In a Conservative group’s webinar, at a summit of church leaders and at an Anglican cathedral, Labor is asking for your vote.
Senator Kristina Keneally started this week in an unusual location – a Family Voice webinar. The Deputy Leader of the Labor Party in the Senate told the Conservative Christian group: ‘What guides Anthony [Albanese} is an understanding that we must work together of we are to move forward as one”, a central plank in Labor’s pitch for faith voters. “I strongly believe that people of faith have a place in the public square”, she added.
“Labor is asking Australians to choose a new direction for our country,” Keneally told the Family Voice audience. “And we are seeking renewal, not a revolution. Not a rejection of everything that has come before. but rather building a better future on those enduring values that have made Australia such a great country.”
Summarising Labor’s plans for an economy powered by renewable energy, and policies such as cheaper childcare, cherishing institutions like the ABC and SBS and guided by the Uluru Statement from the Heart, she added, “Indeed we seek a country where we bring good news to the poor and set the oppressed go free, where we strengthen families as the book of proverbs says ” starting children off in the way that they should go and even when they are old they will not turn from it. And we recognise that creation proclaims the glory of God and that we are commanded to care for it.”
“Will Labor support the Religious Discrimination Bill?” Family Voice’s Greg Bondar asked bluntly. (Eternity includes the Senator’s answer in full as this is a key issue for many readers.)
“We don’t have a final version of the bill; it is going to a Senate inquiry and a parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights,” Keneally said. “And what we have said is that we will await the conclusion of those two inquiries before we come down on a final position.
“But what we will do … is make clear the principles that will guide Labor’s consideration of the bill. So I might speak to those. And in doing so, say with the greatest of respect that the Prime Minister having promised a bill in 2018, then promising a bill in 2019, and now here we are in 2021 and with another iteration of the bill … Now I am not faulting the government for continuing to consult. I think it is important that they do. I have been part of those consultations. I have consulted with faith communities on this bill.
“I understand in previous iterations of this bill that faith communities and others in the community had objections to the legislation, and indeed sometimes they had the same objections to the legislation.
“But as these bills are now before the parliament and they go into these two committee inquiries, let me speak to those three principles that Labor will use to guide our consideration of the bill.
“One – and just as you have just read out from our platform – and as the International Covenant on Civil and political rights makes clear religious organisations and people of faith have the right to act in accordance with the doctrines, beliefs or teachings of their traditions of the air faith and subject only to the limitations that are necessary to protect public safety, morals, health or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. So that international covenant we hold is important and will be one of the key principles that guide our consideration of the bill.
“We also support the extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure that Australians are not discriminated against because of their religious beliefs or activities, just as the law currently does with discrimination on the basis of age, disability, race, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics and orientation.
“And again, consistent with the international covenant extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework in this way should not remove the protections that already exist in the law to protect Australians from other forms of discrimination.
“So those are the three principles that we have laid down and publicly made clear will guide our consideration of the bill.
“If I can say, Greg, again with the greatest of respect, because this is a difficult issue, and I don’t want it to become an object of division in the community, I don’t want it to become a political football.
“What I do fear is that our opponents might seek to make this a political argument in an election context. And I don’t think that serves religious communities, I don’t think it serves the broader community, and I certainly don’t think it serves the ends of good public policymaking.
“There is a bipartisan position to be reached here. If I could say there’s a fourth principle that guides us, this is best done on a bi-partisan basis for the whole of the community, and indeed I hope that the Government and Minister Cash next week [in a webinar that has now been postponed] stresses that they would like this to be a two-party process.
Bondar posed a sharp hypothesis: “I want to get a job at a Muslim school. I am Christian. But the Muslim school says that I cannot be employed because I do not respect their ethics and their doctrine. Do they have the right to refuse me to work in their school? “
“I would say they do,” replied the senator. “In the sense that a religious school has the right to specify what are its mission and its values. And currently has this right to male decisions based on hiring people capable of defending these values. Now, I’m not quite sure what Muslim schools may or may not look for in all the different types of positions they are hiring for. But let me move on to an example that I can speak to more clearly. I was a teacher in a Catholic school. My mother was a teacher in a Catholic school, and indeed my children and my husband attended Catholic schools. Some people told me that only religion teachers in religious schools should be of religious denomination. Well, why must a math teacher share the religious values of the school? Why, for example, the woman who works at the reception, the man who works in the cafeteria, the gardener, why do these people need to share religious faith?
What I know from my life and my experiences is that – and my understanding of Catholic schools – is that it is an ecosystem. It is a community of faith and values.
“Whether it is the sports coach who leads the prayers before going out on the basketball court, whether it is the head teacher – the head teacher – who has to take the children to the liturgy, the teacher who has to stay to take the children to sacramental preparation, all of those aspects, even the values that you live or profess as you interact, all of these things are inherent in the job.
“One of the issues that I would say that parliamentary inquiries need to address with the religious discrimination bill is this sense of what is inherent in the mission and values of an institution of a religious institution and how they are Religious institutions are able to give preference to people in employment who have and are engaged in a particular religious belief or activity.
“Provided that this preference is in good faith and in accordance with a policy accessible to the public. “
Now, I cannot tell you under this law how it plays out in the detail of the question you asked me. So these are the kinds of questions that need to be considered by parliamentary inquiries.
Keneally said she was disappointed her party removed the conscience vote from the issue of same-sex marriage because it sent the message that Labor was not welcoming to people of faith.
Keneally deftly answered Bondar’s question, but Labor, like the coalition, has yet to “square the circle” on how to give preference to schools for hiring and extend protections to LGBTIQ people.
Climate change summit
Labor leader Anthony Albanese was joined by Senator Keneally, Senator Deb O’Neill (who has been given special responsibility by Albanese to liaise with religious communities. Tony Burke, opposition director at the House of Representatives Chris Bowen, the shadow minister for climate change and a local, Werriwa MP Anne Stanley at a “Religious Leaders Climate Summit.”
The event drew a number of key religious leaders, including Sharon Hollis, President of the United Church, Robert Donaldson, Territorial Commander of the Salvation Army, and Rabbi Benjamin Elton, Chief Minister and Chief Rabbi of the Great Sydney Synagogue.
Professor Rae Dufty-Jones of Western Sydney University, who hosted the event, pointed out that federal electorates surrounding the Liverpool campus had rates of 70 or 80 percent of people with a religious faith. “West Sydney is religious, but its diversity is also important,” she said.
He described the work policy on climate change as “sensitive,” having 82% of electricity coming from renewables by 2030, with a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030. “That’s an example of using government as a unifying force for good, and at its core are the elements contained in the teachings of so many times – that the environment cannot be separated from those who live in it, and that we have a responsibility to him, ”using government as a unifying force for the common good.
“We are called to take care of the precious land for our own good and for the good of future generations,” he said.
This theme was echoed by Dr Elton, who gave a speech – in fact a sermon – quoting Leviticus 19:16 “You shall not stand idly by before the blood of your neighbor”, saying that “If your neighbor is going to die because of the changing climate, you have a responsibility to act. Quoting the Jewish exegesis of Genesis 1, he said that dominance over the earth is to be exercised responsibly “Dominance is meant to nurture, not to exploit.”
“It is not representative of Torah values to impose bondage; the world must be built on kindness.
Judging from this summit, climate change is one part of the Labor platform attractive to many people of faith.
at the cathedral
Eternity will update this story after Senator Deb O’Neill addresses a rally at St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Parramatta.