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Sky News with Tom Connell

Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker
Transcript

Subjects: Religious Discrimination Bill

E&OE

TOM CONNELL: Well, the famous Israel Folau sacking by Rugby Australia could've played out differently if the government had in place the Religious Freedom Bill. The Bill contains a statement of belief provision and that allows people to express their religious beliefs, as long as they're not doing so maliciously, and several other caveats as well. The provision could also means teachers are able to tell students 'being gay goes against the bible', but the Assistant Attorney-General says there will be protections for students. I spoke with Senator Amanda Stoker a short time ago.

AMANDA STOKER: Statement of belief – the provisions around statement of belief – are designed to encourage everyone in our society to be able to respectfully and politely state what they believe, and we all need to be able to cope with and tolerate ideas that we disagree with or that we might not like, even if they're the exact opposite of what we believe to be so. What's important though is when a person is acting sincerely and genuinely and without malice, when they are not vilifying-

TOM CONNELL: Is this-

AMANDA STOKER: -when they do all those things they shouldn't find themselves dragged before a tribunal-

TOM CONNELL: Right, so that's what I'm asking-

AMANDA STOKER: -accused of-

TOM CONNELL: -a teacher could try to guide, in the broader possible term, a teacher could try to guide a student away from their sexuality if there's a genuinely held belief that's not malicious. That's still, that's possible is it?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, it's – a lot depends on context, right?

TOM CONNELL: Sure.

AMANDA STOKER: But-

TOM CONNELL: I get all the caveats you've offered, but that, from what-

AMANDA STOKER: Ultimately, ultimately-

TOM CONNELL: -you've said, there is still trying to push that person, to guide them away from their sexuality.

AMANDA STOKER: Look, ultimately, the Bill is about people with different perspectives, including on matters like that, to be able to express different points of view, but it-

TOM CONNELL: So the answer is yes then?

AMANDA STOKER: Yes, but it is important to be able to see – in the context of there is no encroachment, empowered or encouraged or suggested upon a person who is homosexual or has any other kind of protected attribute, there is no encroachment on their legally-protected rights, and it's very important we-

TOM CONNELL: Right.

AMANDA STOKER: -understand that nothing about this Bill is about limiting or taking away the ability of people to live what they regard as their identity-

TOM CONNELL: The PM said people should not be cancelled for their religion. Who has that happened to in Australia?

AMANDA STOKER: Well, there's a few examples but I would suggest the experience Archbishop Porteous – who found himself dragged before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for politely and respectfully stating in a pamphlet the Catholic view on marriage represents that kind of cancelling. And that's the kind of ill we're trying to remedy-

TOM CONNELL: Okay.

AMANDA STOKER: -and it's the kind of practice we don't want to see because part of the way things are done-

TOM CONNELL: Is there another example?

AMANDA STOKER: If you talk to a group like the Human Rights Law Centre, they'll give you a booklet this thick of examples but I really do think that it's in the weeds that this debate has a potential to you know, people in all different kinds of bits of the debate become derailed. It's ultimately about creating Australia where people understand they don't have to hide their genuinely held religious beliefs, just as people with other protected attributes don't have to hide or be ashamed or feel unwelcomed because of them. It's the spirit of tolerance that we want to see continue into this country's culture for the long term.

TOM CONNELL: The most famous cancelling, I guess, for want of a better word, is Israel Folau. This Bill does limit professional bodies having codes of conduct that limit religious statements; they must be made in good faith, not malicious, the same caveats you were offering there. So in the case of Israel Folau, I'll recall what he posted – “those that are living in sin will end up in hell unless you repent, Jesus Christ loves you, he's giving you time to turn away from your sin and come to him'. He then quotes Galatians, and he had a list of sinners. Would he be able to be dismissed if this law passed or would he be protected?

AMANDA STOKER: The way that employment protections are framed in this Bill is exactly the same as it is in every other discrimination act. So just as we have in Sex Discrimination Act, Disability Discrimination Act and the like – small difference with Disability and I'll come to it – the, a person should not be subject to a direct detriment on the basis of their religious beliefs or practice, or indirect discrimination. So it's an imposition of a requirement or a policy or practice that adversely affects persons in an indirect way because of their beliefs. Prima facie, you'd think that would allow a person to speak in the way that Israel Folau did; however there is a defence for employers, and that is that it needs to be something that, if you want to impose a limitation on an ability of an employer to exercise their religious beliefs-

TOM CONNELL: Yeah, so if it's in a contract saying you can't do this?

AMANDA STOKER: Yep, then that needs to be something that's necessary for the nature of the work and the business being operated so it's still an argument that the Rugby Australia could have run along the lines of 'it's core to our business that we be able to attract sponsorships' and these types of behaviours jeopardise-

TOM CONNELL: -How does that fit up against his right under this Bill?

AMANDA STOKER: Let me finish. But there will be a real and live question for a court to consider about whether or not that is genuinely the essence of what Rugby Australia does here. So-

TOM CONNELL: So this Bill could actually give Israel Folau a defence, or the same person or situation-

AMANDA STOKER: It'd give them an argument but it doesn't give them a lay down misere, but in my view-

TOM CONNELL: Even though the Folau Clause famously is gone, there's an extra argument if this situation popped up again? And it's up to the courts.

AMANDA STOKER: Like all cases, they will turn on its facts.

TOM CONNELL: But there is an extra defence here for another Israel Folau case, this Bill allows -

AMANDA STOKER: Well, it is the exact same mechanism we have in every other discrimination act-

TOM CONNELL: Yes, but this gives him a specific one around religion.

AMANDA STOKER: It gives, for people of faith, exactly the same mechanisms and protections that exist for all other protected attributes-

TOM CONNELL: Right. But-

AMANDA STOKER: -and it could be used by a person who is concerned about an employer who wants to encroach on their ability to speak their faith in their spare time.

TOM CONNELL: But there's more of a chance – if this same case came up with Israel Folau – there's more of a chance he's able to end up victorious, for want of a better word?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I'm not going to run commentary on his prospects, if he wants to get legal advice he can, but I think it's really important for your viewers to understand that we have worked really hard, over a long consultation process to make sure that we've got a balanced way of dealing with this-

TOM CONNELL: Okay-

AMANDA STOKER: Rights for people of faith but also with practical limitations and that they are identical in every way to the protections that we give to every other protected attribute in this country.

TOM CONNELL: Amanda Stoker, thanks for your time.

[END]