Subjects: Religious Discrimination Bill E&OE
ROWAN DEAN: It’s great to see you, greatto be with you. Now tell us, you’re the Assistant Minister to the Attorney-General, so one of the big issues this week has been the Religious Discrimination Bill. You’ve got strong thoughts on it. Tell us, I want to know, you know, the vexed question – how do you on the one hand, you know, protect certain Christian beliefs without possibly firing up other beliefs in other religions who might not be so compatible to our way of life. So, I guess, what is the Religious Discrimination Bill aiming to do?
AMANDA STOKER: Ultimately, it is a Bill that’s about freedom of expression. And so one of those fundamental liberties that we believe in is that people should be able to think for themselves; that they should be able to speak consistently with that belief; and that they should be able to, within the law, act consistently in their belief without –
ROWAN DEAN: Aren’t they already?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, it’s already been the case that over recent times we’ve found members of the clergy dragged before certain tribunals for politely and respectfully stating the Catholic view on marriage, we’ve had people fired from their jobs because they took a different perspective on what the right call was on the question of the marriage debate, and because their boss didn’t like it they found themselves out of a job – and those are simple examples of patterns that are in existence as our culture has become one that tends to want to shun or squeeze out people that have views that aren’t popular. Ultimately, this is about people being able to speak and manifest the things that they believe, or in fact, it protects the right to religious beliefs as well as your right not to believe – that’s very important too. We don’t want to force this on anybody. It’s got to be about free will and individual choice. But you did pick up on an anxiety in some people. Does this empower problematic behaviours in our community? And we’ve put a lot of thought and care into that; to make sure that we aren’t authorising things that we don’t see, wat to see become a part of Australian culture. And the way we’ve done that is to say this operates in the civil space, that means that things that are contrary to criminal law like, for instance, child marriage, or like female genital mutilation – they’re already criminal acts in this country and they are not okay by any measure, none of that is authorised by the operation of this Act. It really is about making sure that people aren’t facing adverse action for speaking about their faith, and making sure that they’re not losing their jobs or being, you know, denied service, or denied accommodation, rental agreement or anything like that, because they have a particular religious belief. So this is an important measure in an environment where we already have a lot of identity politics-based discrimination acts.
ROWAN DEAN: That’s reassuring, I want to get back to you on that but we’ve just about to go to your boss, the Prime Minister, he’s interrupted Outsiders. Shall we go now to the Prime Minister. [Live cross] Fantastic news, that’s great. Scott Morrison, very pleased to hear that legislation. So we happen to have with us the Assistant Attorney-General. So that’s a great piece of legislation, online trolls. Lots of people have suffered from that sort of thing, anyone who does this sort of job certainly knows what it’s about and I’m sure you do. So tell us briefly your take on how you arrived at this legislation.
AMANDA STOKER: Well, we’ve been hearing from – largely – parents about how anxious they are about the safety of the online environment for kids, where the lack of accountability that people have online, means that they say and do things that they never would if they were face to face with a real person. The consequences of that are real. You don’t need to look at the suicide of little girls like Dolly to know that this stuff has an impact. But it operates in other places, too. When defamation ruins reputations and destroys livelihoods, there needs to be an avenue to peel back the mask of the username, get to the identity of the person who’s engaging in appalling and trolling behaviour that breaches our laws if they were don’t face to face, so that person who has been defamed or have their reputations destroyed or faced criminal acts online can get accountability for that, can take them to court, can sue if necessary or can deal with them through the police. ROWAN DEAN: Excellent. Great stuff. But seriously, many people will be applauding that and I’m certainly one of them. Just back to our Religious Discrimination Bill, so I just want to give the examples, so tell me if I’m right or wrong, but a school with a strong points of view about homosexuality, can they or can they not say, you know, to a teacher, ‘I’m sorry’ – or in a job application – ‘I’m sorry but we don’t believe in homosexuality so therefore we don’t think you’re the correct teacher’ to a homosexual person. Is that correct? That would be allowed?
AMANDA STOKER: Look the first thing to say is that it doesn’t affect teachers who are existing in their jobs. But it will become the case that a school that has a really strong set of beliefs that they want to inculcate through their staff can be very up front about what that constellation of beliefs and behaviours they think are necessary to be a part of that school community are, if they’re transparent about that from the outset in their hiring processes and they regard that as something that’s deeply connected to the tenets of their faith – and it’s really important that it actually be something that’s from their faith.
ROWAN DEAN: Absolutely.
AMANDA STOKER:-then they should have the ability to require that staff act in a way that reflects that ethos as a whole, because if we take away the ability of schools to have an ethos that’s reflective of their belief set, you take away the different culture that is built in a school that is faithbased and you take away what parents have, by their own choice, and with their own dollar, been prepared to opt into as being the right choice for their kids and their family. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well just have public schools where none of this is allowed because culture flows from beliefs manifested.
ROWAN DEAN: So I guess the opposite of that is can an Islamic school, for example, insist that all, on a sweltering hot day, all the girls wearing the full, the full outfit that – if that is what that school believes appropriate?
AMANDA STOKER: Well, look, the short answer is yes. If you have an Islamic school that wants to have Islamic dress codes and wants to have teachers that are prepared to act consistently with that set of beliefs, and parents are opting into that for their girls, and the parents think that’s the best thing for raising their kids, well, that’s a decision for them. But it’s got to operate equally across all faiths and importantly, it’s got to be limited by that which is consistent with Australian criminal law.
ROWAN DEAN: Senator Amanda Stoker thanks so much for coming in today. Great to have you. [END]