The federal government has referred its contentious proposal to boost protections for religious Australians to parliament’s human rights committee.
Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has written to the joint committee on human rights asking it to report back on the religious discrimination bill by February 4.
The bill, which is listed for debate in the lower house on Tuesday, would protect people expressing their religious beliefs as long as this wasn’t done maliciously or in ways that vilified, threatened or intimidated others.
Religious schools could also preference hiring people of the same faith, overriding legislation in train in Victoria.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison positioned the laws, stemming from opposition to same-sex marriage, as a shield to prevent religious people being “cancelled” for their views.
The push has caused disquiet among moderate coalition members frustrated the government isn’t also moving faster to protect same-sex attracted and gender diverse teachers and students.
That issue falls under the Sex Discrimination Act being looked at by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Mr Morrison has indicated he’s not in a hurry on this, but says he doesn’t want to see gay teachers or students sacked or expelled.
His religious discrimination bill, watered down to appease moderates, scrapped a so-called Folau clause pushed by faith lobby groups.
Israel Folau’s Rugby Australia contract was torn up in 2019 for his social media post claiming hell awaited gay people.
But coalition senator Amanda Stoker thinks the bill could still give people in similar situations more wriggle room to argue against being sacked.
“Prima facie, you think that would allow person to speak in the way that Israel Folau did,” the assistant minister to the attorney-general told Sky News on Friday.
Senator Stoker noted the laws let workplaces impose limitations on employees expressing such views if this was necessary to protect the nature and operation of the business.
“There’s still an argument that Rugby Australia could have run along the lines of ‘it is core to our business that we be able to attract sponsorship and these types of behaviours jeopardise it’,” she said.
“But there will be a real and live question for a court to consider about whether or not that is genuinely the essence of what rugby Australia does.
“It could give him (Folau) an argument.”
LGBTIQ+ advocacy group Equality Tasmania thanked Liberal backbencher Bridget Archer for helping push for the bill to go to a joint parliamentary inquiry.
“The inquiry will help expose the way this bill allows more discrimination against a wide range of Tasmanians including LGBTIQ+ people, people with disability, women and people in minority faiths,” spokesperson Rodney Croome said.
It came a day after the MP for the Tasmanian seat of Bass crossed the floor of parliament to support debate on a federal integrity commission, prompting a talking to by the prime minister.
Labor wants the bill referred to a select committee of both chambers, which would allow more MPs and senators to take part in the inquiry.