SENATOR THE HONOURABLE CONCETTA FIERRAVANTI-WELLS

Transcript

ABC Illawarra (Radio), Melinda James

25th November 2021

SUBJECTS:

Religious Discrimination Bill, One Nation’s Anti-COVID Vaccination Mandate Bill, Preselection

 

E&O…

 

ABC Illawarra Radio Host, Melinda James:

We can certainly expect a lot of debate over the Religious Discrimination Bill that's being introduced to parliament today. Already we've been hearing of some concerns raised by various groups about what the Bill could mean. One of the most vocal supporters of, as I mentioned the Bill being put and the need for the Bill, is Illawarra based Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and I spoke to the Senator yesterday just a short time after she'd seen the Bill.

Senator The Honourable Concetta Fierravanti-Wells:

The issues in relation to religious discrimination should’ve been dealt with at the time of the same sex marriage debate, that’s what I advocated at the time. At that time, there was an issue and there were assurances given that religious freedom would be protected, but regrettably that didn’t happen. I think what this legislation now has been considerably watered down and so clearly, as we now progress to the next phase, which will likely be a detailed Senate process, which I think is a good thing because that will afford the opportunity for a whole lot of things to be looked at, to be discussed, to be considered, particularly in light of events in recent years and then ultimately we will see what the outcome will be.

Melinda James:

You seem to be saying you feel it has been watered down. What to the degree where you feel like you couldn’t support it if it remained in its current form?

Senator CFW:

Look, I think Melinda, ultimately, the test of whether this Bill provides adequate religious freedom will be ultimately a decision for faith leaders and their congregations. Faith leaders and their local faith leaders…

Melinda James:

But they won’t be the ones who are voting on the legislation and how it will look.

Senator CFW:

Well, ultimately Melinda, the issue becomes one where, whether those assurances have or haven’t been given, as I have said to you, at this point in time, the Bill has just come out, the Bill will go now through a very, very rigorous processed through the Senate as have other things. For example, when we were looking at the removal of the exemptions under the Sex Discrimination Act, we had two detailed Senate inquiries which demonstrated at the time overwhelmingly after we had gone through all the processes that the exemptions under the Sex Discrimination Act provided a very important framework and protections for religious schools. This is an important part of the process, and it is possible that through the Senate process there could be recommendations made in relation to potential amendments of the Bill. I’m not pre-empting anything, I’m just simply saying that this is a complex area of law which involves states, territory and commonwealth law and the intersection of all of that framework, and I would like to go through this process and hear what the reactions are I think before anyone can make a proper assessment.

Melinda James:

Can I go through a couple of the practical implications that some people have concerns about. One is maybe potentially compromising or inhibiting some peoples access to healthcare, be it abortion or contraception or as we’re seeing here in New South Wales, voluntary assisted dying being debated at the moment. How important you feel it is that this legislation does not in any way compromise peoples access to that sort of healthcare?

Senator CFW:

Well, I come back to the point that I made earlier Melinda and that is that when you say I'm going to protect your religious freedom, that encompasses the concepts of freedom of speech, of thought, of conscience and religion and how those rights coexist on equal footing with other rights. So, therefore, in the end, the adequacy or otherwise of this legislation to meet that threshold now needs to be properly examined and as I said before Melinda, this Bill has only just come out. I think it will be important now for faith leaders to have a look at this final Bill and whilst certainly in the past they’ve made indications that they've said that no Bill is better than a flawed Bill I’m not sure if that is their position now, but I think that they will want to make sure that all avenues are properly examined to ensure that Australians of faith are not going to have a situation where, if they do express views in relation to their faith that they're not going to be hauled up before a court or tribunal for expressing those thoughts and…

Melinda James:

If I can stop you there, what if expressing those views goes one step further and I know that the Prime Minister spoken about this and I haven't had a good chance to go through the Bill as yet, but for example, some of those potential consequences whereby maybe a religious school could for example, fire a gay teacher, not accept a gay student who has come out, maybe even religious run aged care facilities or hospitals could discriminate when hiring and potentially firing staff. Are they concerns of you that might come out of this Bill?

Senator CFW:

Well, Melinda as I said before, when you do have different rights that different people lay claim to, unless those rights sit on an equal footing, then you potentially do have issues, and this comes back to the point that I made earlier about the consolidation point. At the moment we have a situation, a framework which you have state, territory and Commonwealth discrimination law. Now, on top of that, you're now bringing in more federal law. Where does all this sit? You have series of silos which seek to protect people from being discriminated against, but I come back to the point in the end that unless you have….

Melinda James:

I’m just trying to work out whether you’re suggesting a hierarchy of rights or…

Senator CFW:

No, I’m just suggesting simply Melinda a consolidation of discrimination law in this country.

Melinda James:

Can I ask you something, we didn't get an opportunity to ask you about earlier this week. Can you explain why you decided to support and cross the floor on One Nation’s Anti- COVID Vaccination Mandate Bill on Monday?

Senator CFW:

Well, I have been consistent in raising concerns about mandatory vaccination and vaccination passports for as long as the issue is being mooted. The sheer multitude of emails and communications that I have received from the Australian public has prompted me to support this Bill. Can I just say, I'm not opposed to vaccination, I'm fully vaxxed. Indeed, I am the holder of an International Certificate of Vaccination having travelled extensively. As Minister for International Development in the Pacific, I've had to be vaccinated for a whole series of reasons, but as I said last year when people lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their businesses and the mental anguish that goes with that, they will certainly look for somebody to blame and I think that they will blame the politicians because a lot of the measures that have been imposed, often draconian measures, were imposed without the proper scrutiny, the proper parliamentary scrutiny that should have been given to many of these measures, but was not done so.

Melinda James:

And one final question we're looking at an election speculation is throwing March up as being a possible date, but we know it all happened before May. Will you be running again and if so, what spot do you hope to occupy in the Liberal Party ticket?

Senator CFW:

Well, I have indicated that I will be standing for preselection and that will be a matter for the preselectors. I'm so pleased that finally after 20 years, preselection’s in New South Wales with this federal election, it will be the first federal election that will be conducted by plebiscite. So, my preselectors will be all the state councillors, all the state council delegates and I'm very pleased, that's almost 800 people. So, it's not quite everyone in the New South Wales division, but it's a good compromise. So, I'll be putting forward my record to them and I hope to be pre-selected in one of the winnable positions.

Melinda James:

That is Illawarra based Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and the Bill, the Religious Discrimination Bill will of course be introduced to the parliament today by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison. There are reported this morning divisions within the Liberal Party room about the Bill and some of the more contentious aspects of it. Some of the most contentious aspects appear to have been removed from the Bill but I'm sure that plenty more debate to come.

[ends]

 

The above radio episode can be located at the following address:

 https://www.abc.net.au/radio/illawarra/programs/breakfast/breakfast/13638092

 

The episode runs for approximately 2.5 hours. 

The beginning of the interview can be located at: 2:18:00 (138 minutes after the start).