Government says religious freedom laws will be a 'shield' not 'sword'

The government has flagged a new religious discrimination act that reflects other anti-discrimination laws such as those covering age, race and disability.

Attorney-General Christian Porter.

Attorney-General Christian Porter. Source: AAP

Australia's proposed religious discrimination laws will act as a "shield" to protect people rather than a "sword", Attorney-General Christian Porter says.

"The laws will protect people from being discriminated against, but will not give them a licence to discriminate against other people," Mr Porter said, following a federal cabinet meeting in Canberra on Tuesday.

He said what the government aimed to deliver was rightly described by Anglican Public Affairs Commission chairwoman Carolyn Tan on Tuesday as being a "shield" against discrimination and not a "sword".

Scott Morrison last week.
Source: AAP

The draft laws will be released before federal parliament returns on September 9, with the government aiming to pass the bill by the end of the year.

"The draft bill will deliver a religious discrimination act that reflects other existing anti-discrimination laws, such as those covering age, race and disability," Mr Porter told AAP.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is separately looking at religious exemptions to discrimination laws, with a report due in early 2020.

The commission wants to ensure existing legislative exemptions to discrimination based on a person's identity are limited or removed, while also protecting the right of religious institutions to conduct their affairs in a way consistent with their religious ethos.

Labor says it will support modest changes to anti-discrimination laws to protect people of faith, but not broad-ranging reforms.

Labor frontbencher Stephen Jones said the right to practice faith should be protected, but the government should ensure there were no unintended consequences in the law changes.

"If the government has got some proposals which modestly protect faith communities and people of faith from the sorts of discrimination we would all find abhorrent, that would have our support," he said.

He cautioned against the idea of exempting religious groups from defamation law, which has been floated by some government members.

Published 20 August 2019 at 10:20am, updated 20 August 2019 at 7:17pm