Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Shadow Attorney-General

Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations

Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

Senator for Western Australia


14 APRIL 2024


Prime Minister Anthony Albanese must make a series of major changes to his Government’s proposed religious discrimination laws to address the severe concerns of Australian faith leaders that the controversial package of legislation will be a backwards step for religious schools and communities.

Shadow Attorney-General Senator Michaelia Cash said: “I have consulted widely with faith leaders across the country in the past few weeks and what is apparent from the feedback of those leaders who have been consulted by the Government is that they do not support the bills as proposed.’’

“They have raised numerous areas of concern with me and want the government to make changes,’’ Senator Cash said.

“For example, faith leaders have consistently told me that the Federal laws would be irrelevant if they do not afford protections from State and Territory laws that seek to erode religious freedoms,’’ she said.

“The Prime Minister should guarantee that religious schools are able to ensure that their staff members’ conduct and behaviour adheres to the school’s religious ethos,’’ Senator Cash said.

“Hundreds of thousands of Australian families choose to educate their children in faith-based schools, and that choice ought to be respected,’’ Senator Cash said.

“It is worrying that the Government seems inclined to adopt changes that would leave religious schools with a potentially huge and ongoing exposure to litigation risk,’’ she said.

“It is even more worrying that they seem intent on doubling down on these changes byputting forward legislation that ensures that, in almost all cases, schools will end up paying for the costs of that litigation. These costs will inevitably be passed on to parents.’’ Senator Cash said.

“Faith leaders have clearly told us how their ability to educate in accordance with their faith is being cut away, slice by slice, by state and territory governments – and that this affects not only their places of worship but their ability to build communities based on clear values in the thousands of faith-based schools across Australia,’’ she said.

“It is gravely concerning that the Government seems prepared to wash its hands of this issue. It has given no indication it will adopt any type of positive protections that might address these concerns,” Senator Cash said.

“To the contrary, the Government has indicated it will move away from the positive language that it previously supported in Parliament when it voted on the Coalition’s 2022 Bill. Instead, it appears set on dealing with religion almost as an “exception” to discrimination laws. This has been a long-term issue for faith leaders, who do not see freedom of a religion as a mere exception, but instead as a fundamental human right that is protected under international law,’’ she said.

“It is time for Mr Albanese to release his religious discrimination legislation for public scrutiny and stop trying to govern behind closed doors. Australians deserve better,’’ Senator Cash said.