“Freedom of speech is important, but we have to exercise it responsibly,” he said. “In relation to what happens in matters of contract law and employment law, well we’re all subject to those, if we enter into those contracts.”
The Labor leader was more circumspect on the matter of whether employment contracts should be able to penalise someone for expressing religious views.
“It’s a contractual negotiation at one level but I’m uneasy about where that debate’s gone,” Mr Shorten said.
“On one hand, I think Israel Folau is entitled to his views, and he shouldn’t suffer an employment penalty for it. So I’m uneasy about that part of it.”
But he said he also understands the other side of the argument given the “hurtful impact” of Folau’s public statements.
“People putting out on social media that if you’re gay you’re going to go to hell, you know, I get that’s what he genuinely believes. But when you’re a public figure, that has negative impact, a hurtful impact on other people.”
“I don’t think it’s a simple issue, I don’t think it’s a clear cut issue when the edges bump up against each other,” Mr Shorten said.
On the question of anti-discrimination and religious freedom more broadly, Mr Shorten said the Australian Law Reform Commission is looking at “how we work out exemptions in the law that get the balance right between anti-discrimination laws and religious freedom.
“So we’ll work through that, if we’re elected, the government will sit down with with the churches, we’ll sit down with the lawyers, we’ll sit down with the law reform commission, we’ll just work through that issue as we should.”
Jenny Noyes is a journalist at the Sydney Morning Herald. She was previously a writer and editor at Daily Life.