Interview with Jane Norman on ‘Capital Hill’ on ABC
25 November 2021
Subjects: Religious Discrimination Bill and Sex Discrimination Act
Jane Norman: Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg shares those concerns, and I caught up with him a short time ago.
Senator Bragg: Well, I don't think we need a separate process. The point is that there are people that are gay that are being sacked as teachers today in New South Wales and in Australia, and we should stop that. I mean, people shouldn't be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or their sexual preferences.
Jane Norman: So your message to the Prime Minister is get on with it?
Senator Bragg: Well, I just think we need to get on with this. If we're going to go there and we're going to say schools are going to have more say over who they hire, which I think is entirely defensible. We need to tidy up discrimination. You wouldn't sack someone because they were black or Jewish, but people are being sacked because they are gay.
Jane Norman: And what about kids? Can they be expelled at the moment because they're gay?
Senator Bragg: They can be. So at the moment, gay teachers and gay students are being discriminated against. And so if we are going to proceed on this path, I think we need to tidy this up as part of that process. It doesn't need to be a separate process. These are relatively simple amendments.
Jane Norman: To the Sex Discrimination Act?
Senator Bragg: To the Sex Discrimination Act, which we are proposing to amend with the bill that was introduced this morning.
Jane Norman: I mean, would you be so serious about this that you might withhold your vote on the religious discrimination bill, the one that was introduced today, until the changes that you want to made to the Sex Discrimination Act?
Senator Bragg: Well, let's see where we get to. My sense is that there will be some sort of parliamentary review of the legislation, as it should be. When that review takes place, people should put in their submissions to the review, and I would expect that people would say "Here is how you could easily amend the Sex Discrimination Act to end discrimination against teachers and students", as part of that process. I would hope that that could be considered as part of the amendments.
Jane Norman: Do you think that if the Prime Minister agreed to expedite these proposed changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to make sure that students and teachers cannot be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality, would that make moderates, including yourself, more favourable to voting in favour of the Religious Discrimination Act?
Senator Bragg: Well, I mean, I just think we can deal with these things together. I think the principle of allowing people to have freedom of religion is sound. I think we should allow these institutions to conduct themselves in accordance with their beliefs and ethos. That is fine. But equally, we shouldn't be allowing discrimination. Both issues are legitimate and they can be addressed at the same time. So that is what I think is a reasonable position for us to take.
Jane Norman: Does it shock you that in 2021, there are still schools in Australia that are sacking teachers because they're gay?
Senator Bragg: Well, I've met with a number of teachers. I've met with quite a few people in New South Wales who are religious and they've lost their job. They have lost their occupation because they are gay. Now they are teaching in accordance with the ethos and with the Scripture, for example. But they are gay. That is wrong.
Jane Norman: And are you worried that the Religious Discrimination Bill, the one that has just been introduced into Parliament could actually strengthen a school's ability to do that?
Senator Bragg: No, I don't think so, because part of the bill will require organisations to publicly display their policy on hiring. So I think that's a step in the right direction. But we need to end the discrimination, which is currently permissible under the Six Discrimination Act. So I think this is a relatively simple fix. It certainly doesn't need a four month timetable or extensive review. The amendments could be made to this bill that is currently before Parliament.
Jane Norman: Ok. Well, let's talk about religious freedoms. The PM has personally introduced the bill into Parliament this morning, fulfilling at this stage, an election commitment. What are your thoughts on the bill as it stands, do you support it?
Senator Bragg: Well, let's see. I mean, it's got to be a parliamentary review.
Jane Norman: What are your reservations?
Senator Bragg: Well, we just want to see how some of these novel clauses work, like their statement of belief. And I think it's important that the community is given an opportunity to have their say at public hearings and provide submissions and let's see where we get to. But in principle, I think a lot of the concepts are quite sound, but we need to see how they work out in the wash.
Jane Norman: Do you accept the Prime Minister's characterisation of the bill? That it is a shield to protect people from discrimination, as opposed to a sword which could then enable discrimination against other groups, particularly women, LGBTIQ community.
Senator Bragg: Well, I agree with the sentiment that we should be providing religious people with a shield. We should defend all people against discrimination. It is a detailed bill and needs to go to a parliamentary review. I think it's important that that happens. And then once that review has reported, then people can make a judgement based on all the evidence.
Jane Norman: So at this stage, you couldn't say whether you would absolutely vote for this bill?
Senator Bragg: Well, let's say we've got to go through the process.
Jane Norman: But it's been sort of several years since this was promised. We know there's been a lengthy consultation process. There's been several drafts to this bill. Does it surprise you that the bill that's been presented to Parliament now doesn't appease the moderates who are worried it goes too far and then goes on the Conservative side who are worried that it's been watered down too far?
Senator Bragg: Look, I'm not so big on the labels, but I think it is a reasonable proposition that this would go to a review. We can have a look at it in detail and then take it from there. The point I've made is if we are going to go into this realm, we need to address the issues that are longstanding and significant to people. I mean, we could really improve people's lives as part of this process if we ended the ability for schools to sack teachers just for being gay. I mean, I think that is extraordinary. That is happening today in Australia.
Jane Norman: Yeah, I think we can all agree on that one. Now, just quickly, before we finish up, you're in the Senate, you've got two Liberal colleagues there one in South Australia, one in Queensland who are threatening to withhold their vote on government legislation over the issue of state based vaccine mandates. What do you think of your colleagues paralysing the government's agenda?
Senator Bragg: Well, I think you'll find that those colleagues have provided the government with procedural support.
Jane Norman: Yeah, but not legislative. You can't pass any bills at the moment.
Senator Bragg: Look, it's not what I would do. I think if people have a genuinely held view about a proposed bill, or proposed law I should say, that is the appropriate way to express it through the internal channels, and that happens in our party. I do have to say we have a pretty healthy party. I mean, people do have a range of views. They're entitled to express them. I don't think this is the right approach, but I'm hoping that will come to an end soon.
Jane Norman: All right. Andrew Bragg, thanks for your time.
Senator Bragg: Okay. Thanks. Jane.