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Coalition promises laws to protect religious freedom

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison says Australia needs a dedicated new law that makes religious discrimination illegal, in order to protect freedom.

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Morrison has announced his government plans to establish a Religious Discrimination Act and appoint a human rights commissioner dedicated to the issue.

“For those who think that Australians of religious faith don’t feel that the walls have been closing in on them for a while, they’re clearly not talking to many people in religious communities,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney.

“It’s about protecting Australians and an Australian’s right to believe in what they want to believe.”

The new anti-discrimination laws are the focal point of former Liberal minister Philip Ruddock’s long-awaited review into religious freedom, which has been with the government for almost seven months.

Morrison will push to put the religious freedom measures in place before the next election, but insists he doesn’t care whether it is a vote-winner.

Contentious legislation to prevent religious schools from discriminating against students on the basis of sexuality will be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Morrison said he expects the ALRC review to be completed in the second half of next year, which is after the next federal election is due.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said religious discrimination was the final pillar, joining laws protecting race, sex, age and disability.

“This is the fifth and final pillar of an overarching architecture that prevents discrimination directed to Australians based on attributes which should never be the basis for discrimination,” Porter said.

Labor frontbencher Mark Butler said his party was open to the legislation in principle, but would wait to see the detail.

Butler accused Morrison and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull of sitting on the report.

“We could have been debating over the course of 2018 the recommendations, but instead we’ve got the review dropped out on the eve of Christmas in the shadow of a federal election,” Butler told ABC radio.

The Coalition and Labor were unable to agree on legislation to protect gay students from discrimination by religious schools in the year’s final week of parliament.

Morrison said the Opposition had played politics on the issue by turning down his offer for a conscience vote on the bill.

– AAP

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