Hence Thursday’s announcement, which could have been a fairly mundane exercise in legalese, became a lot more potent. And the focus shifted to Porter’s plan to limit the circumstances in which large employers can punish workers for religious expressions.
While corporations can have policies promoting particular values, they won’t be able to “discriminate” against a religious person who holds different beliefs unless they can show the expression of those beliefs is materially and seriously affecting their bottom line.
This had its genesis with conservatives clamouring for a consolation prize after the passage of marriage equality.
Would that have saved Folau? It would certainly apply in Folau-like circumstances. But the employer still gets the opportunity to demonstrate that someone’s Instagram posts – or whatever the issue is – are hurting the business financially.
It’s important to recall that this legislation had its genesis with conservatives in the government clamouring for a consolation prize after the passage of marriage equality.
Which is why, despite the broad reach of the draft bill unveiled on Thursday, LGBTI Australians rightly feel these laws are primarily concerned with issues pertaining to them.
Indeed, both major case studies – Folau and Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous – were controversies that related to the expression of views about homosexuality or gay marriage.
Equality Australia, which grew out of the “yes” campaign, is vowing to fight the bill, which it says “enshrines religious exceptionalism”. Labor will be under a lot of pressure to oppose it in Parliament.
But the complex, esoteric nature of the content makes that task harder. Australians clearly wanted marriage equality, but people won’t go to the barricades to defend a clause in some Tasmanian anti-discrimination statute.
The government knows this. Indeed, the Coalition ultimately wants and expects Labor to support the laws and avoid further accusations (already made by Chris Bowen and others) that it is seen as hostile to people of faith.
Meanwhile, lobbyists and stakeholders are divided. Law professor Patrick Parkinson, the spokesman for Christian think tank Freedom for Faith, says the bill is “impressive” and “very comprehensive”.
But the Institute of Public Affairs, which one might expect to back the government on this issue, said the proposal has “many problems” and risked “unintended consequences”.
Not everyone in the government thinks this bill goes far enough, and it’s not going to be the final word on the religious freedom issue. But Porter has impressed his colleagues with his handling of the thorny issue, while throwing some red meat to the base, as they like to say.
Michael Koziol is a political correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.