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Australian Religious Discrimination Bill runs out of time

15 February 2022

ALAMY

Protesters against the Religious Discrimination Bill gather outside of Syney Town Hall, Australia, on Saturday, shortly before the Bill was shelved by the Federal government

Protesters against the Religious Discrimination Bill gather outside of Syney Town Hall, Australia, on Saturday, shortly before the Bill was shelved by...

THE diocese of Sydney has expressed disappointment that the Australian government has failed to pass promised legislation to protect religious freedoms.

In a statement released by the Bishop of South Sydney, Dr Michael Stead, who chairs the diocese’s religious-freedom reference group, the diocese said that many members of the Federal Parliament “seem to have given scant regard to how to protect those of religious faith”.

He called on the government and opposition to “work together to resolve the technical issues and bring this matter to a resolution before the next Federal election”. The election must be held before the end of May, but the government’s timetable has few parliamentary sitting days before the election must be called.

The Religious Discrimination Bill, promised at the last Federal election in 2019 but only just brought before Parliament, has been shelved by the Federal government after a heated all-night sitting of Parliament. Five government back-benchers crossed the floor to support opposition amendments to the related Sex Discrimination Act to protect transgender children in religious schools. Some religious schools have recently been demanding that children identify by their birth gender or risk exclusion.

Dr Stead said that it was “regrettable” that the Religious Discrimination Bill was “being held hostage to rushed changes to the Sex Discrimination Bill”. He said “people of faith” had been waiting since 2018.

The Australian National Imams Council has also expressed disappointment, saying that religious minorities needed protection from discrimination in line with protection already available based on other attributes (such as race or gender).

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