Australia: Christian Porter says religious freedom bill won't erode state LGBT protections

Christian Porter has sought to allay concerns that a federal religious discrimination bill could water down protections for LGBT people in state legislation.

The attorney general told Guardian Australia the bill “is not intended to displace state law nor will it import specific provisions of international law” after LGBT advocates warned that it could undermine state protections against vilification or discrimination on the grounds of sex or sexuality.

As Porter has begun a series of workshops with Coalition MPs to discuss the as yet unreleased bill and agreed to meet religious leaders such as the Sydney Catholic archbishop Anthony Fisher, advocates have demanded he meet with affected LGBT and women’s groups and guarantee the bill will not wind back state regimes.

That call was echoed by the Tasmanian Labor shadow attorney general, Ella Haddad, who has written to the entire federal Labor caucus asking for a commitment state laws “will not be adversely impacted” – to which federal Labor is yet to commit.

Concerns centre on laws in Tasmania, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory, which prohibit vilification on the basis of sexuality and – unlike New South Wales – do not provide a specific exemption for religious speech. Those states also prevent religious schools from expelling students based on sexuality, while Tasmania and the ACT provide the same protection to teachers.

Equality Australia’s director of legal advocacy, Lee Carnie, has warned that inconsistency between state and federal laws could allow litigants complaining of indirect religious discrimination to side-step state regimes.

Equality Tasmania and Just Equal spokesman Rodney Croome said there was a “high risk” of state and territory laws being overridden – particularly if the Coalition accepts the demands from faith groups to add a right to religious freedom contained in article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The acting shadow attorney general, Brendan O’Connor, said that Labor “believes in an inclusive society” but stopped short of giving a commitment that LGBT people in states with more favourable regimes will not be worse off.Read more via Guardian