the work you've done to get the bill into a good shape and I think they've got a few questions. So, thank you.

HOST: Thanks, Minister.


HOST: Just waiting for Senator Cash's video to come on, we shouldn't be too long. I can see you.

MINISTER CASH: I think we have lift-off, finally. Thank you all.

HOST: Wonderful. Thanks Senator.

MINISTER CASH: Thank you. That's better.

HOST: Good afternoon Senator. Thanks for joining us. We've got a-

MINISTER CASH: Good afternoon.

HOST:-- on the line. So please go ahead.

MINISTER CASH: Thank you so much. And, look, it really is a pleasure today to join you but in particular to talk to you about an issue that I know is very important and particularly as so many of your readership, your viewership, and that is of course the government delivering on its promise to protect people from discrimination on the basis of religion.

You'd be aware that the Prime Minister himself introduced this legislation. That's because it was a commitment we took to the last election. It was something that the Australian people voted for. And, as such, in introducing the bill, the Prime Minister wanted to reiterate to the Australian people just how important this is. When you look at the bill itself, it provides what are sensible protections, and some would say peace of mind, for many Australians.

I would argue that it’s something that should be important to all of us as Australians. I think many of us would know, and in particular those of you who have reported in the anti-discrimination space previously, we have an Age Discrimination Act, we have a Disability Discrimination Act, we have a Racial Discrimination Act and we have a Sex Discrimination Act, but there is no federal religious discrimination act, and so this is very much filling that void. And all of the feedback, and in particular from the Ruddock Review, indicated that there was a void; that people of faith, and importantly the bill also protects those not of faith, so atheists, agnostics, do feel that they are discriminated against in their public life, and they do feel that they need these protections that we will provide.

So very much now we are in that situation whereby the bill has been introduced into the House of Representatives. I think there's overwhelming support in particular from the faith leaders. And I'm just so delighted that today we've been able to join together so that you can ask me questions in relation to the bill and, in particular, questions that are important to the people who listen to you, who you report to, and review what you do. And they also know that there are some questions that were pre-submitted that I know you do want me to address. So I'm in your hands as to how you would like me to do that.

HOST: Thanks, Senator. I'll invite Cecil Huang from 1688 Group to ask the first question. Cecil, are you able to unmute yourself, please.

CECIL HUANG: Yes. Can you hear me?

MINISTER CASH: Now I can, thank you very much, Cecil. How are you?

CECIL HUANG: Very well, thanks, Senator Cash. My question is for you. So will this bill consider extensions to allow schools to discriminate against teachers and students for their sexuality?

MINISTER CASH: Okay, when I said before that there were other discrimination Acts, very much what you're talking about, discrimination on the basis of sexuality, that is dealt with in the Sex Discrimination Act. So there already are exemptions for religious bodies as defined - and you are right, religious schools are within that definition, that already allow religious bodies to actually do that.

In terms of the religious discrimination bill, that only deals with protection on the basis of religion and in the event that there is an exemption for religious bodies, the exemption is to preference people of faith in their employment decisions, but with that added extra layer of transparency there. And it's been widely welcomed, I think, by all sides, you can preference people of faith if you have a publicly available policy that sets out the circumstances in which you do that.

So, for example, if a Catholic school or a Jewish school or Islamic school or a Buddhist school said, "We actually do want to preference people of our own faith because it's important for us that we teach in accordance with the doctrines, the tenets and the beliefs of our religion" - and, let's face it, many parents choose to send their children to a religious school because they themselves practise that faith - the school will set out a mission statement, and it will set out, what it believes in, etcetera, and if it does choose to preference, that it will be preferencing in employment.

This means that the school's being transparent about what it does but, not only that, if you and I, Cecil, were applying for a job - so, for example, I am a Catholic and I thought, "You know, actually I wouldn't mind teaching in a Jewish school but I personally don't really know anything about Judaism being a Catholic", I would at least be able to read their policy before I apply and it would say, "We preference people of the Jewish faith over people of other faith."

So I think that transparency is very, very important. Going back to what you've raised, which is the ability to discriminate against teachers and students on the basis of their sexuality, it is dealt with by the federal Sex Discrimination Act and corresponding State and Territory legislation. What we've done, as a government though, is we have referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

A broad review of all exemptions provided to religious bodies across all discrimination legislation including the sex discrimination Act, and we've said to the Australian Law Reform Commission: 12 months after the religious discrimination bill passes, you need to report back to the government on whether or not in today's day and age are these exemptions still appropriate? Are they doing what way back when they were designed to do? But at the same time, Cecil, when it does come to the issue of students, you probably do recall that about two years ago now, the Prime Minister did indicate - and I've personally spoken to a lot of religious education institutions, none of us want to see a student expelled because of their sexuality.

And so I did recently write to the Australian Law Reform Commission and I made it very, very clear to them the government's clear expectation is when they report back to us, there is no place for discrimination against students on the basis of their sexuality. So I hope that gives you some guidance as to, sort of, where discrimination on the basis of sexuality, Sex Discrimination Act, longstanding - longstanding - our bill deals with religion, religious belief and activity. Thanks for the question, Cecil, it's a very good question.

CECIL HUANG: Thank you, Senator.

HOST: The next question is from Rajesh Sharma from Indus Age. Go ahead, Rajesh.

RAJESH SHARMA: Hi Senator. My question is that we have [inaudible] who have complete religious freedom in Australia but if religious basis is being used to spread religious extremism and hatred in the community, is there any law that prohibits this type of extremism, religious faith [inaudible]?

MINISTER CASH: It's a very, very good question, Rajesh. In the first instance what I would say is, just in terms of the type of religious belief or activity protected, in the first instance, the bill is clear it does only relate to lawful religious belief or activity. And a number of people have actually raised that with me. So, for example, you would be aware that in Australia forced and child marriage is not allowed. So if someone was promoting that as a religious view, that is an unlawful behaviour and that is why we did clarify that in the bill.

In terms of the broader issue that is raised in terms of sort of spreading religious extremism and hatred in the community, I am fundamentally opposed to that and I just want you to know - so when I said in my previous comments there are four other, as you know, anti-discrimination Acts in Australia, this bill sits alongside them. It seeks to operate with them. So an action can still be unlawful under one of the other Acts. So the bill itself - and this is clear in the bill - does not override any Commonwealth, state or territory laws that provide protections against religious extremism and hatred. Nothing in the bill, as I've said, disrupts the lawful conduct of Australian law enforcement and intelligence bodies. That's actually specifically written into the bill, as you would expect.

At the same time, though, the bill does not provide any protection to statements of belief. So, for example, just say I'm a Catholic, and just say I am a Catholic who doesn't believe in divorce because Catholicism traditionally did not believe in divorce. So my statement of belief to you might be, in a discussion, "As a Catholic, I don't believe in divorce." That's my statement belief made in good faith to you. It is not malicious in any way and it is not in any way inciting hatred, intimidation, harassment or threatening you.

But what the bill does say in the statement of belief provision, Rajesh, is that it will not provide protection for a statement of belief that a reasonable person would consider counsels, promotes, encourages or urges conduct that would be considered a serious offence, and at the same time as I've just said, it does not protect statements of belief that are malicious or which a reasonable person would threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify - very important - vilify a person or group of persons.

So very much in terms of what the statement of belief clause looks at doing is, we're very lucky in Australia that I think we are all very proud to be one of the most successful multicultural countries in the world and I'm so proud of that as an Australian. I am so proud of that. It means that obviously there are a number of religions that are practised in Australia. We should be able to have a conversation in which we can discuss our religion, express our beliefs, even explain our religion. Sometimes it's actually good to have a conversation where we can sit down and say, "Hey, I'm a Catholic. Oh, you're not a Catholic? Tell me about your religion." And those statements of beliefs are protected. But when they step over into unlawful behaviour or their malicious we draw the line there. That's a very good question though and I really appreciate you asking it.

HOST: Thanks, Senator. The next question is from Argyro Vourdoumpa from the Greek Herald. Go ahead, Argyro.

ARGYRO VOURDOUMPA: Good afternoon - sorry.

MINISTER CASH: Good afternoon. How are you?

ARGYRO VOURDOUMPA: I'm good, thank you. I'm good. Okay. So do you think, Senator Cash, it would be beneficial for the public if the government use a percentage of the taxpayers' money that is used to fund religious schools to introduce intercultural religion courses instead of introducing a religious discrimination bill? Wouldn't education be a better way to tackle discrimination instead of legislating freedom?

MINISTER CASH: Yeah, it's a really, really good question, and I go back to my opening comments. So, you'd be aware that we had the review by Phillip Ruddock into religious freedom and he consulted far and wide across Australia. And as a result of all of that consultation, when he provided his report to government, one of the findings was that people of religion in Australia, they do face discrimination on the basis of their religion and they also feel that they do require, in their public life, protection from that discrimination. So, in simplest terms, a Sikh wearing a turban should not be told at a restaurant that they are not welcome. A Christian person wearing a crucifix should not not get a job merely because they're wearing a crucifix. So, in the most basic of terms, we need to provide those protections because there is a gap at the federal level. We were also told, as we just discussed with Rajesh, people also felt that they weren't able to freely express and discuss their religious beliefs without being told, "We're going to persecute you" or, alternatively, "That's discrimination, I'm offended by it."

So I think in terms of the bill itself, there is a need for a religious discrimination bill because it's filling a gap that is currently there. What we'll also do, though, and just in terms of you mentioned the educational component within schools, within the religious discrimination bill itself we will establish the position of the Religious Discrimination Commissioner.

Now, it will sit alongside, or that person will sit alongside the other discrimination commissioners or anti-discrimination commissioners but they will have a very, very important role that really does go to what you've just said: the educative role. What is protection from religious discrimination? Why should you allow a person to express a statement of belief; that understanding that Australia is a multicultural and, therefore, a multi-religious society. So I agree with you, the educative component is incredibly important but I do believe that because of that gap in the federal legislation it was a recommendation following from the Ruddock Review that the government legislate to protect people against religious discrimination. So there is a gap. We're filling that gap. I think you're right, though, the education is incredibly important because of the multicultural nature of Australian society.

And I certainly see the Religious Discrimination Commissioner as having an incredibly important role not just as someone that you raise a complaint with but actually someone who educates all of us, whether we are people of faith, not of faith, the importance of the protections and what this bill is actually designed to do. It is a really great question there. Thank you very much for that.

ARGYRO VOURDOUMPA: Thank you. I can't wait to see this as a mother and a journalist.

MINISTER CASH: Oh, that's fantastic. Very much - yeah, I really appreciate that. Thank you for that feedback.

HOST: Thank you. The next question is from Carly Douglas from the Australian Jewish News.


MINISTER CASH: can hear you. I can't see you yet. I can see you, Carly. How are you? Shalom Shalom [inaudible].

CARLY DOUGLAS: Thank you so much for meeting with us today, Senator. My feedback that I've been receiving from the Jewish community has been different to how I would think.


CARLY DOUGLAS: A lot of individuals and organisations have said that they're not necessarily - that they don't think that this legislation will do much for the Jewish community because so many of them already employ people from outside the community. They don't necessarily not always value faith, they kind of pick the best candidate. So I guess they haven't been so reactive to it. But I'm wondering, I'm guessing that a lot of other communities have been, so I'm just thinking what feedback - what has the feedback been like from other communities --


CARLY DOUGLAS: [inaudible]

MINISTER CASH: It's a very, very good question and we obviously worked incredibly closely with faith leaders, including those from the Jewish community, in understanding what they needed from this bill. And depending on, who you were and what you did - and I think you are right: many of the schools did say, "We actually do employ the best people." I agree with you. But for so many other schools and in particular, say, smaller schools who very much are just, you know, in the suburbs, in rural and regional Australia, they - they are the community. They represent the community. It is an active choice by parents to say, "I want my child educated in this particular faith. We're part of that community within the town, within the suburb."

So for them it really was important to have that clarity that, yes, if you want to teach in accordance with your doctrines and tenets of beliefs, you are able to prefer a person of your faith over a person of another faith. And, in particular, in Victoria - and for those of you who are from Victoria, you would be aware that the Victorian Government is actually narrowing the protections that are provided to religious bodies, including religious educational institutions, in relation to the preference of the people on the basis of religion.

So that has really worried schools because what the Victorian government are doing, they're saying you can only preference if it's an inherent requirement of the role and a reasonable person would agree that it's an inherent requirement of the role. The issue there is they're going to allow the court to determine that. Now, I think that is wrong. And I genuinely do think that is wrong. The school should be the body that determines whether or not they wish to employ or preference because they teach in accordance with doctrines, tenets and beliefs.

I also believe, and in particular for the smaller schools, if they do want the school itself - so it doesn't matter who you are, if you are teaching at that school, you need to be someone who practises in accordance with that faith. I personally don't have an issue with that because that is probably what the community and the parents are requesting. You are right in relation to the bigger schools. Many would say, "That's okay, we choose the best." So I think it's a very, very important option to have for people and it does give them that peace of mind that, yes, we can do this and if our faith is important to that school's ethos, that is okay.

But I think the bigger danger for schools was the move by Victoria and it will be a move that's replicated in states and territories - in other states and territories around Australia. That did really worry the religious bodies. But also bearing in mind that in New South Wales and South Australia they don't have [inaudible] at a state level against religious discrimination and certainly the feedback in particular from those jurisdictions was the protections and the exemptions would be welcomed. Thank you very much, Carly. Thank you.

HOST: The next question is from Neeraj Nanda from the South Asia Times.

NEERAJ NANDA: Hello [inaudible].

MINISTER CASH: Hello. How are you?

NEERAJ NANDA: Very good. My question is very simple. And that's my feedback from a few people around I talked to is that this legislation is actually not needed. I have not made up my mind because I am not an expert on this topic. So - but I heard from people who have been talking around in the community that this bill will, in reality, give the right to discriminate to religious institutions because, for example, just hypothetically speaking, if I am - for example in India, I studied in the Catholic school there though I am not a Catholic. So I could be barred from a Catholic place to work so they can stop me, using this legislation. So what do you say to that? Thank you.

MINISTER CASH: Neeraj, the only way that you can do that is if you have a publicly available policy that clearly states that, as a school, you do teach in accordance with the doctrines, tenets and beliefs, and as a result of that, you choose to preference in employment. If you do not have that publicly available policy, you cannot rely on the exemption. So we've made it very, very clear up-front and that is written into the legislation. The only way you can rely on the exemption is if you have that policy.

So it goes to what I was saying before, the key to all of this is transparency. I'm the school. You're the person applying. I must give you, as the school - you must have a copy of the policy so you can then determine if you still want to proceed with your application, knowing that we are a school that does preference. That - schools, as you know, they already have exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act, so religious schools are already able to preference on the basis of sexuality.

So what this says, and I think it's a much better way to do it, is do you teach in accordance with your doctrines, tenets and beliefs? And, if you do, you must have the publicly available policy. You must set out how you are going to do this. So you have that transparency up-front. But, it does go to that previous question, Neeraj as well, that Carly asked: not all schools are going to want to do this. And that's fine. They will, as you've said - "I just want the best teacher. I don't have a problem with you not being of faith."

But there are some schools, orthodox schools, it is actually really important for them, and this just gives them that ability to know "I need to be transparent in what I do. I need to clearly explain what I'm going to do" and that way people know and there's no misunderstanding. Thank you very much, Neeraj. I appreciate the question.

HOST: Thank you. The next question is from Indira Laisram from Indian Sun. Go ahead, Indira. Indira, are you able to unmute, please.

INDIRA LAISRAM: Sorry, I seem to have missed a fair bit of the conversation [inaudible] issues of the morning. But my question was again around, you know, this law is going to make discrimination lawful but then I think Senator Cash has touched upon that quite well. But I just wanted to have an understanding on an expert review which said: "The most controversial aspect of the bill is the statements of belief provision, as this provision overrides every federal, state and territory discrimination law to make statements of belief [inaudible] from legal consequences under those laws." What do you have to say to this concern?

MINISTER CASH: Yeah, it's a very good question, Indira, and it's really disappointing that that's how it's been reported because it's wrong. So my first answer to your question is, and then I'll explain to you why, that is not what it does. What the bill says is, it ensures that people of faith, but importantly not of faith, we protect both ways. So an agnostic or an atheist is also protected. They can't be persecuted for moderately expressing a reasonable opinion, okay, based on their religious belief.

All the bill says is the statement in and of itself. So I think the easiest example for me when I'm explaining it to people is this. You and I are having a discussion, or - yeah, just say you were divorced, okay. I don't know if you are but just for the purposes of the example. And I say to you, "Oh, Indira, as a Catholic my faith says that you can't get divorced." So you and I are just having a conversation. I say it to you in good faith and it is a statement of my religious belief. All the bill says is that statement in and of itself is not discrimination because discrimination involves conduct. Now, just say you are divorced and I say, "Oh, Indira, my faith says I don't believe in divorce, you are divorced, and so I am now going to take action against you". Wrong. That is not covered by the bill. That is discrimination and you can actually take action against me for discriminating against you.

So there has been a lot of misreporting, unfortunately, in relation to statement of belief. All it does is give people of faith and those not of faith the comfort that I can express in good faith my genuinely held religious belief to you, and the belief in and of itself is not discrimination because there is no conduct. The minute I move into conduct the bill does not cover that. You could bring a complaint against me on the Sex Discrimination Act, the Disability Discrimination Act, any of those Acts, you can bring a claim against me because it does not override them.

All it does is, it recognises the unique way that those of faith express themselves when they're talking, when they're explaining themselves because I think what is very much recognised and was recognised in the feedback, a key aspect of protecting the right to freedom of religion is protecting the ability of individuals to explain, discuss and share their fundamental beliefs. If they act detrimentally on them though, that could be discrimination. Does that clear it up for you, Indira, because there has been unfortunately a lot of misreporting [inaudible].

INDIRA LAISRAM: It's difficult to understand [inaudible] but I think the major problem is that the interpretation of "discrimination" is slightly blurred, you know, and you know when we're thinking of whether there is a parity towards the anti-discrimination law in all the states I think that's what's needed to be clear, I feel.

MINISTER CASH: Yeah. No, look, as I said, it doesn't override anything except for section 17(1) of the Tasmanian legislation. The reason it does that is the Tasmanian legislation is the broadest section in Australia. No other state or territory has the equivalent of the Tasmanian legislation. What the Tasmanian legislation says is just say you and you are talking and I express to you, in good faith, a belief. What the Tasmanian legislation says is if you are offended by that, you can take action against me. It's okay to be offended by someone else's - you may not agree with me, that's fine. But if it is my religious belief and I've said it to you in good faith, why merely because I offend you should you be able to take action against me? We can agree to disagree. So we do override just that section. But in relation to everything else, we do not override anything else. All it says is the statement in and of itself, without any conduct, is not discrimination. If it's malicious, though, if I'm being nasty to you, if I'm seeking to harass you, to intimidate you, to vilify you, to threaten you. No. Bad behaviour. That is not covered. So it's merely the expression in good faith of a genuine statement of belief.

And you also can't make it up. The court - just say you decided to take action against me. The court could go and have a look at all my social media. Is Michaelia actually a person of faith? Does she really believe this or has she just made it up? So it is - if you were to take action, the court itself could look behind my words to find out whether or not I genuinely mean it. I hope that's given you a bit more clarity.

INDIRA LAISRAM: Yeah [inaudible].

MINISTER CASH: Indira, if you want more information --


MINISTER CASH: -- let me know, I will give you whatever information you need so that you can actually also explain it to the people that you are reporting to. So if that will assist you, just let Rosa know and I will get you whatever information you need.

INDIRA LAISRAM: Thank you so much. I appreciate that. I will - I will chase it up.

MINISTER CASH: Brilliant. Good. Well, we'll put something together for you, Indira.


MINISTER CASH: Rosa, are you still there? Hold on. Indira, it's just you and me now.

HOST: [inaudible].

MINISTER CASH: Rosa, we can hear you but we can't see you.

HOST: I don't know what's happened, I'm sorry.

MINISTER CASH: No, we can hear you though, so that's perfect - uh, there you are. There you are.

HOST: I know we're almost at time but if you've got time for just one more question?

MINISTER CASH: Absolutely, Rosa, and I'd be delighted. I'd be delighted to.

HOST: Thank you. The next question is Pawan Luthra from Indian Link. Thanks, please go ahead. Pawan, are you on the call?

INDIRA LAISRAM: He has to unmute himself.

PAWAN LUTHRA: Yes, I'm unmuted. Thanks, Indira. Thanks Rosa and thank you --

MINISTER CASH: Hello, how are you Pawan?

PAWAN LUTHRA: I'm good indeed. I'm amazed that you have so much energy at this time of the afternoon. So thank you.

MINISTER CASH: Can I show you my coffee?

PAWAN LUTHRA: Anything which works.

MINISTER CASH: Okay. What would you like to know, Pawan?

PAWAN LUTHRA: [inaudible] that when you mentioned religious belief plus conduct is discrimination --


PAWAN LUTHRA: -- I'm trying to understand that Catholic school advertises only for Catholic teachers --

MINISTER CASH: Yep. Very good question.

PAWAN LUTHRA: -- but that's my question --

MINISTER CASH: Just on that, just so you know, no, and I will just answer that for you, clear it up, and then you ask your question, it's not a problem. There is a clause in the bill, section 7, which provision the exemptions for religious bodies. So the bill itself provides protection. So if you and I, we run a restaurant, we are not a religious body, absolutely, we cannot do that. If you fall within the definition of a religious body, so a religious educational institution, you do get that exemption. Similar to the Sex Discrimination Act that's already there, you get the exemption that you are, because you a religious body, able to preference in employment.

PAWAN LUTHRA: Thank you, Minister. Now if I can talk to my question.


PAWAN LUTHRA: It's slightly on a different track.


PAWAN LUTHRA: I want to get your thoughts on the Kate Jenkins report yesterday, Set the Standard. Why, as a woman politician, has Canberra gone to the levels of what it has, one in three people who responded to the review have said that they have been sexually harassed in parliament, in the Parliament House. What should I tell my 14-year-old niece who's keen to join politics and go to Canberra?

MINISTER CASH: Yeah, look, it's - it's a very good question, and certainly I think when you saw the Prime Minister yesterday responding to the review, it was very confronting what the report said. I think we've all acknowledged, as in particular a political party, that things need to change. This is without a doubt - and this is why we commissioned the report because I think like you and just based on what you've said, and I would hope you can say this to your daughter, every single Australian has the right to feel safe and to be safe at work, Pawan.

That has got to be a fundamental starting point. This is a landmark report. The Prime Minister welcomed the report and very much this will now drive - you are right - the cultural practical change that is necessary to make our parliamentary workplace safer. You'd know that we've already instituted a number of procedures since this was brought to our attention and all of us here are actually undertaking workplace training in relation to sexual harassment and bullying and you're obligations as an employer. And I think that within itself is incredibly important going forward.

In terms of the review itself, it was established, as you know, as a multi-party and in particular working with the Opposition and crossbench support. This is something that you don't just do as one party. This is something that you do together as people who work within Parliament House. So what we will do now is, we will work with all of the other parties. We will consider all of the recommendations. We will consider all of the findings and then we will be able to implement what I hope is an agreed agenda going forward.

But what I am pleased with, when I look at the report, is the recommendations, they build on the necessary work that we were already undertaking. But in terms of the message to your daughter, the message that I would like you to be able to give her on behalf of the Morrison government is that it is our fundamental belief, Pawan, it is our fundamental belief that every Australian - it doesn't matter who you are, it doesn't matter how old you are, it doesn't matter where you work - every Australian has the right to not just feel safe at work, but to be safe at work.

And we will undertake the cultural and practical change that is necessary, Pawan, to ensure that the parliamentary workplace is a safe space; that it deserves to be, that it should be. And I really thank you for your question.

PAWAN LUTHRA: Thank you.

HOST: Thank you, Senator. I appreciate we've gone over time and we really appreciate your time this afternoon. If you like to make some closing remarks and we'll sign off for the afternoon.

MINISTER CASH: Can I just say, Rosa, I really appreciate the opportunity to do this. We had feedback, obviously, as a multicultural and multi-religious nation, and as I said, proudly I would argue the most successful multicultural nation in the world. The bill is based on feedback that we received that people of faith in Australia did feel that there was a gap in the Commonwealth discrimination law, and that they were being discriminated against in public life on the basis of their religion.

I genuinely do believe that that is just unacceptable. I think the bill is a fair bill. It's a reasonable bill. It's a practical bill. And very much it follows, as it should, the line of, and the format of, the other discrimination bills in Australia. It also, though, rightly provides those protections to religious bodies and, in particular, religious education institutions who want to teach in accordance with the doctrines, tenets and beliefs but that added layer of transparency in having that publicly available document I think really does assist both parties concerned.

So can I just say thank you very much for allowing me this opportunity. I, unfortunately, do need to go back to the Chamber now, as I think Rosa knows, the Parliament is sitting and I do need to return to the Chamber. But certainly going forward this could be an ongoing dialogue. And Rosa, if anybody would like any follow-up information please just contact you and we will, of course, provide them with the response that they require. But really and truly to everybody on the call, thank you for the opportunity to engage in this dialogue with you. I hope you found it as constructive as I have.

HOST: Thank you again, Senator, and thank you everyone for joining this afternoon. Happy for you all to reach out with any follow-up questions that we can provide a response to. So look forward to you being in touch with me. Thank you so much.

MINISTER CASH: Thank you everybody. Have a lovely afternoon. Bye.