Since the debate on same-sex marriage began. The earnest and common refrain heard among conservative Australian politicians was that their religious freedoms would be limited if the right to marry was expanded.
Fast-forward to now and the same-sex marriage debate is over. LGBTQI+ Australians are legally allowed to marry. Despite that fact agitation over religious freedoms continues, with certain corners of conservative Australia pushing harder for their religious freedoms to be legally secured. This is why, in part, Scott Morison has decided to move forward with the proposal of a dedicated religious discrimination act.
While a religious discrimination act has been on the table since the start of the same-sex marriage debate, the combined legalisation of same-sex marriage and the findings of the religious freedom report have elevated the act to an issue of genuine debate.
However, Prime Minister Scott Morison’s decision to move forward with the proposal is quietly dividing his own party. Many of the more moderate members of the Liberal party fear that the issue could alienate many swing voters and lose them a large portion of the small “l” liberal voters to boot. After a string of elections hinged on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage and the carbon tax having the 2019 election hinge on religious freedoms may be too much for the Australian public who are fatigued not only with the debate, but politics generally.
The proposed religious discrimination act is just one of the 15 recommendations accepted (out of a total 20) that came out of the investigation into religious freedoms. Phillip Ruddock, who led the investigation, has since gone on the record downplaying the gravity of the findings.
He cited there commendation that religious schools be given the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation as an example, noting that laws allowing such discrimination already to exist in some form in many Australian states. Ruddock’s proposal was not that further laws should be enacted, but rather those that already exist should be made uniform across Australia.
Despite Ruddock’s recommendation the push for a religious discrimination act has gone forward, with Scott Morison attempting to reframe the issue around diversity.
“If you support multi-cultural Australia, you’ll be a supporter of religious freedoms. You’ll understand that religious faith is synonyms with so many different ethnic cultures in Australia,” said Morison.
Nevertheless, this authenticity of this move rings hollow considering that the Liberal party has previously made attempts to make changes that would weaken the Racial Discrimination Act. Perhaps aware of this inconsistency, Scott Morison has expressed that he wold like the issue settled prior to the election, a move which Bill Shorten has said he is open to.
However, the probability of an issue this complicated being settled before the 2019 elections seem unlikely. With the issue high on Scott Morison agenda, and race now in the mix as well, we could be looking at an messy election.