The timing of an inquiry into the government’s contentious religious freedom bill has been called into question after public hearings were listed to occur over the holiday period.
A joint parliamentary review into the proposal was agreed to following concerns of several MPs and community groups about the legislation.
Three years after first promising the bill, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the legislation to parliament last week, promising it would be “sword, not a shield”.
But the deputy chair for the committee reviewing the legislation has now raised concerns about how the inquiry is set to be conducted.
“This is complex legislation that engages many human rights. It is vitally important that all stakeholders and every individual who is concerned about this legislation should have the opportunity to be heard,” Labor MP Graham Perrett said.
Camera IconDeputy chair Graham Perrett has raised the alarm over when the inquiry is scheduled to have hearings. Credit: News Corp Australia, Gary Ramage
“Labor members of the committee, while welcoming the opportunity to hear diverse views, have concerns about the process imposed on this committee, including the timing of the referral and the short time frame to hold hearings and report back to parliament.”
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is now seeking submissions from the community, with a due date of December 21.
But potential participants have been told the committee will only accept submissions that relate to the religious discrimination bill, not religious exemptions to discrimination laws such as the Sex Discrimination Act.
“The committee has resolved that it will accept submissions strictly addressing its terms of reference: that is, relating to the religious discrimination legislative package,” it said in a statement.
Public hearings for the committee are set to be held at Parliament House on December 21, and January 13 and 14.
Camera IconThe legislation has been three years in the making. Credit: News Limited
Mr Perrett said the fact the dates aligned with the holiday period has left Labor questioning if people will be more concerned with spending time with family over appearing before the committee.
“It is particularly concerning for this inquiry, as important religious events including Hanukkah and Christmas occur during this time, and many people, whether religious or not, will be focused on spending time with family rather than writing submissions for this inquiry.”
The inquiry is set to report back to the parliament on February 4.Internet Explorer Channel Network