Thursday, 29 August 2019

Doorstop Sydney



Subjects: Religious discrimination bill

CHRISTIAN PORTER: … (start missing) what we would do is do what is effectively the status quo in Australia which is to preserve as great a possible the ability to speak freely on religious matters as was reasonable in the circumstances. But ultimately if someone made a complaint on such matters, that would be adjudicated firstly by the Australian Human Rights Commission who try and conciliate those types of claims. But ultimately if that conciliation did not occur it would go to a court.

Journalist: I think there has been a lot of obviously the most recent example is the case of Rugby Australia and Folau and you used this example in your speech. Would it mean that Rugby Australia would need to experience brand damage and financial hardship as a result of Mr Folau’s comments and therefore argue that it was appropriate to sack him?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I think the important starting point there is to conceive of who it was or would be might complain in those situations and what they would be complaining of. So conceivably an employee who was subject to some rule or condition from the employer and where that employee lost their job or was otherwise disciplined or acted upon by the employer, that person under this provision at section 8 which deals with indirect discrimination could complain. In response to that complaint, what we are saying is that a large company with a turnover of over $50 million to establish that there rule was reasonable would have to show commercial damage to their organisation that was achieved by the breach. So as I said in these circumstances, someone in Mr Folau’s position might say that the rule under which they were sacked was unreasonable indirect discrimination and the employer would need to argue that the law was reasonable. But to do that they would also have to show that the commercial damage to their organisation that was suffered by the breach.

Journalist: It is relatively easy to define race or gender but how do you define religious belief in that context.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: So the definition of religious belief that appears in section 5 of the act talks about someone who adheres to a religious belief, but it also talks about someone who does not adhere to a religious belief. So the purpose of the Act is to ensure that someone can’t be discriminated against in their employment context for example because they are a Catholic or because they are Jewish, or indeed they do not subscribe to any particular religion. So those definitions are fairly well trodden on in terms of the Australian law.

Journalist: So does this essentially mean that Folau would not have been able to be sacked because we did not see any actual harm to Rugby Australia?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I can’t say what a potential case under this potential provision might ultimately decide but what I can say is that no doubt Mr Folau would argue that the condition that said he could not speak in this sort of fashion outside of work was unreasonable. To establish that the condition was reasonable, Rugby Australia would have to show the commercial damage done to them by Mr Folau’s words.

Journalist: On something like homophobia isn’t that a difficult thing to prove?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well, there must be reason why large organisations have rules that prevent people from expressing themselves in their spare time on religious or other matters and my understanding is that large organisations say that there are potential things that might be said that could damage their brand and cause commercial loss. Well that is a reasonable basis for having a rule that prevents someone from saying something in their spare time, but you should have to show what that loss is to establish the reasonableness of that law.

Journalist: Can I ask you in relation to Mohamad Hassam Al Bayati, he is the Iraqi citizen convicted earlier this week on the assault of a three year old girl, I understand that the government is saying you will deport him as soon as that sentence is up. Why is that necessary?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I am not familiar with each and every circumstance of the offending by my understanding is that individual falls into the category of someone who is here on a visa, it may be a protection visa. We have regularly and consistently said this as a government: if you commit serious offences in Australia and you are here on a Visa, we will cancel that Visa and send you back.

Journalist: You saw that vision; it is quite difficult to watch isn’t it?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: It is appalling. There are many many terrible offences that occur in Australia where a person was on a visa and the consistent position of this Government – and it is a different position from the previous Labor Government – is we cancel those visas for those offenders and they leave Australia.

Journalist: Some of the leaders here today have expressed concern about the consultation process and given the thoroughness of the final legislation, further consultation might not allow substantial changes to the legislation. What do you make of those concerns?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well the point of consultation is to ensure that the legislation is right and fit for purpose and I have no doubts that there will changes of different types to the legislation as a result of the consultation. But of course equally to make consultation meaningful we wanted to produce a draft that covers all of the issues that legislation of this type has to cover. So this is the start of the process today and it will be a genuine substantial consultation process that will be by written submission. I will travel around Australia to speak directly with faith leaders and other groups representing human rights organisations and other groups representing stakeholders in our society.

But this is not set in stone by any stretch. That is the nature of a consultation process to hear what people say and will modify and change drafting as is necessary.

Journalist: Mr Porter some religious groups have boycotted this speech today because they say they have not been consulted enough today. Have you experienced much blow back?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: No I haven’t. For those present today we had representation of very broad faith traditions from right across Australia here today. There was one person in the Australia today who said they were not going to come because they wanted more consultation up to this point, but this is the point at which consultation with faith groups really starts in earnest. And what we have worked hard to do in a process that started with the Ruddock review and also involved internal consultation among my parliamentary colleagues was to produce a complete and fulsome draft that forms the basis for consultation.

Journalist: Have you briefed the Opposition on the Bill so far?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Not to date but of course we will be doing that very shortly and I expect there will be a degree of bi-partisanship, firstly around the need for this legislation and second around its general structure. But of course the input we get from the Shadow Attorney-General and the Opposition on particular drafting will be listened to very carefully.

Journalist: What about the concerns in your own party room. Do you think this will be enough to ease those concerns?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: So I have conducted almost two months worth of consultations with my parliamentary colleagues and I must say they are as good a consultations within a political party which is of itself a broad church can get. Ultimately not everybody is going to be satisfied with every single provision in a 60 page bill. But generally speaking the consultations have been very positive and the bill that has been produced today represents those consultations and the input from my parliamentary colleagues has been very positive.

Journalist: Would you support Witness K getting legal aid to cover his case?

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I’m not aware whether there is or not an application but those applications have a process that refers to them and if the application was in accordance with the rules then I do not see why that would not be the case.

Journalist: In regard to witness K, how do you respond to claims from East Timor that Australia needs to back off or risk the relationship with East Timor.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: Well I’m not sure if I would describe what has been said in precisely those terms but I followed independent advice from the DPP and indeed there were several layers of independent legal advice that were all pointing in the same direction. There is a statutory requirement for me to consent to those prosecutions which I did. That is the due process of Australian law and that due process was followed and opinions of people overseas or elsewhere who might prefer another outcome does not bear on that process.

Journalist: Just on the detention of Dr Yang in China, do you feel that he should be free and it is trumped up charge.

CHRISTIAN PORTER: I do not have information about the nature of the charge or what occurred before or after, but our concern with any Australian citizen who is arrested pursuant to an overseas charge in an overseas jurisdiction is to ensure that they get all the assistance they need in those particular circumstances. I’m not in a position to comment otherwise about the veracity of the charges.

Ok? Thanks everyone