As little as ten years ago, the right to conscience and the consequential right to religious freedom was considered to be non-negotiable in Australia. After the passing of the Same Sex Marriage Act in 2017, the LNP coalition under Malcolm Turnbull promised to introduce a religious discrimination bill, this promise was repeated by then prime minister, Scott Morrison prior to the 2019 federal election. Both the Turnbull and Morrison governments failed to fulfil this promise in the subsequent 5 years they had in power.
Introduced as a private member’s bill by the Hon. Mark Latham MLC The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill (2020) sought to legally safeguard religious freedoms under NSW state law. The bill was blocked in the NSW legislative council with only Mark Latham, Mark Banasiak, Rev. Fred Nile and Robert Borsak supporting the progression of the bill. The parliamentary liberal party of NSW opposed the progression of the bill despite previously claiming to support religious freedoms and protections “in principle”. Similarly, the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, introduced by the Morrison Government to the Commonwealth parliament, was intended to protect all Australians from faith-based discrimination. Unfortunately, 5 liberal MPs crossed the lower house floor to either oppose the entirety of the bill the repeal section 38 of the sex discrimination act, subsequently rendering the bill purposeless. Due to the lack of inter-party support, Liberal Prime Minister at the time, Scott Morrison, was forced to scrap the bill leaving the promise of religious freedom unfulfilled. As religious protections were ultimately halted by the Liberal party on both occasions, it would be assumed that the “conservative” spectrum of Australian politics is lurching to the social left, essentially encouraging the practice of indevidualised and systemic religious discrimination across both major sides of Australian politics.
While religious freedoms aren’t keenly protected by either the Liberal nor Labor parliamentary parties on either a state or federal level, LGBTQIA2S+ activists have successfully sought to reduce and remove religious rights in the name of inclusion and equality. Passed in 2021 by the Andrews government in Victoria, the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill (2020) claimed to have prohibited barbaric, and for the most part, historic, conversion therapy practises. In reality the Act severely restricts religious freedoms. Section 5(3)*(b)** of the Act specifically outlaws the action of consential prayer in relation to gay and transgender conversion practices. Similar laws have been proposed (but yet to be tabled) in Tasmania. The reference to prayer was a direct and biased attack on religious organisations and individuals and renders the purpose of the bill hypocritical at best and targeted legalised discrimination at worst.
I had the privilege to delve into the issue of religious freedoms in Australia with church planter and evangelist, Ps Steve Mayo.
*(under subsection 1 of the Change or Suppression (Conversion) Practices Prohibition Bill 2020)
(3). For the purposes of subsection (1), a practice includes, but is not limited to the following—
(a) providing a psychiatry or psychotherapy consultation, treatment or therapy, or any other similar consultation, treatment or therapy;
**(b) carrying out a religious practice, including but not limited to, a prayer based practice, a deliverance practice or an exorcism;
(c) giving a person a referral for the purposes of a change or suppression practice being directed towards the person.