Former Prime Minister and current federal Labor backbencher Kevin Rudd received a rapturous reception when he addressed an interfaith dialogue in Ingle Farm in Adelaide’s north today.
FamilyVoice Australia research officer Ros Phillips and communications officer Jasmine Yow were there, along with about 200 others in the packed meeting room.
“People of many faiths and no faith were represented, and there was a great spirit of goodwill,” Ros Phillips said. “One person said Mr Rudd should still be Prime Minister, and the room erupted in loud applause.
“Other questions from the audience were mostly about tolerance, being good Samaritans and welcoming the stranger. But one man asked about a current issue – the Gillard government’s controversial draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill which would, among other things, weaken religious freedom. A Senate committee dominated by Labor and the Greens recently recommended that religious organisations running schools, health and aged care services should lose key exemptions, allowing people who disagree with the church’s ethos to sue (The Australian, 22/2/13).
“The questioner asked Kevin Rudd if he thought it is OK for religious bodies to have any exemptions from anti-discrimination laws,” Ros Phillips said.
But Kevin Rudd declined to answer. “I’m going to dodge that question,” he said. He added that he did not know the Labor government’s latest thinking about the bill, so he thought it wiser not to comment.
Ros Phillips said Kevin Rudd’s reluctance to answer indicates the fierceness of debate, both inside and outside the Labor Party, on fundamental human rights including freedom of speech, association and religion.
However Mr Rudd was willing to answer Ros Phillips’ question on whether the Australian government should recognise sharia law and sharia courts.
“I won’t dodge that question,” he said. His answer was a clear “No” – based on the Australian Constitution, drafted by our founding fathers who decided, like the US founding fathers a century earlier, that there should be no established religion in this country.
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