Stuart Robert says religious freedom bill only brought to parliament after extensive consultation

Religious discrimination will be top of the government's agenda in a potentially choatic parliamentary sitting fortnight. Picture: Simon Bennett
Religious discrimination will be top of the government's agenda in a potentially choatic parliamentary sitting fortnight. Picture: Simon Bennett

A contentious religious discrimination bill will be put to Parliament this week, as Labor says "bring it on" over a cost-of-living battle at the next election.

Politicians have flocked to Canberra, braced for a chaotic sitting fortnight which could prove the final meeting of parliament before Australians head to the polls.

The Coalition was set to make its religious discrimination bill the centre-piece of its agenda, after Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce revealed it was a condition of the Nationals' support for a 2050 net zero emissions target.

But Liberal minister Stuart Robert insisted it was being brought forward to fulfil a Coalition election promise.

The bill, which would allow religious schools to hire on the basis of faith, has already proved contentious in the Coalition party-room. Moderate Liberals have successfully pushed for safeguards to ensure teachers cannot be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

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Mr Robert said the government had consulted "extensively and widely" but conceded not everyone would be satisfied by the final proposal. "If you are not pleasing everyone, you've probably landed the policy option in the right place," he told Sky News on Sunday.

And with Attorney-General Michaelia Cash bogged down by the bill, there will likely be no room for two other election pledges: a federal ICAC and an Indigenous voice to parliament.

Labor treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers claimed an eleventh-hour rush showed the government was not serious about the legislation. "If [it was] ... it wouldn't have taken them three years to get their act together," he told ABC's Insiders.

"The reason this government doesn't want a national anti-corruption commission is because they know it will uncover more of the same rorts, and waste, and dodgy deals that we've seen for much of the last eight years."

Jim Chalmers says Labor would relish a campaign fought on cost-of-living pressures. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

Jim Chalmers says Labor would relish a campaign fought on cost-of-living pressures. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Coalition's proposal for an anti-corruption watchdog, unveiled by then-attorney-general Christian Porter in November 2020, has been lashed as a toothless tiger by making politicians and their staff immune from public hearings. The criticism was heightened when Mr Porter resigned from cabinet after refusing to name donors supporting his defamation suit against the ABC.

Independent MP Helen Haines has admitted there was little chance parliament would mull her proposal for a federal ICAC, but said the crossbench would continue to push the issue.

'Bring it on'

Mr Chalmers also claimed the opposition would relish an election campaign fought on cost-of-living pressures, after the Prime Minister flagged it as a key election battleground.

Under pressure over his reversal on electric vehicles this month, Mr Morrison claimed petrol prices would skyrocket under an Anthony Albanese-led government.

But with petrol prices already on the rise despite stagnating wages, the Labor treasury spokesman said the opposition would "love" an election campaign centred on the issue. "If [Scott Morrison] wants to have an election on the fact that petrol prices have gone up ... at the same time as real wages have gone backwards $700 over the last year, then we say: bring it on," he told ABC's Insiders.

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The sitting period will be the first test of threats made by Liberal senators Gerard Rennick and Alex Antic, who have pledged to withhold their vote over vaccine-related issues.

And NT Country Liberal senator Sam McMahon could follow suit, unlikely to be allowed to bring forward her proposal to allow the NT Legislative Assembly to set its own voluntary assisted dying laws. The proposal had been put on the backburner for a bill on regional forestry agreements, to be brought by Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, though last week Ms McMahon was optimistic her bill would be heard.

But Pauline Hanson will instead be allowed to bring forward a bill on vaccines, in an apparent government attempt to placate the One Nation leader who has threatened to cause "mayhem" in the Senate.

Ms McMahon was understood to consider withholding her vote an option of last resort.

This story 'Bring it on': Chaos likely in final sitting fortnight first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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