The view from Billinudgel

Scott Morrison’s bad faith
The PM’s bill to protect religious freedom is a solution in search of a problem


It appears that Scott Morrison has now given up on this world and is planning to move on to the next. His aim to legislate new laws to protect religious freedom ahead of the next election seems highly ambitious, to say the least, particularly given that the Australian Law Reform Commission first needs to figure out a way of making much of it coherent.

Morrison and the theocratic conclave at The Australian want to call the government’s response to the Religious Freedom Review a positive achievement for the freedom and protection of religion – as if believers were somehow under threat. But of course they are not. The predecessors of those screaming alarm may have burnt heretics at the stake, but in modern Australia, religion, and particularly Christianity, is not only protected but privileged.

Hate crimes do occasionally occur on the basis of religion, but these tend not to be against Christians, and the offenders are prosecuted, as per the law.

Morrison wants far more – not just freedom and protection, but positive discrimination – the right of those who espouse, or claim to espouse, religious views to break the laws that apply to all other Australians. It is spelt out in his manifesto: the government intends to amend the Racial Discrimination Act to outlaw discrimination against any religion, or none – atheists will also be protected.

No one can object to that, although it seems something of a solution in search of a problem. But – and it is a very big but – there will be exceptions and exemptions for religious bodies.

And the Law Reform Commission is to devise ways to enshrine discrimination – the word is explicit – in the employment of staff in religious schools on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status. More discrimination, not less.

And there is more: religious schools may discriminate against students on the same basis. So much for the promise that no gay children will ever be expelled on the basis of their sexual orientation.

And in the meantime, children may be told by their teachers that same-sex attraction is inherently unnatural. And the teachers and their bosses will be subsidised by the taxpayers to do so.

This is payback for the decisive Yes response to the same-sex marriage survey. The losers in that debate – less than 40 per cent – demanded their pound of flesh, and Morrison is offering a motza.

The bakers and florists may have missed out, but the heavies are laughing all the way to their richly endowed places of worship. And even if Morrison loses next May, it may not alter things much: the heavily Catholicised Labor Party has no stomach for an ongoing brawl against the well-armed and well-resourced warriors of the various churches.

So our supposedly secular society, the one in which the Constitution prohibits the making of laws for the establishment of religion, is to be rejigged in order to protect religion.

This, apparently, is what Morrison regards as the basis of a free society. Others may say we are paying a hefty price.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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