Antisemitism and Religious Freedom in Australia Adjournment

The Rise of Antisemitism

I too rise to share the concern about the rise in antisemitism around the world, including here in Australia.

I note, in the current context, where people are concerned about whether or not we’re on track to a two-state solution, that this week—in fact 14 May—marks the anniversary of the independence, the establishment of the State of Israel.

This was the first attempt at a two-state solution, and the immediate reaction of the surrounding nation-states was to attack the people of Israel. So when people say that history didn’t begin on 7 October, they are absolutely correct: antisemitism is centuries old.

We have seen, even through things like that action in 1948, the rejection by people about a state where Jewish people can live and feel secure. I reject all forms of antisemitism and the claims that the State of Israel is not legitimate.

Religious Freedom

I also note today that on Federation Mall, opposite the Parliament House’s forecourt, a tranche of signed postcards from concerned teachers, parents and students were delivered to Prime Minister Albanese. Those postcards call on the Prime Minister to honour his commitment to faith leaders that religious freedom protections ‘will not go backwards while I am the Prime Minister of Australia.’

These postcards were signed at sold-out town hall events in Brisbane, Sydney and Perth which were organised in response to the controversial recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission report into faith based schools.

The concern of these parents and teachers is that, if these recommendations are accepted by the government, they would in effect prevent Christian schools—in fact any faith based schools, but this group was representing the Christian-school sector—from employing or preferencing the employment of people who share their faith and their values, people who can teach and model the faith and values of the school.

The government has indicated that this is a report from the ALRC, that it’s not government policy, and that they will consider the advice of the report.

The concerning part, though, is that, after the report had been tabled, the report’s author, a justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Stephen Rothman, highlighted that, despite what the report says, religious employers at faith based schools need more legal protection in order to be able to adhere to their doctrines and to hire staff who share their values.

He said that they need a religious discrimination bill that provides a positive right to hire staff based on their ethos. It was refreshing to see this comment, because I have followed this debate closely and I was somewhat concerned to see the ALRC report, which stands in stark contrast to the comments of the previous president of the ALRC, Justice Derrington, who found in response to a similar terms of reference, as she was speaking to a gathered group of academics and lawyers operating in this space, that faith based schools do not discriminate when they act in accordance with their ethos.

So I found it hard to believe that the ALRC would come up with an almost diametrically opposed conclusion, saying that it was almost impossible to reconcile people adhering to their faith. But Justice Rothman went on to say that he was constrained by the terms of reference set by the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. He said:

If there weren’t the constraints associated with the report—

the ALRC report—

and you were looking at religious discrimination more generally, then they should have a positive right.

That was from Justice Rothman. What he has identified is that the approach that the government has taken, which has not been transparent, has also been constrained, and it has lost all legitimacy in the eyes of the Australian people.