Thursday, 11 October 2018

 6PR Perth - Gareth Parker



Subjects: Religious Review; business tax cuts

INTERVIEWER: Joining us a little bit later in the morning on this Thursday: he has been traveling, but he's the Attorney-General, Christian Porter.

Christian, good morning.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Good morning, Gareth. Sorry, yeah, just off of a plane.

GARETH PARKER: No, we appreciate you making some time for us. I don't want to talk about the cricket because that's too ugly for words but…

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I think what it does is it all gives us a great hope for the future that our kids can grow up and play test cricket….

GARETH PARKER: That's true. That is true.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Gotta find a silver lining to this.

GARETH PARKER: I think that's right. Hey look, there's quite a bit to talk about, particularly this Religious Freedom Review. There's been, I think, an awful lot of confusion in the community, largely because some of the early reporting of it yesterday was, appeared to me to be wrong. But, can I just ask you straight-out; does the Government want to make it easier or more difficult for schools to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well it shouldn't be more easier than it is at the moment. I mean, the headline in one of the papers yesterday was: secret plan for laws to reject gay students. Obviously, the Ruddock Review has not been released in full but I think I can say, given that headline, what it doesn't do, and what it certainly does not do is advocate for any further ability for schools to make decisions about employment or the student admissions around issues of sexuality or things of that nature. It doesn't recommend any greater powers than those that exist at the moment. I can say that completely safely and completely accurately.

GARETH PARKER: Well, should school, and there's a range of views on this; what's you view? Should schools be able to reject a teacher or a student on the basis that they are gay?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: So that ability, at a federal level at least, has existed since 2013 and it was brought in by the Labor government before it left office in 2013. I think it depends on who you ask to be honest, Gareth. I mean, I'm not an overly religious person, I have to say. My church-going is not what it should be, but there are two competing groups of rights here, if you like, and what we're trying to do. And what any government tries to do is strike the best balance between those two competing groups of right. And on the one hand are the rights of students or people employed at a school not to have decisions made about employment or admission to the student body based on matters of gender or race or sexuality or things of this nature. And, of course, then there are the rights of people who organise themselves in organised religious groups, including schools, to have their schools run and operate in a way which is consistent with their religious beliefs, often beliefs that are literally 1000 years old. So, answering what's perfectly fair or not perfectly fair when you've got those two groups of rights in competition is very difficult and it will depend on who you ask as to what the best balance is.

GARETH PARKER: Well what if I ask you?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I think that the balance that we've got at the moment probably could do with a little bit of fine tuning, but I don't think that, and it's not recommended, that the balance be shifted further towards schools being able to discriminate. That's …

GARETH PARKER: Okay, so you think it should be fine-tuned towards non-discrimination for people who are gay?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I think that the reality is that this ability for schools to make decisions about employment or make decisions about their student body in a way that's consistent with the tenets of their religion exists. It's existed for some time. I don't think that there's a huge groundswell view that that should not exist for religious schools. I mean, that's part of what religious schools are. But how they exercise that ability to operate and to use exemptions in existing discrimination law, I think is a valid question and whether or not that can be a little bit more regularised and have a little bit more process wrapped around it.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. What about this for a proposition: that a religious school and I don't care what religion it is, but a religious school can discriminate against anyone it chooses to discriminate against, but if it does so it doesn't receive one cent of taxpayer funding?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well again, I'm not sure that I would agree with that. I mean, there are bases on which schools can make decisions about hire-and-fire or student bodies at the moment, but those decisions are not able to be made limitlessly. So the way that this structure works is that antidiscrimination acts, in this case it's usually the Sex Discrimination Act, says that it's prima facie unlawful to discriminate on a range of bases, and these acts have then always had exemptions or exceptions to that position. And one of those longstanding exceptions has been religious bodies and religious schools, amongst many others, and that's been a very consistent structure. Now no one has ever suggested, for instance, that a religious school which provides great education shouldn't receive taxpayer funding because it makes some decisions consistent with its own doctrine and its tenets and the fundamentals of its faith in a fair way, in a process-driven way and in a transparent way. I don't think that anyone's really ever suggested that seriously.


CHRISTIAN PORTER: I mean, what you'd be doing is defunding religious schools of taxpayer money because they are religious schools.

GARETH PARKER: Well if they, I mean, there is religious schools who don't discriminate on the basis, they allow gay students, they allow gay teachers and it's a hypothetical scenario but it's one that's been put by some, including Senator Derryn Hinch. If you said exactly that proposition I put to you, there would be very many schools who would continue on, on a religious basis, and have no change at all.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Yeah well that may be the case, but you had an instance in Western Australia recently with a Baptist school making a decision around employment, and now that is a decision that they believe they're making consistent with the tenets and doctrine of their religion. Now, the idea that you would simply defund a Baptist school because of the fact that it was acting in a way which was consistent with the tenets of its Baptist religion, I don't think that is a very viable long-term proposition in terms of finding that right balance between the rights of students, the rights of people employed at schools, and the rights of religious schools to operate in a way consistent with their religion.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, okay. So, this whole issue was sort of, this review was commissioned as part of the same-sex marriage debate, lest we forget. It was almost seen as something…a bone to throw to some of the social conservatives who weren't in favour of same-sex marriage progressing. Is it caused, that decision sort of kicked the issue down the road into touch; has it just caused another headache? I mean, are you actually going to release the review in full? Are you going to act upon its recommendations?

CHRSTIAN PORTER: Most certainly. So, the review will be released in full, and I think the Prime Minister indicated today that will happen well before the end of a year, and our plan has always been because of the fact that this is a difficult and finely balanced area where rights compete against each other, that you would need to release the report with a full document setting out what the Government's response to each of the recommendations in the report is, which I think is the best approach. That obviously has taken some time because these matters are not uncomplicated. They involve a range of drafting as well as a range of decisions that are made on principle in the first instance. So, you've got to release the report with its response at the same time. The Government will do that.

But I don't, I must say, having obviously the benefit of having read the report and having gone through a lot of the submissions to the process in some detail; it's not an overly exciting report, I'd have to say. And this is probably an area where you don't want too much excitement. But many of the submissions throughout the process that Philip Ruddock and his committee undertook; many of the submissions went to two issues; one was the ability of parents to make informed decisions to withdraw their child from a period of tuition of a school if they thought what was being taught was contrary to that particular family's religious doctrine or faith or the tenets of their belief.

And another issue arose, which was to this effect; many people submitted that we have antidiscrimination legislation based on attributes of age, of sex, of race, of disability, but we don't have one for the attribute of religion. And so submissions were put very strongly that if we have legislation through antidiscrimination structures that protect people from discrimination based on their age or their race or their sex or a disability, that it's only fair that you also have adequate protection for people because of the fact that they're expressing a religious point of view. Again, I don't think that's a particularly controversial submission, but the devil is always in the detail as to how you draft those.

GARETH PARKER: So is it likely that a Coalition Government brings forward an anti-religious discrimination bill?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, I'm not going to get into what the recommendations may or may not be, or what our response will be. That will all become very, very clear in the not too distant future. But of course, what I can say is that that was something that many people submitted in favour of during the course of the Ruddock Review. I'd also make the comment that the type of structure where you define an attribute such as age or race and then you protect people from discrimination on the basis of that attribute: so you say that the person can't be discriminated in terms of entry into a profession or entry into a premises because of their age or sex or their race, that's a very well-known way of protecting rights in Australia, and why you would not think that that would be a good way to protect religion? I'm not sure, I think it would be something that you could do.

GARETH PARKER: Okay. I think we can read the tealeaves.

Before I let you go, are you trying to wedge Bill Shorten on tax?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, we're trying to make sure that small businesses get to keep more of their money and reinvest it in their own business. So the bringing forward, if you like, of the 25 percent tax rate, it benefits business. So like, in WA the example I could give to your listeners is a small business was running an independent supermarket or a pub and they had, like, a turnover of, a profit of about $500,000 a year; what this would mean for them is that on top of the previous benefits that they'd get they'd have an extra $20,000 of their own money in their own pocket over the two-year period. And what we know about small business is they very, very often reinvest that in the business. They employ more people, so…

GARETH PARKER: ….and that's good. Wouldn't it be a better idea to actually get the balance, or the budget back into balance for a sustained period of time, pay down some debt before you start giving it all back?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, because we have been doing the right thing, because we've been restraining expenditure, not the least of which has been restraining welfare expenditure growth, we're very confident that we can get back into surplus next year. We're very confident that that surplus will be sustainable and at the same time you can deliver benefits to small business. The one point here, Gareth, is that Labor seems to take a view that you can't decrease a tax rate and let people keep more of their own money, and also increase revenue. The point about giving decreased tax rates for small business is that they get to keep more of their own money that they work hard for and they reinvest it and grow their business. And when there is more business employing more people it generates more revenue. So, it is a sustainable position to grow the economy and thereby grow revenue, and to do that by decreasing tax for small business. That's how you make sustainable surpluses, we would argue. And I think it's been proved positive because we're going to be the first government in a very long time to deliver one.

GARETH PARKER: Alright, we'll wait and see. Appreciate your time.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Okay, thanks Gareth. Cheers.

GARETH PARKER: Christian Porter, the Attorney-General.