PM to consider new religious freedom plan

RELIGIOUS groups could be protected from state anti-discrimination laws under a legislative proposal crafted by the federal Attorney-General.

Christian Porter is expected to present a draft plan to support religious freedom to Scott Morrison's cabinet today, The Australian reports.

Under consideration is a proposal for a federal law to protect religious groups from "vexatious" cases pursued under state laws and a separate ban on discrimination on the basis of faith in the housing, employment and services sectors.

Christian Porter is expected to present a draft plan to support religious freedom to Scott Morrison’s cabinet today. Picture: AAP
Christian Porter is expected to present a draft plan to support religious freedom to Scott Morrison’s cabinet today. Picture: AAP


The final draft bill should mirror "other anti-discrimination acts such as those already covering race, sex and aged discrimination", Mr Porter told The Australian.

"We remain committed to delivering on that promise and we are close to settling a draft bill for public consultation."

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli said new laws must be "positive" and protect religious freedom as a "universal human right".

"We are in favour of some (sort of) religious discrimination act but it is important that it is a positive law, one not about exemption," Archbishop Comensoli told The Australian.

"We have signed up to a ­number of international covenants in terms of religious freedom as a basic human right.

"We are keen to see some way in which that might be legislated."

Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli. Picture: Alex Coppel
Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Peter Comensoli. Picture: Alex Coppel

The religious freedom proposals would prevent claims such as the 2015 "Porteous case", where Greens candidate Martine Delaney launched an anti-discrimination claim under state law against Tasmania's Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous. The case, over an anti-same-sex marriage pamphlet, is regarded as pivotal among proponent of religious freedom despite never going to the tribunal.

Church groups and religious leaders are believed to have been assured by Mr Porter that any bill would prevent a repeat of such cases.

Religious figures also want amendments to the sex discrimination act. Religious groups are protected from adhering to sex discrimination laws under the act, but Archbishop Comensoli told The Australian they didn't go far enough to protect some institutions for adhering to church teachings.

"It is not just something about individuals but it is organisations as well that we would be wanting to see, so that an institution, like a hospital for instance, because of its religious position around the value of life, it comes out of a religious understanding, would be able to offer its services pertinent to that particular characteristic," he told The Australian.

"Another example is to be able to teach in our churches, in our schools, in our groups around what we believe is the nature of marriage. That is not to make any comment about what other people hold - it is simply to be free to speak our own position."

A draft bill on religious freedoms is expected before the end of the year.

Read more at The Australian.