Religion must not divide Australians: PM

Government backbenchers will be given the chance to shape new laws protecting religious freedoms but the prime minister has warned it must not divide Australia.

PM Scott Morrison (R) and wife Jenny meet the clergy.

PM Scott Morrison (R) says he does not want religion to be an issue that divided Australians. (AAP)

The prime minister wants Australians' right to religious freedom to be protected but cautioned it must unite people, not divide them.

The federal government has officially given notice of its intention to pursue new religious discrimination laws.

It intends to make it unlawful to discriminate against people on the grounds of their religious beliefs or activities, or lack thereof.

This would be achieved through amendments to existing marriage, charities and anti-discrimination legislation.

Scott Morrison told the coalition party room on Tuesday he did not want religion to be an issue that divided Australians.

"It's deeply personal for many people," he said.

He wants his party to develop the laws "in a manner to achieve enhanced unity, not for any political purposes".

The new Religious Discrimination Act is earmarked to be introduced by the end of this year.

Government backbenchers will be given the chance to shape it through a series of workshops with the attorney-general starting later this week.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann insists protecting people's right to religious freedom is a pressing priority.

But he declined to offer an example of what he wants religious observants to be able to say or do, which they cannot already.

"I do believe it's a pressing issue to protect Australia's right to religious freedom," Senator Cormann told ABC News on Tuesday.

However, the minister refused to answer further questions on the topic, insisting his focus was on shepherding income tax cuts through parliament this week.

"The prime minister and others have made very clear that this is something that we will pursue through legislation by the end of this year," he said.

"At the right time, the attorney-general will obviously explain all of the ins and outs of what we're proposing to do.

When the Labor caucus discussed the issue on Monday, Labor leader Anthony Albanese told colleagues it was important to have respect for all people regardless of where they live, the faith they hold or who they love.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus told the meeting consultation was continuing but the party had yet to see the government's proposed laws.

Prominent gay rights activist Rodney Croome is concerned by the development.

"Amending existing marriage, charities and discrimination laws to allow 'religious freedom' can only mean more discrimination against LGBTI people and others who fall foul of traditional religious precepts," he tweeted.

3 min read
Published 2 July 2019 at 3:12pm
Source: AAP