Multi-faith leaders have secured a bipartisan commitment to be able to pray and preach on matters of sexuality under proposed laws banning so-called gay conversion therapy after NSW Labor leader Chris Minns vowed to protect their rights under any new legislation.
Less than one week after extracting the same pledge from Premier Dominic Perrottet, a forum of religious community leaders was assured by Minns that bans on damaging conversion practices would not impinge on their religious freedom.
Gay conversion practices are considered harmful and can range from celibacy support groups to repress same-sex attraction, to faith-based groups referring people to clinicians known to provide psychotherapy, pharmacological and aversion therapies.
“Taking offence at the teachings of a religious leader will not be banned, expressing a religious belief through sermon will not be banned, and an individual, with their own consent, seeking guidance through prayer will not be banned either,” he said on Monday night.
Minns added that any new legislation would focus on protecting young people, insisting he would not transpose legislation that is “too broad” from states like Victoria, but would pursue his own bill.
“We believe that we can thread the needle, if you like, to make sure that young people who are in that position are not damaged as a result.”
Minns told the multi-faith forum Labor would commit $15 million to improve safety and security at religious institutions, schools and community centres, upping the Coalition’s $10 million election promise last week.
Accompanied by senior members of his frontbench, including deputy leader Prue Car and treasury spokesman Daniel Mookhey, Minns said a future Labor government would make religious vilification unlawful by amending the Anti-Discrimination Act within 100 days of taking office.
‘We believe that we can thread the needle … to make sure that young people who are in that position are not damaged as a result’
NSW Labor leader Chris Minns
It would also establish a premier’s racism and extremism prevention panel to respond to growing safety concerns among faith groups and culturally diverse communities in NSW, to stamp out racial and religious bullying and hate crimes.
The panel would include representatives from police, NSW Health, Department of Education, Communities and Justice and Family and Community Services.
Minns highlighted rising rates of Islamophobia, anti-semitism and attacks on Hindu communities as pressing examples of intolerance and violence he was committed to stamping out.
“The most recent report on Islamophobia in Australia analysed 247 verified incidents over a 24-month period. It found eight in 10 victims were women, and of these women, 85 per cent were wearing a hijab at the time,” he said.
Spokesman for the Australian National Imam’s Council Bilal Rauf welcomed Labor’s commitment to fight discrimination, urging action to target anti-Muslim sentiment, particularly towards women.
Chief executive of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies Darren Bark welcomed the targeted funding to address extremism, with rates of anti-semitic and other faith-based hate incidents the highest NSW has ever seen.
“Fighting hate is everyone’s responsibility and requires a whole-of-government response to combat this scourge,” he said.
Religious leaders on Monday also sought assurances from Minns that he would ensure faith-based schools can choose their own staff and teach in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Minns said he was awaiting the outcomes of the recent Law Reform Commission report regarding proposed changes to the federal Sex Discrimination Act and related legislation, but did not expect proposed changes to prevent religious schools from being able to recruit from their own parish.
The religious forum was held in Parramatta, a key western Sydney electorate Labor hopes to pick up in the March 25 poll, with the retirement of sitting Liberal MP Geoff Lee. It is held on a margin of 6.3 per cent.
Perrottet addressed an equivalent multi-faith forum last week, where he also gave assurances to religious leaders that he would not use a ban on so-called gay conversion “therapy” to infringe the right to pray and preach on matters pertaining to sexuality.
The premier had earlier promised in-principle support for laws to ban harmful gay conversion practices, bowing to pressure from key Independent MP Alex Greenwich, who warned the issue would be essential to securing his support in a minority government.
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