Prime Minister Scott Morrison said employers should respect the religious faith of their workers as he flagged new laws that could make it harder to sack someone like rugby player Israel Folau.
The PM on Monday night said he was loath to comment on the Folau case, which he noted would be determined on the laws of the day, but he indicated greater protections were required.
Rugby Australia sacked Folau over social media posts in which he said gays, fornicators and adulterers will “go to hell”.
He has subsequently raised $2 million from a crowdfunding campaign to fight his sacking on religious freedom grounds.
Mr Morrison was asked if the new laws would make it harder to sack the rugby player and responded by saying there was “a gap” in existing laws.
“I think it’s important, ultimately, that employers have reasonable expectations of their employees, and that they don’t impinge on their areas of private practice and private belief or private activity,’’ Mr Morrison told the ABC’s 7.30.
“There’s a balance that has to be struck in that, and our courts will always ultimately decide this based on the legislation that’s presented.
“Now that matter I’m loath to make further comment on, because that matter will be finding its way through the courts … and that will be done based on the existing legislative framework.
“We’re looking at a religious discrimination act, which I think will provide more protections for people because of their religious faith and belief in the same way that people of whatever gender they have or sexuality or what nationality or ethnic background or the colour of their skin – they shouldn’t be discriminated against.
“There is a gap when it comes to expressions of religious faith.”
The comments are significant because Mr Morrison has dodged questions on the issue, saying it had “enough oxygen”.
During the election campaign, Mr Morrison had suggested in the final debate he was not necessarily opposed to the Folau sacking if he had breached the terms of his contract.
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Mr Morrison was asked on Monday night if it was acceptable that if a public figure said, for example, that Jews are going to hell, they would be rightly and roundly condemned for that, so why should a Christian be able to say gays are going to hell?
“Well, again, I mean, the issue is making sure you get the balance right in the legislation, which respects the same principle of anti-discrimination as applies to many other cases,” Mr Morrison said.
“Religious freedom is a core pillar of our society. And it’s not unreasonable. And I think there are many millions of Australians who would like to see that protected, and I intend to follow through on that commitment.”
Mr Morrison did not provide a timeframe for the passage of the legislation but said it would be introduced this year.
“Right now, we’re putting our finishing touches on that, and an important part of that process is consulting with my colleagues,’’ he said.
“We’ll be introducing that legislation this year, but the first step is to consult with our parliamentary colleagues. And then I’m very keen to engage the opposition in that process as well. I’m catching up with the Leader of the Opposition this week.’