KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome back to the program, gay teachers and students could be rejected by religious schools under a new proposal in the Government’s religious freedom review, the Ruddock review as its known. Fairfax has obtained a copy of the report, which recommends allowing religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

LAURA JAYES: The review was given to the Coalition four months ago, but it has been refusing to make their recommendations public. Cabinet Minister Paul Fletcher says he hasn’t even seen it.

PAUL FLETCHER (PREVIOUS): The report has been received by Government, that’s been known for some time, it has not been seen by most Cabinet Ministers including me. I have not seen the report. It hasn’t been considered by Cabinet. What we will do is, we will go through a careful, thorough, respectful process.

LAURA JAYES: The Special Minister of State Alex Hawke joins us now. Alex Hawke good to see you – have you seen this report?

ALEX HAWKE: Absolutely not Laura, and I don’t think that’s controversial. It’s been four months, and this is a very complex area of rights and law. The Government has got every right to consider the report very carefully and think about that complex intersection of rights and law.

LAURA JAYES: There’s a suggestion in this report today that religious schools should be allowed to reject gay students and teachers, is that fair?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, this is why I think the Government has asked for this report and we believe there are millions of Australians of faith, of all different faiths, relying on our Government to get this right, and get the balance right between religious freedom and other rights in Australia. The left of politics and the left in society are mounting an assault on religion and people of faith.

LAURA JAYES: Where’s the evidence of that?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, it’s been happening for a long time Laura. Everyone of faith feels the pressure.

LAURA JAYES: Do you have any examples though?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, Tanya Plibersek today in her comments. She seems to want to go through line by line of the Bible and tell us what she likes or doesn’t like and what people can believe and what they can’t believe. It’s a constant pressure from the Left of society today on people of faith. It’s important we define religious freedom in Australia in 2018 so people can continue to practise their faith the way they want to.

KIERAN GILBERT: I guess the question is though, is this law, is this change, recommendation from the Ruddock Review, is it needed given already the law, Mr Hawke, allows Christian schools, other religious schools, to employ people on the basis of their religious tenets. And if someone doesn’t necessarily agree with them, or conflicts with them, well then they can oppose and block their employment? That’s already within their rights.

ALEX HAWKE: It might be needed, Kieran. Because, you know, under the last Labor Government, we saw Julia Gillard and people like Tanya Plibersek get an actual Marxist to write the Safe Schools program and implement it in the public school system. Now as a parent, and a parent of three young boys myself, it makes me want to send my kids to religious-based schools, because I don’t want to see the public system, you know, mandating these sorts of things which are written by actual Marxists in a Labor Government. Labor is deserting people of faith in Australia> They were a former Catholic working class based party. They’ve abandoned their Catholic and working-class roots. They are now the party of elites and of trendy people in the inner cities who really have a contempt for people of faith in this country. I think most Australians are very sensible about the practise of their faith. We don’t have a litigious society like the US, we don’t have these problems arise. People quietly practise their faith in their churches and their communities and their homes without much controversy in Australia, but the Left feel a constant pressure to create these problems.

KIERAN GILBERT: So do you believe they should be able to block students as well, because,

ALEX HAWKE: Absolutely.

KIERAN GILBERT: Under the arrangements already in place, as I mentioned, teachers – schools should be able to block students that are gay?

ALEX HAWKE: I don’t think it’s controversial in Australia that people expect religious schools to teach the practise of their faith and their religion. That’s the point of a religious school. I mean, in Australia you have choice of schooling. You have a public system. You have the private and independent system. And you have religious and faith-based schools.

KIERAN GILBERT: I understand your message, but’s a different thing to then block a student as a result of that, you know, if a student is seeking education, should it then, you can teach a message fine, but should that extend to blocking a student from being able to be afforded an education at a school of their choosing, or their parents choosing?

ALEX HAWKE: I’ve never heard of this proposal, this is in the Sydney Morning Herald today. I haven’t seen this report. Most people in Australia practise their faith in a way that is consistent with the rights of other people. Now, what we have here is Tanya Plibersek and the Left of our society mounting an assault on people of faith and religion and saying what they think should happen mandated by the Government. I think people have enough common sense to practise their faith in their own schools, and if you were a parent and you’re sending your child to a religious school you are doing so because you would like that religious instruction of that religion and that’s perfectly appropriate.

LAURA JAYES: But if you’re gay and you’re Christian, why should you not be allowed to go to such a school?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, that’s something you can negotiate with the individual Christian school. It’s an absolute misunderstanding of Christianity to say every Christian school in this country would turn away someone because they were gay and we’re mostly talking about the primary system, and the very, very young people who are below the age of consent. So, this is a manufactured issue that the Left is raising to try and circumvent religious freedom. The issue is – do we have adequate protections that people can practise their faith in this country? And this report will tell Government that perhaps we need to strengthen our laws to protect ourselves from people like Tanya Plibersek who want to tell people of faith what they can and can’t believe.

LAURA JAYES: Alex Hawke, are you investigating Stuart Robert’s internet use?

ALEX HAWKE: Yes. So the Government has asked the Department, these matters are a matter, you know, ideally between the Department of Finance and individual members, we’ve asked the Department for the advice on the arrangements in relation to the internet of Stuart Robert and usage. I’m awaiting that advice, but Mr Robert has indicated –

KIERAN GILBERT: Did he spend too much in your view?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, he’s already indicated that the arrangements led to an excessive amount of spending. He said so in a public statement himself and he’s agreed to repay that money so that’s appropriate. The Department is making those arrangements with Mr Robert.

LAURA JAYES: When will we see the outcome of that report?

ALEX HAWKE: Well, I’m awaiting that advice from the Department. Obviously, it’s intertwined with the repayment from Mr Robert, so that’s being done at the moment.


KIERAN GILBERT: Mr Hawke, thanks for your time.

ALEX HAWKE: Thanks so much.

KIERAN GIBLERT: Talk to you soon. Special Minister of State Alex Hawke.