Public invited to have say on faith laws

Public hearings will be held on proposed laws to protect people expressing religious beliefs.
Public hearings will be held on proposed laws to protect people expressing religious beliefs.

The public can have their say about the federal government's bid to shield religious Australians from existing anti-discrimination laws.

Public hearings are scheduled for December 21, and January 13 and 14, into the contentious coalition bill providing protections to people expressing their religious beliefs.

It also allows religious schools and organisations to hire staff based on faith.

This is designed to override proposed legislation in Victoria to limit faith-based hiring to situations where such beliefs go to the core of the job.

The federal religious discrimination bill will be scrutinised by MPs and senators from across the political aisle as part of parliament's human rights committee.

Following a partyroom meeting, Labor has indicated it would not adopt a final position on the bill until the parliamentary committee has completed its inquiry.

However, should the government bring on a vote on the legislation in the lower house, the opposition agreed to not oppose the bill, but would reiterate the party's concern about the need to protect LGBTI children from discrimination.

Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus told the caucus it was concerning only three hearings of the committee had been scheduled, making the inquiry process difficult.

He also expressed concerns about limits on submissions.

The committee is accepting submissions until December 21 and is also developing an online survey.

Only submissions from organisations and academics will be published, not correspondence from individuals.

"Please be aware that the committee may choose not to accept or not to publish a submission that contains a statement that incites hatred or violence or vilifies certain groups," the committee said.

It also warned it would not publish material that "reflects adversely on another party" and includes allegations of incompetence, negligence or corruption.

The committee is due to report back to the government on February 4.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the government would not be making changes to the process or the bill.

"I have introduced it. I have set it out. We're seeking to take that through the parliament."

Dr Karen Price, president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, said concerns remained about the potential impact on the delivery and access to some health services.

"The proposed law could compound negative community attitudes toward those most vulnerable including minority groups and the LGBTQI+ community, as well as those in rural areas with fewer health services available," she said.

"These impacts must be properly understood before the bill is brought to a vote."

Australian Associated Press