Scott Morrison on Friday said he wants to strike a bipartisan deal on new laws around religious freedoms after Israel Folau’s sacking.
The prime minister, who is in Japan meeting world leaders, was asked in a Sky News interview whether he thinks the rugby star has been persecuted for his beliefs.
Mr Morrison dodged the question, instead pivoting to the broader issues at play, saying people should not feel intimidated about practising their religion in peace.
Scott Morrison (pictured in Osaka, Japan on Friday) wants to strike a bipartisan deal on new laws around religious freedoms
Israel Folau arrives for a meeting with Rugby Australia at the Fair Work Commission
Talking about working with Labor to bring in new laws protecting religious people, he said: ‘I don’t want religion in Australia to be an issue of conflict.
‘The whole point of religion is that it’s actually something of peace,’ he told Sky News on Friday.
‘It’s a very important part of Australians’ lives and I want to see us progress this debate in a very constructive way, not based on conflict.’
Mr Morrison, himself an evangelical Christian said such disputes showed the need for legislation protecting people against discrimination based on their religious beliefs.
‘Religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of what we are as a country, and it’s important our laws reflect that,’ he said from Osaka where he is attending the G20 summit.
‘Now we committed to put in place a Religious Discrimination Act. We’re going to do that. We’re working very hard on that right now,’ he said.
Mr Morrison stopped short of publicly backing Folau as he had done in 2018.
Then treasurer, Mr Morrison praised Folau after he found himself in hot water over a social media post that was deemed homophobic.
On that occasion, Rugby Australia did not saction the player after he refused to remove the post.
Religious freedom is one of the cornerstones of what we are as a country, and it’s important our laws reflect that
‘It clearly means a lot to Izzy and good for him for standing up for his faith,’ Mr Morrison said in April 2018.
‘He wouldn’t have wanted to intend to have offended or hurt anyone because that’s very much against the faith that he feels so passionately about.
‘But I think he’s shown a lot of strength of character in just standing up for what he believes in and I think that’s what this country is all about.’
On Friday Folau and Rugby Australia failed to reach a settlement on Friday, setting up a lengthy court battle.
The country’s Fair Work Commission had ordered the two sides to a closed-doors mediation hearing in a bid to avoid legal action over a dispute that has polarised Australia.
But Folau and his camp emerged some four hours later with no settlement.
‘Very, very disappointed by the outcome today,’ said the devoutly religious Folau. ‘I’d like to thank those who’ve supported me throughout this time. I’ll continue to stand up for the freedoms of all Australians.’
The case is now expected to head to the Federal Court and could potentially drag on for years.
A small group of Folau fans were outside the building as Folau (pictured) entered
Folau was sacked last month for tweeting and posting on Instagram that ‘drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, idolaters’ needed to repent for their sins and turn to Jesus Christ. He had paraphrased a message from the Bible
Folau, who was on a $1 million-a year four-year contract, is reportedly seeking $10 million, including for lost sponsorship and marketing opportunities, a sum that reports say could be ruinous for Rugby Australia.
‘It appears as though that unless things change we’ll be heading to court,’ George Haros, a lawyer for Super Rugby’s record try-scorer, added outside the hearing in Sydney.
Folau was fired in May for breaching Rugby Australia’s code of conduct after posting that ‘hell awaits’ gay people and others he considers sinners.
The fullback took his case to Australia’s Fair Work Commission, asserting that he simply posted sentiments from the Bible and was unfairly dismissed.
However, Rugby Australia insist his sacking was purely contractual, saying Folau had agreed not to disparage anyone over their sexual following a similar controversy last year.
Hopes of a resolution were slim with the two sides trading barbs beforehand.
Folau claimed in a television interview Thursday evening that Rugby Australia offered him money to take down the offensive post, but said, ‘I couldn’t live with that’.
The governing body issued statement calling the allegation ‘completely false’.
In a video posted on his website on Friday morning, Folau (pictured at the Fair Work Commission on Friday) told his supporters that he wanted an apology