Equality Australia’s legal spokesperson Lee Carnie said the amendments appeared to be similar to those proposed by then-treasurer Scott Morrison and Liberal MP Andrew Hastie during the parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage, but which were voted down.
“In 2017, the Australian community legitimately and overwhelmingly voted for marriage equality. It’s clear to us that these amendments are payback.”
Carnie said LGBTIQ+ advocates were particularly worried the old definition of marriage could be put back into Commonwealth legislation and “undermine marriage equality by stealth, using technical legal detail”. They noted there could be a neutral way of drafting the protection that did not spell out the old definition of marriage but still give all charities protection to advocate for law reform.
Mr Porter first flagged the omnibus bill at the end of 2018, when the government responded to the Ruddock review. The review, commissioned by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull during the marriage equality debate, found that religious freedom in Australia was not in “imminent peril”. But it also said the protection of belief or faith required “constant vigilance” and recommended some legislative changes.
The Ruddock review noted advice from the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission that it was “unlikely” a charity would lose its charitable status for advocating the old definition of marriage. But the ACNC also said a “legislative provision … would put the matter beyond doubt”. The review also said religious schools should be treated like other religious bodies, and therefore not required to make their facilities available for same-sex weddings on religious grounds.
Late last year, Mr Porter said he would “immediately” work on a general omnibus bill to fix “some problems across the statutory landscape”.
“The types of things that are recommended here, I don’t expect will be particularly contentious.”
In recent weeks, Mr Porter has been briefing government MPs on the outline of the proposed religious discrimination bill. The most recent meeting was held in Melbourne on Friday. The Attorney-General has described this bill as following the “standard architecture of discrimination acts,” which already exist in Australia for race, sex, disability and age.
A spokesman for Mr Porter said broader consultations with religious, community and business groups would take place in the coming weeks. Mr Porter has not yet specified when the religious discrimination bill will be introduced to Parliament, but it is expected well before the end of the year.