Religious bigotry bill withdrawn

By February 14, 2022Australian Politics

There have been many people (me included, initially) unable to believe that the Labor Party voted for something so appalling as the Religious Discrimination Bill, and many have been complaining about it subsequently.

Many need to realise that this Morrison bill was simply designed to wedge the Labor Party. It is not like there aren’t other more pressing problems, but this was one thing Morrison wanted people to think was important. Morrison knew that it was something the Labor Party were not favourably disposed to support. However, if they voted against it, he could wave it in front of any religious group and say ‘see the Labor Party don’t care if you are discriminated against’. That was to be the wedge in this case.

This legislation was also a sop to the religious organisations who were vehemently opposed to marriage equality, and who can never forgive the Australian people for voting overwhelmingly for it, especially when the religious believe they know what is best for everyone. 

The government has stated that the Religious Discrimination Bill “will ensure that individuals cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their religious belief or activity”. The Australian Christian Lobby, a prominent supporter of the legislation was a bit less vague when it said “Religious freedom laws are essential to ensure that you – and all Australians – can live according to their convictions in public life” and “increasingly, you can be punished if someone feels offended by you expressing your beliefs. You could even face investigation or legal action for your stance on faith, family, abortion, marriage, sexuality, gender and more1.

There have been several drafts of the bill, with earlier versions causing an enormous amount of consternation and fear in the LGBTIQ+ community, and among women and some minorities2

This is because large parts of the bill were about maintaining the ability to indulge in hate-speech, and maintaining the ability to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender3.

The recent Citipointe Christian College debacle is symptomatic of the sort of discrimination that the Religious Discrimination Bill would allow. The college drew up an enrolment contract for the parents of students to sign. It stated “the college will only enrol the student on the basis of the gender that corresponds to their biological sex” and says homosexuality is “sinful”, like bestiality, incest and paedophilia. Fortunately, there was such an outcry, including from some students and their parents, that the college had to back down and the Principal had to go on gardening leave. There were also complaints by the Queensland Human Rights Commission and concerns raised by Queensland Education Minister Grace Grace. The Non-State Schools Accreditation Board has also begun to consider whether the contract breached rules for students to be treated equally, under rules for schools that receive state government funding. The school receives $3.6 million in recurring state funding and more than $10.8 million in federal government funding4.

As shown by the outrage over the Citipointe ‘contract’, most Australians do not support such bigotry, but Scott Morrison is not one of them. He is quite capable of using bigotry if it suits his purposes.

As I say above, there are many people who are incensed at the fact that the Labor Party would even consider voting for such a bill. However, there was a reason for this, which stems from Morrison’s approach to politics and his use of the wedge at every opportunity. It was explained in detail by Van Badham in a Facebook post which I paraphrase here. While most people who read this blog have an interest in politics, there are a few who don’t so much, and even some people I have met, do not know much about the mechanics of parliament. So, at the risk of stating the bleeding obvious to some, here goes:

There are 151 seats in the House of Representatives (the House) which are occupied by your local Members of Parliament (MPs). Scott Morrison is Prime Minister because the Liberal and National parties won a majority (76) of those seats in the 2019 election

One of these seats belongs to the Speaker of the House (which leaves 75 seats), and the Speaker only votes when there is otherwise a tied vote. So, Morrison has a very slender majority, but it is a majority. When a bill is debated in the House, it needs a majority to pass, so normally the government can pass whatever it wants because it holds that majority5

People have spent days demanding that Labor block the Religious Discrimination Bill. Labor are the Opposition because they are the second largest party in the House – but they only have 68 seats. Therefore, in addition to not being able to pass any legislation, Labor does not have enough votes in the House to block any legislation. 75 beats 68 every time.

In addition to the Labor Party, there are also 7 seats held by representatives who are not from the Liberal, National or Labor parties. These are called the “crossbenchers*” and even if every one of them voted with the Labor Party in an attempt to block the bill their vote would only top up the Labor vote to 75 which would not be enough because the Speaker would vote with the government making it 76 vs 755.

So what can you do if you want to stop the bill? You try to break off votes from the Liberal Party. You need at least 3. Not voting with your own party is called “crossing the floor” and it is extremely unusual in Australian politics because of internal party discipline and likely punishment which could be demotion or disendorsement by the party5.

As is now obvious, Scott Morrison playing footsies with far-right religious bigots (like the Australian Christian Lobby) is not universally popular within the Liberal Party. The party has an internal, if small, faction known as “Moderates” whose politics are more pro-business than social conservative and who tend to have live-and-let-live civil libertarian principles. Moderates tend to represent seats that are full of rich people, but tend to be socially progressive. In these seats, if a sitting Liberal member expresses arguably homophobic or misogynist attitudes (like Tony Abbott did), their electorates pump money and resources into campaigns for more progressive, if-pro-business independents (like Zali Steggall). Some of these Liberal Moderates fundamentally disliked the homophobic/transphobic elements of the Religious Discrimination Bill, and have seen the anger it could arouse in their seats. However, they knew their political futures in the Liberal Party would be doomed if they crossed the floor to block the legislation, so they were never going to do that5 if the Labor Party simply voted against it.

In this situation, what other parties and independents can do in the House – even from their minority position – is propose amendments to legislation. Normally, the government can just use their majority to ignore these, of course. However, Labor had heard enough rumblings from disgruntled Liberal MPs to know that if they banded together with enough crossbenchers, they could split the bill into tiny pieces and propose a stream of amendments that some Liberal Moderates would support, thereby progressively cutting out the worst parts of the bill. The political slang for this is ‘gutting the bill’. It would provide opportunities for some Moderates to alter or remove bits of the bill that they could not stomach, such as the part allowing trans children to be expelled from a religious school5.

To reassure the community – in case this strategy failed – Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese made a commitment that if the bill did pass in a disagreeable form, Labor would repeal it when next in government. So, Labor pledged publicly to support passage of the bill. If they had pledged to vote against it, the Liberal and National parties would have just waved the bill through without debate, the rebel Moderates would likely have fallen into line and the ‘gutting’ process would not have been possible5.

Not all of the Moderates agreed with all of the amendments. The whole process meant all the MPs had to stay up until 5am debating the various amendments. But what emerged was a bill that had removed enough of the hateful content that it did not give the bigots – or Scott Morrison – what they wanted5.

Once a bill passes the House, it goes to the Senate, where more amendments are debated and it is voted on again. Whatever the Senate agrees on goes back to the House for the government to decide if they’ll accept the Senate’s version of the bill, or not. The government does not have a majority in the Senate. At present, there are 35 Liberal and National senators and 26 Labor senators. There are also 15 crossbenchers**. To get their bill through, the government needs to find 38 votes. One Nation vote with the government almost always, but finding the last vote can be difficult as the remaining senators serve vastly different agendas5

What Labor were banking on with their ‘gutting’ of the bill in the House was that the government would not like the butchered legislation enough to do deals to get it passed in its amended form. However, for Morrison to get it rewritten to what he wanted would take a mammoth effort of negotiation – all the crossbench senators would be very aware that the only party likely to benefit electorally from making the bigots happy would be the Liberals5

Also, depending on the mood of the Senate, more amendments than those Labor had managed in the House might be possible with the participation of enough crossbenchers – and maybe more Liberal Moderates. The likely result would be a bill so changed from what Morrison intended that when it went back to the House, the Liberals would not pass it.

Was Morrison prepared to spend political capital doing deals with cross bench senators on an unpopular, mutilated bill that had already revealed deep divisions in his own party? 

As it turns out, he was not5.

As a consequence, Morrison announced that the Liberals were shelving the bill. The amended version had even been disowned by its chief spruiker, the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL). They stated that removing the exemptions which allowed schools to discriminate against trans students “completely undermined” the bill6. That says much about the vicious bigotry that is part of the ACL’s ethos.

Labor’s strategy worked, and this egregious piece of legislated bigotry is likely no more.

*House of Representatives crossbenchers: There are 3 independents, 1 Green and 1 person each from Centre Alliance, 1 Katter Party and 1 United Australia Party. 

**Senate crossbenchers: – 9 Greens, 2 One Nation, 1 Centre Alliance, 1 Lambie Network, 1 Patrick Team and 1 independent

Sources

  1. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/what-is-the-religious-discrimination-bill-and-how-could-it-affect-australia/a3bde388-41f9-4fed-b86e-d1ac2c6d798f
  2. https://blotreport.com/2019/09/16/entrenching-religious-privilege/
  3. https://blotreport.com/2019/07/09/freedom-to-discriminate/
  4. https://www.sbs.com.au/news/citipointe-christian-college-tears-up-enrolment-contract-condemning-homosexuality-after-backlash/459f601d-7484-47b2-b88e-29865b359c42
  5. https://www.facebook.com/ThatVanBadham
  6. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-02-10/government-consults-religious-groups-discrimination-bill/100818568

20 Comments

  • Jon says:

    Sorry, in my opinion Albanese’s tactics were neither necessary, nor did they meet the minimum standards of principle so many have been waiting for after years of hypocrisy, dishonesty and downright theft of the common wealth for personal/party use. What did Labor have to lose by saying they would not support the bill without protection for vulnerable trans kids? Nothing. What did they have to gain? Plenty. They’ve kept their heads above water on this issue only because of the outcome. Still won’t be getting my vote, not that it matters in this electorate.

    The bill was a chance for Albanese and the Opposition to show mettle and principle, and they failed miserably, or would have had govt members not crossed the floor, ironically on PRINCIPLE. If a party won’t stand up for what it believes on such an issue lest it offend a small group of voters prior to an election then what hope is there that they will show the leadership and integrity so sadly missing from modern politics when tough decisions have to be made? Good tactic, or are they so simply so far out of touch with the electorate and their bunker mentality is so entrenched that they’ve lost perspective? This sort of unprincipled behaviour should be familiar to anyone who has followed the actions of the LNP for the last decade or more. In my view it’s hypocritical not to call Labor out for it, even though the bill as it stood was amended – thanks largely to some Liberals with a conscience.

    “To reassure the community – in case this strategy failed – Leader of the Opposition, Anthony Albanese made a commitment that if the bill did pass in a disagreeable form, Labor would repeal it when next in government. So, Labor pledged publicly to support passage of the bill. If they had pledged to vote against it, the Liberal and National parties would have just waved the bill through without debate, the rebel Moderates would likely have fallen into line and the ‘gutting’ process would not have been possible.”

    There are many suppositions here, only one of which was remotely likely imo – the prospect that Labor might win the election and convince a likely minority senate to support a modified bill if it came to that. It is now highly unlikely if not impossible that the bill will see the light of day before the election unless Morrison sees some huge windfall in doing so and changes sitting days. Their polling on the issue would be telling them they have zero to gain imo.

    I don’t buy the notion that some Liberals wouldn’t have crossed the floor had Albanese said Labor would not support the bill without significant amendment. He’d already suggested as much before Labor embarked on its pointless last-minute strategy. Subsequent interviews with some of those Liberals confirms my belief that they would have crossed the floor because their consciences dictated so, unlike Warren Entsch for example who waffled on about the principles involved and protecting trans kids but ultimately voted in favour. It was a HUGE step for those involved, unlike Labor’s supposed meaningless mini-wedge.

    Irrespective, the alternative was simple. Labor could, and should, have said they didn’t support the bill in it’s current format and they would consider their position after debate in the House. They should have made it clear to the watching public that they would not sacrifice the welfare, and in some cases the lives, of vulnerable kids for the sake of (perceived) popularity at the ballot box. This is precisely the sort of leadership plenty of Australians have been waiting for and with virtually nothing on the line Albanese failed the test. God help this country if such prevarication continues. Yes it’s important for the nation that the corrupt LNP govt is thrown out but that will happen if the public wants it irrespective of Labor’s tactics on this bill.

    • admin says:

      Jon,
      Principle is all very well, but when you have a malevolent bastard like Morrison who is totally unconcerned about anybody’s welfare but his own (I do hope the rumoured Liberal leadership [there is an oxymoron] spill happens this week), you have to get down in the gutter with him. As for the Moderates crossing the floor anyway, I really do doubt that would have happened if the thing had been waved through quickly by the government. You also seem to ignore the reprehensible Murdoch media which, if Labor gives them an opportunity, they will do the same thing they did last time around. If, when (and if) the Labor Party wins the election, they do not fix the political system in this nation, I will be up them like a rat up a rafter too.

  • Jon says:

    I addressed the Murdoch issue previously, saw no point in repeating it Admin. As it transpired Albanese didn’t need to send the wrong message or show his weakness and lack of judgement, the Trans-5 saved his skin, and in doing so gave Murdoch and other rw hacks an entirely different target – blue floor-crossers. Sort of ironic that Morrison not only failed to acquire enough RAT tests but his superb intellect wasn’t able to detect rats in the ranks, despite a few making it clear that unlike him (a great pentecostal christian) they would not countenance a govt law which permitted discrimination against already vulnerable school kids. Perhaps he should have consulted Jenny the night before the debate. Perhaps he should have prayed harder, or better still listened to the double/floor-crossing bastards’ objections rather than mindlessly embracing the extreme views of the unchristian ACL.

    I agree with the sentiment about giving certain conservative aholes a taste of their own medicine. For starters I look forward to an Albanese govt giving quite a few sycophantic departmental secretaries the arse and having a RC into cricket tragic Richard Colbeck’s pandemic inaction on aged care. Something along the lines of the batts RC which the hapless Colbeck attempted to use to excuse his own culpable incompetence. Rudd’s letter (https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7616741/rudd-takes-umbrage-at-colbecks-reference-to-pink-batts-deaths/) gave the lie to that although I expect Colbeck would have had to phone a friend (Morrison) to have the differences explained to him.

    Morrison as we know has claimed he’s made hard decisions wrt his ministers. Leaving Colbeck with the responsibility for aged care after the initial 655 Victorian deaths AND RC criticism wasn’t enough for our lightning quick PM. He not only didn’t dump Dickie from the ministry, he kept him in the same portfolio so that he could repeat his careless mistakes yet again. And to the surprise of only one man – Morrison – Colbeck did exactly what most expected of him. Sfa. Then again who could blame him (Colbeck). After all, as the soon to be forgotten Greg Hunt explained “60% of the deceased were in the absolute last days of their lives” anyway. They weren’t necessarily but our Greg took liberties just like he did when claiming the BLM march in Melb led to covid spread and lockdowns – yet another lie he failed to apologise for.

  • Mark Dougall says:

    A small musing on my part about “people of faith”. I was brought up as a Catholic. I went to Catholic primary and secondary schools. As I got older I decided that I did not believe the things that I was brought up to believe. Also, as I saw some pretty unsavoury things happen in the name of religion, I rejected religion, of all types. I had never heard the expression “people of faith” until the last few years. I find the use of the expression to be very irritating. It seems to be used as some sort of badge of honour, and at the same time shield, by many religious people. It is used by them as though they are in some sense superior to others and also to suggest that they are not accountable. That they act for some greater, inscrutable, unjudgeable cause. That they can simply say and do what they want because they are “people of faith”. They are not special. They are simply members of a church. Nothing more. They are no better, or worse, than members of any other social organisation. Because that is simply what they are.

    • admin says:

      Mark,
      I think that the ‘people of faith’ moniker is being used because the reality that these people are simply ‘religious’ is not popular, and is getting less and less popular as religion declines, not just here but everywhere. Again, it is using a seemingly innocuous name to cover up an ugly reality. Just like border security means imprisoning refugees for close to a decade. ‘Protecting jobs in the regions’ means digging more coal so the miners can donate to the Liberal Party.

    • Jon says:

      I was also raised a Catholic Mark but like many am “lapsed” as the saying goes. From my experience very few agree with the philosophies or actions of so called christians/pentecostalists in parliament and/or the Catholic hierarchy here or in the corrupt cloisters of the Vatican. In fact from my admittedly limited experience many recognise the hypocrisy of people like Morrison, Andrews, Bernardi, Abbott and co and reject outright a lot of their commentary and opinion. Most can’t stand Pell and his ilk, and most are tolerant and quite liberal.

      I’d venture to say that a majority of people who identify as Catholic do so simply by dint of their upbringing, not because they have the faith. Numbers attending mass, taking the sacraments and praying are certainly tiny compared to the nominal census number of Australian Catholics. Most Catholics I know, and the few priests, nuns etc I’ve encountered in later life are good people. The laity certainly don’t follow the corporate line on many issues – including sexuality, nor do they think like the hand waving hypocrites in parliament or the extremists at the ACL. They were not responsible for the disgraceful abuse of others or the covering up of same and unlike some others in positions pf power and responsibility they understand that protecting “mother church” at the expense of vulnerable kids and youth is intrinsically wrong, morally corrupt, and fundamentally anti-christian.

      I have much to thank my Catholic upbringing for and owe a debt to the sacrifices of brothers and nuns in particular. It took me quite some time to realise that, too late to thank those involved unfortunately. So I guess what I’m saying is don’t judge all Catholics or religious people by the hypocritical actions and declarations of the noisy pharisees.

      • admin says:

        Jon,
        I grew up in a nominally presbyterian family who only ever went to church for weddings and funerals. I went to government schools and had some wonderful teachers who I can still remember: Mrs Woodard; Mrs Lawson; Mr Dart; Mr Dietz; Mr ‘Jockey’ Ross (he was a little bloke who smoked rollies); Mr ‘Uncle Mac’ Maclelland; Mr ‘Casper’ Paterson (pale and bald); Mr ‘Doc’ Holiday; Mr ‘Slops’ Mudford; Mr Dobinson; Mr (later Dr) McKnight; and Mr ‘Vic’ Rooney. I am so happy that I had these superb teachers and am so glad that none of them were religious. My parents sent me to Sunday school, but I suspect that was to get me out of the house so they could put their feet up or have some uninterrupted jiggy-jiggy; after all they worked 5 and half days a week in their business. I have explained elsewhere on this blog how I got over religion decades ago.

        • Arthur Baker says:

          If it’s credit-to-our-teachers time, I’d like to mention the following. Three from Dame Eleanor’s Academy For The Sons Of Geordie Gentlefolk: Mr ‘Spike’ Naylor (French), Mr Don S Walker (Geography), and Mr Tony Broomhead (Mathematics). What they had in common apart from a masterly command of their subjects was a willingness to accept a joke, provided it wasn’t offensive. This created a permanentky happy classroom atmosphere, conducive to learning. A few years earlier at primary school, the Grand Little-Old-Lady Mrs Armstrong, whose arm was anything but strong, and who somehow managed to control a class of 45 (yes, forty-five) nine-year-old boys in the peak year of the post-war baby boom without EVER resorting to corporal punishment. Instead, she used gentle persuasion which, incredibly, worked on us, a bunch of scruffy street urchins. We simply didn’t want to disappoint the lady. Remarkable people, all four of them.

  • Warren says:

    Very good points made by Admin and Jon as always. The points made means I remain very depressed about politics in Australia. Many things have to change to allow Australia to become a good democracy. These changes have been discussed many times on BLOT and other sites.

    To bring about change a Federal ICAC with teeth is a must, but even if Labor gain power , a less watered down version of the LNP version is most likely. If we get one at all. How sad for Australia. On another matter, what happens when Murdoch dies? Bedside me having a party..

    • admin says:

      Warren,
      There will be lots of parties and lots of good plonk drunk when the malevolent old bastard dies. We have a very good bottle put aside for the occasion. While a Federal ICAC with full retrospectivity is imperative, so is a Royal Commission into the Murdoch media. Following that we must have truth in journalism (and headlines) legislation, truth in political advertising, severe restrictions on political donations, and real time publication of political donations.

    • Jon says:

      Lachlan Murdoch is arguably worse than his father Warren. Last I read older son James had distanced himself from the extremes of both and the running of News Corpse so I’d expect business as usual when Rup drops off the perch, esp if the Republicans get traction in enigma country.

  • Glenn says:

    Things are not looking good for the government. First, there was considerable backlash over the proposed voter ID laws, then there was this.
    Now, in an attempt to hold onto power, Herrs Dutton and Morrison claim that Albanese and Labor were CCP stooges, and one of the NSW candidates in a by-election called them out.

    Katharine Murphy wrote about it here:
    https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2022/feb/17/morrison-and-dutton-are-imperilling-australias-national-security-to-hang-on-to-power?fbclid=IwAR3guPrkZPb8RHmThJVAHLPzQZQwj2UYx7tMTlySPOiBI03yTfGbUAVlZQk

    • admin says:

      Glenn,
      Murphy spot on again. All I can feel for people like Morrison and Dutton is disgust. One thing she said is that foreign influence and espionage flourish in a divided society with lack of trust in institutions. And that is precisely what has been enthusiastically promoted by the Liberal Party and their verminous mates in the Murdoch media. It would appear that it is they who are the agents of Chinese influence.

  • Jon says:

    Couple of top notch CT letters worth repeating for those who missed them:
    (Evita rewritten)
    “Don’t pray for me, Scott and Jen,
    The truth is
    We never liked you,
    All through the fire days
    The COVID pandemic,
    You never keep a promise,
    Please keep your distance.”
    Rory McElligott, Nicholls

    And perhaps the most succinct summary of Morrison yet:
    “When L Frank Baum wrote his The Wonderful Wizard of Oz he couldn’t have known that three of his characters, lacking heart, brain and courage, would morph into one Australian Prime Minister.”
    Maria Greene, Curtin

    There’s an opportunity for the Wharf Review (highly recommended if you haven’t seen them) right there. Their next show should be called The Supercilious Psycho of Oz

  • Arthur Baker says:

    Did you ever see anyone, anywhere, at any time, behaving more like a pork chop than Morrison on Thursday in parliament, delivering his Reds Under The Beds Manchurian Candidate tirade? Utterly demented. And shameful, in our national parliament (from the Latin parlare and the French parler, to talk – not much talking going on when that muppet gets motoring, more snarling, sneering, shouting, gesturing, finger-pointing.) A disgrace.

    • Jon says:

      I think more than enough of the disinterested, disengaged and not rusted-on brigade have finally got the supercilious psycho’s number to see him dispatched in a few months time Arthur. For the first time in Australian history Morrison’s legacy will be about what he could and should have done but didn’t. If the 3 Cs – climate, corruption, covid – don’t get him then women, aged care, and his character will. Abbott was the worst PM in living memory but in the clear light of day this bloke might even surpass that destructive fool. Both of them are religious hypocrites and both ignored the old adage ‘if you can’t do any good with your power then at least do no harm’ but one’s ego and propensity for lying puts him well ahead in the race to the bottom for me.

      • Arthur Baker says:

        Jon, I’ve just finished reading Sean Kelly’s book “The Game – a portrait of Scott Morrison”, and I agree Morrison is even worse than Abbott (who happened to be my MP), and incidentally worse than the other possible contender Poor Wee Billy McMahon. Both Abbott and McMahon were blithering idiots, but there’s something calculatingly relentless and utterly unpersuadable about Morrison. I find it quite disturbing to watch the guy. It’s as if his religious conviction is so unshakeable he’s like a destructive bulldozer out of control. He really has to be given the flick this time around or we’re in some considerable strife.

        • Jon says:

          Don’t know much about him Arthur but Billy came across as just a hapless fellow out of his depth. Completely different character to the other two and operated at a time where politicians at least tried to do things for the good of the country, not for themselves and their lust for power. Didn’t appear to have any of the slyness, arrogance, barefaced lying, bullying and hypocrisy of Morrison who obviously believes that whatever says and whatever he does or doesn’t do is either ordained by his god, or will be forgiven because Morrison is a blind handwaving follower. Morrison has no self-awareness, his ego is formed on the basis that he truly believes that he is right about everything, and when he obviously isn’t it’s because it is someone else’s fault, or we “didn’t understand what he actually meant”, or “he’d been saying that all along” (climate change, banking RC….). Although he is a religiopath I don’t actually blame his political behaviour and character on either his religion or his profession. He is (and behaves) as he is. “I am the Prime Minister!” sums him up to a T.

    • admin says:

      Arthur,
      Indeed. The most appalling display I have ever seen.

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