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Wren's Week: Religious protection and ScoMo goes troppo

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison attending the Pacific Islands Forum (Screenshot via YouTube)

Issues relating to the protection of religious practices have arisen again while our Prime Minister dons floral headwear, writes John Wren.

DURING THE WEEK, Australia’s faux-Christian PM Scott Morrison hosted a meeting of the leaders of Australia’s major religions in Canberra. The meeting was to discuss the Government’s fraught Religious Freedom Bill that has been delayed due to the complexities of its drafting.

This is a Bill Australia doesn’t need. Its own enquiry chaired by Philip Ruddock confirmed this. Nevertheless, Morrison, pandering to the hard-Right religious (“Christian”) conservatives in his party, still committed to it. These people seem to think that if others gain rights (such as same-sex marriage), their rights are somehow diminished. It’s bizarre. Human rights are not pie. If someone else gets more it doesn’t mean you get less.

Anyway, I digress. We had two situations during the week that highlight the dangers of giving additional legal protection to religious practices. The first was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne, Peter Comensoli. In a radio interview with the ABC’s Jon Faine, he stated he would go to prison rather than break the seal of the confessional. This was in response to the Victorian State Government’s proposal to include priests in the mandatory reporting laws for child abuse (alongside doctors, nurses and teachers).

Under Morrison’s legislation, Comensoli’s religious practice would likely be protected, effectively giving additional protection to child abusers rather than exposing them to legal scrutiny. So despite all the rhetoric inspired by the Royal Commission into Institutional Child Abuse, Morrison’s legislation could make the situation even worse (if that’s possible) than the current situation.

Can you imagine the uproar if an Islamic cleric openly stated he would ignore our secular legislation? That he supports female genital mutilation as his religious right and no secular law will stop him or his congregation performing it? The double standard is breathtaking.

The second issue was the Australian Christian Lobby’s Dan Flynn, who said his group had been pushing for the Government to include specific protections to ensure employment contracts could not impinge on the religious expression of employees. This is a direct response to the Israel Folau case, where he lost his million-dollar contract with Rugby Australia over his offensive homophobic social media posts, inspired by his fundamentalist Pentecostal church.

If this comes to pass, employers will be extremely reluctant to hire the overtly religious. Companies fear religious employees will upset hard-won customers, suppliers and colleagues. They also fear that should a religious employee need performance management or transgress other company rules, then they may play the religion card, in the same way that bullying or harassment cards are often played in these situations.

But you can’t ask a person what their religious views are in an interview, you say? Correct, you can’t. But there are many other ways to find out. Social media scans, hobbies and pastimes on the CV (“active in my local church” is more common than you think). Even now, recruiters are being briefed by their clients to avoid religious candidates. This is a thing right now and the legislation hasn’t even been enacted yet. I personally know one employer who rejected a candidate because she wore a prominent crucifix on a necklace for her interview.

What does this mean for these religious zealots? They will either be forced to hide their faith in order to get a job (and keep it hidden), or they will remain unemployed and unemployable. I’m confident this is not the intention of religious advocates like the ACL, yet this is the unintended consequences of their advocacy. There will, of course, be a small number of businesses owned and run by religious people who will hire these like-minded individuals, but it will be very career limiting.

We have also seen Morrison go to Tuvalu for the annual Pacific Islands Forum where the heavy emphasis was on emissions reduction and other measures to address climate change which is already having a devastating effect on many Pacific nations. The bloc as a whole is appalled at the Australian Government’s emphasis on coal mining and export. They rightly see it as a direct existential attack on their homes, which it is.

This annual meeting is usually dominated by the two big Pacific powers, Australia and New Zealand. Usually, both countries are more or less on the same page. Not this time. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was quite strident in her support of her Pacific island peers in their demands for Australia to wind back its coal dependence.

Note that NZ now sources around 80 per cent of its power from renewables. It closed its biggest coal-fired power station (Huntly) a year or so back. Australia, in turn, forced the meeting’s resolution to severely restrict mention of coal and climate change. No doubt Morrison threatened his Pacific neighbours with reductions in foreign aid if they persisted with it. He effectively bullied them into submission. Bullying the weak… that’s how this Government has always rolled and will always roll.

Controversial shock-jock and Coalition fanboy Alan Jones commented in an on-air rant that Morrison should shove a sock down Ardern’s throat to shut her up. Recall he once said that then PM Julia Gillard should be put in a chaff bag and dumped at sea. He has form. He loathes powerful, intelligent women, especially those on the Left of politics. His comment is particularly offensive considering Australia has an ongoing problem with violence towards women (both in their homes and elsewhere). Jones was essentially advocating a violent response to Ardern’s entirely reasonable position.

Jones’s radio station (as part of Macquarie Radio Network) was sold this week for a pittance to Peter Costello’s 9 Media — the publishers of The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review and, of course, the Channel 9 TV Network. The reason it was so cheap was because of the adverse legal debts hanging over it from actions taken specifically against Jones. He has directly negatively affected his employer’s share price. In any other situation, he would be sacked. With any luck, his new owners will get rid of him.

While we are on misogyny, former Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, now Chancellor of the Australian National University, went on record opining about the dreadful sexism she had to deal with while in Parliament. She is an arch-hypocrite. Take a look at her reaction in the video of Gillard’s now famous misogyny speech below. By turning a blind eye to it for most of her career and, I’m told, going along with it to “be one of the boys”, she is as much to blame for the entrenched sexism that is omnipresent in the Liberal Party. As they say, “he who smelt it, dealt it”.

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