In 2019, when we began working on our #DontDivideUs campaign against the then proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, we knew one thing for certain – the legislation would be divisive.

Last week in the parliament, MPs from across the chamber – Independents and Liberal, Labor and Greens party members – warned that the bill, if enacted into law, would cause division in communities across Australia.

Below is a selection of quotes from speeches made in the House of Representatives. If you want to read the full speeches and find our what other MPs said, you can find the Hansard transcripts here

Adam Bandt (Member for Melbourne, Victoria)

“This bill doesn’t just have some shields; it has a lot of swords, and those swords can do a lot of harm. Why does this bill have so many swords? You have to remember the second basic fact: how did we get ourselves here? We didn’t find ourselves here because there was an identified gap in the law—even though there is, and it’s one that we could fill with, I suspect, unanimous support if the government had goodwill. We’re here because the hard right of the government didn’t want marriage equality.”

Alicia Payne (Member for Canberra, Australian Capital Territory)

“This should be a unifying moment, but this has been led by a Prime Minister who seeks to divide Australians, and it is absolutely shameful. It is absolutely shameful that in this debate the very things that make us who we are—our faith, our gender, our sexuality and even our culture—have been used to pit Australians against other Australians in a debate that is incredibly damaging, in a debate that people should not have had to endure again.”

Andrew Giles (Member for Scullin, Victoria)

“Removing discrimination from our statute books should be unifying. I think the speech of Anthony Albanese, the Leader of the Labor Party, made that powerfully clear earlier today. But this package of bills has always been a cynical exercise much more than an attempt to reach any unity. It’s an exercise in promoting division.”

Andrew Wilkie (Member for Denison, Tasmania)

“The Prime Minister has repeatedly said that this legislation will serve as a shield, not a sword. This is also not true, because this bill will allow people to make harmful and arguably discriminatory statements against others in the name of faith. … Don’t get me wrong: I support freedom of religion when it means not discriminating against people of faith, but I will not support legislation that allows discrimination and hate speech in the name of faith.”

Anika Wells (Member for Lilley, Queensland)

“It is simply awful that he is content for the rest of us, the rest of the country, to be divided and pitted against one another now, at his behest, in this national debate, at this late hour, all in the name of a political win for himself. Good legislation comes from listening. Good legislation comes from patiently working through the issues. Good legislation does not divide the community.”

Anthony Albanese (Member for Grayndler, New South Wales)

“This is an opportunity to advance unity of this nation, not to pit people against each other. This bill as it stands right now, if it is not amended by either the House or the Senate, will only succeed in driving us apart.”

Bridget Archer (Member for Bass, Tasmania)

“It’s 2022, and I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. As an elected representative, my job is to come here and vote on legislation that I believe will best serve my community. This bill is an overreach, and I cannot use the role that I have here to endorse a bill that erodes the rights of so many in my community—rights that they already enjoy, and the loss of which may cause them harm.”

Dave Sharma (Member for Wentworth, New South Wales)

“…we also need to make sure that we are looking after vulnerable communities whose disadvantage or susceptibility or vulnerability to discrimination we have not addressed. That’s so particularly, I think, for children in schools—and, yes, for teachers as well, but particularly for children in schools—who are some of the most vulnerable people in our population, and particularly those who are struggling with issues like their sexual orientation or their gender identity. All the evidence is that mental health issues amongst our young people are particularly prevalent amongst this group of people, and we should not be making their lives harder by allowing them to be persecuted or vilified on account of attributes as to which they have no choice.” 

Ged Kearney (Member for Cooper)

“(The statements of belief clause) inherently privileges the right to express one’s religious belief above the rights of others to live their lives free of discrimination, whether that’s on the basis of sexuality, gender, age, race, disability or another characteristic covered by law. This is wrong. Not only is it wrong; it is in conflict with human rights law and it’s likely to be unconstitutional. But, most of all, it drives hate and division where we need love, embracement, acceptance and protection.”

Helen Haines (Member for Indi, Victoria)

“This bill was an opportunity for us to come together and legislate this protection in a measured and collaborative way. I know that the people of Indi, who I represent, wanted that to be measured and collaborative, to bring us together. I’ve heard from people of faith and non-faith who seek balance, compassion and safety for all. As a legislator and a member of this broader Australian community, I can’t give them that assurance right now. I don’t think we’ve achieved those things. Australia is a proud secular society. Over time, we have striven to be as inclusive as possible of diverse faiths and have come to celebrate that diversity. I want us to continue in that direction.”

Josh Burns (Member for Macnamara, Victoria)

“Let me say from the outset that I feel this bill does not get the balance right. This bill, in my opinion, has too many aspects that are divisive and that override existing protections in the law.”

Josh Wilson (Member for Fremantle, Western Australia)

“In relation to the freedom of religious belief and expression, I want to make the point that this has always included the right to hold no religious belief whatsoever. We should remember that some of the most harmful prejudice in history has been from people of religion towards people accused of having no religion – of being essentially regarded as godless, one way or another.” 

Julian Hill (Member for Bruce, Victoria)

“The objective of the faith groups I have spoken to is to secure protection from discrimination—a shield, not a sword to discriminate against other Australians. Instead, the government’s bill pits one group of Australians against another group of Australians against the next group of Australians and so on—against each other. Rather than uniting the nation, this bill is now dividing the nation. We can and must fix this here.”

Kate Thwaites (Member for Jagajaga, Victoria)

“It is to the discredit of this government that the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and the debate that has surrounded it, like so much of what this government does, divide our country. It sets people against each other. Rather than seeking our points of commonality and building us up together as a community, it pits us against each other.”

Lisa Chesters (Member for Bendigo, Victoria)

“The government has spectacularly been able to wedge and divide our community because of the way they have handled the debate and the consultation. Right now, the debate is that your rights are more important than my rights. It is dividing our community and that is not fair.”

Madeleine King (Member for Brand, Western Australia)

“At a time when Australians want leadership and unity from their government, we have a Prime Minister who is using his final weeks in this parliament on the government benches to play the politics of division, pitting faith groups against each other, putting the people of Australia that suffer discrimination in competing positions.”

Matt Thistlethwaite (Member for Kingsford-Smith, New South Wales)

“The final point I have on clause 12 is that it promotes divisive religion. A core part of this bill in sections 7 to 10 that I support is promoting respect, promoting equality and promoting compassion, as good religious tenets and teachings should do. The problem with clause 12 is that it could allow people to use religion to create division and hatred. In my view, we should not be amending our discrimination laws to encourage that.”

Peter Khalil (Member for Wills, Victoria)

“As someone who has experienced discrimination in my own life, both professionally and personally, I know how important the principle of equality before the law is. I know how important the principles of freedom of religion and freedom from religion are, especially in a secular democracy such as ours. That’s critical… We must have not only freedom of religion but freedom from religion. This means that Australians should be free to practice and adhere to their faith, just as Australians should be able to not follow a faith and be free from any repercussions or discrimination on that basis.”

Trent Zimmerman (Member for North Sydney, New South Wales)

“Human rights are a difficult issue; no human right exists in a silo. Inevitably many do conflict. In many, we try to balance and judge competing interests and competing human rights. But my concern about the statement of beliefs is fundamentally that it extends a greater privilege to freedom of conscience based on religious views. For me as a Liberal, freedom of conscience and freedom of thought is the most important thing in our society, and religious faith is one of those expressions of freedom of conscience. It’s no more important and no less important than any other. My concern with the statement of beliefs and the way it’s constructed is that it actually puts religious faith on a pedestal above other rights in a way that I have serious problems with.”

Zali Steggall (Member for Warringah, New South Wales)

“We know we are facing an epidemic of mental health issues. We should be very, very wary of doing anything that could possibly exacerbate what is already a very dire situation. But, instead of focusing on that, we are focusing on a way to make it more divisive and more difficult for some of those young people.”