News National Attorney-General puts faith-based hospitals and aged care legislation on agenda

Attorney-General puts faith-based hospitals and aged care legislation on agenda

Attorney-General Christian Porter with PM Scott Morrison in October. Photo: AAP
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Christian Porter wants faith-based hospitals and aged care homes to have the same rights as schools to hire and fire on the basis of religion.

The Attorney-General outlined the proposed change on Wednesday, arguing it would ensure aged care homes and hospitals can make staffing decisions to maintain “the religious ethos and culture of the organisation”.

Mr Porter suggested it was more about allowing positive discrimination, not banning religious workers from getting jobs.

“We don’t want people refused a job because they’re Catholic or Islamic faith or whatever their faith may be,” he told ABC TV.

“You need to have an exemption so that churches and religious organisations can prefer people over their own faith.

“The question is just how do you define a religious organisation? Everyone accepts schools are religious organisations.”

Mr Porter rejected any suggestion this would allow a hospital or aged care home to discriminate against a worker because they are gay.

“No. Because that’s not on a religious basis,” he said.

“The exemption is only an exemption to make a decision about an employee based on their faith. Not their sexuality, not their age, not the fact they might have a disability.

“Aged care providers at the moment, a religious aged care provider can employ people of its own religion. That happens now.”

The proposed changes follow consultations with faith-based hospitals and the aged care sector.

“But the hospitals and aged care facilities effectively said to us they don’t make decisions about admitting patients based on the patient’s faith.

“That’s not a matter that we’re giving an extension to. There might be other changes.”

Asked about his own religious beliefs, Mr Porter said that he was not a regular churchgoer, but a belief in a higher power was a good insurance policy.

“Do I believe in God? Sure. It’s very dangerous not to.”

The Attorney-General confirmed securing the passage of the laws would be tricky and he offered no expected timeline for the laws to secure parliamentary approval.

Mr Porter also flagged potentially ground-breaking reforms to treat social media giants Facebook and Twitter like any other publisher.

“After the very curious decision in Voller v Nationwide News and Ors which held that the respective media companies (not Facebook) were, for the purposes of defamation law, the ‘publishers’ of third-party comments posted to their public Facebook pages – it is clear that to have a level playing field between online publishers such as Facebook and Twitter and traditional media publishers reform in this area is very necessary,” he said.