‘Sikhs shouldn’t be discriminated against because of the turban’

By Our Reporter
Representational image. Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday moved the anti-discrimination bill to be read for the second time in Parliament.

Calling Australia a free and tolerant society, Morrison said, “Sikhs should not be discriminated against because of the turban they wear. Nor a Maronite because of the cross around their neck. Nor a Muslim employee who keeps that prayer mat in the bottom drawer at their desk at work. Nor a Hindu couple who are seeking to rent a property.”

The Prime Minister said this bill will provide, for the first time, protections for those of faith and religion at the Commonwealth level, and in the states of New South Wales and South Australia where there is currently no state-based religious discrimination laws. “This bill brings clarity and it provides confidence that Australians of faith can have confidence they will be protected from discrimination.”

The Commonwealth has a Sex Discrimination Act, a Racial Discrimination Act, a Disability Discrimination Act and an Age Discrimination Act.

However, there is no standalone legislation to protect people of religion, or faith, against discrimination. Or indeed for those who choose not to have a faith or religion.

The introduction of this bill, the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, will fix this, Morrison said.

“In this age of identity politics where we hear much about how we are identified by our gender, our age, our sexuality, our race, our ethnicity or our level of physical or intellectual ability. These are known as protected attributes, and they should be. We are rightly protected against discrimination in relation to any of these attributes,” he said.

And as provided for in this bill, this includes not being discriminated against for non-belief, he further argued.

“Such protections respect the true integrity and dignity of the individual. It’s what makes them who they are, who we are, how we choose to live their life in accordance with the laws of this land. This bill puts this right.”

Calling it a sensible and balanced bill, Morrison said, “This bill also builds on Australia’s proud record as the most successful multicultural, multi-faith nation on the planet.

“To so many Australians, religion is inseparable to their culture. They are one and the same. To deny protection from discrimination for their religious beliefs is to tear at the very fabric of multiculturalism in this country.

“We are the most successful multicultural country on the planet, united in our love of our country and the freedoms that so many, so many, have come here to enjoy. Particularly to escape discrimination and persecution for their religious beliefs. They came here seeking that freedom. That freedom should be protected for them. These freedoms, most importantly, should be protected from discrimination.”

He said people should not be cancelled or persecuted or vilified because their beliefs are different from someone else’s in a free liberal democratic society like Australia. “It is therefore no wonder that people of faith and religion have played such a prominent role in the creation and establishment of free societies. The underpinning principles of our free societies, indeed, the notion of liberty itself, Mr Speaker, draws heavily from the roots of faith.”

The bill is based on four years of work and is a long-standing commitment of our Government, Morrison said.

In November of 2017, the Government appointed an Expert Panel into Religious Freedom, chaired by the former father of this House, the Honourable Philip Ruddock, a fine attorney.

The Expert Panel received over 15,000 submissions.

It reported to the Government in 2018.

“And in 2019, the Government took the Australian people, we took to them a commitment to introduce new protections against religious discrimination, consistent with other anti-discrimination laws. And since then, the Government has been working through the issues with so many groups.

“However, the bill draws a clear line against harassment, vilification or intimidation of anyone.

“The bill protects the fundamental right for religious schools to hire religious staff to maintain their religious ethos, in accordance with a publicly available policy. This protection will be able to override state or territory laws which seek to interfere with that right,” Morrison said.

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