Michaelia Cash and Mark Dreyfus in fiery meeting over religious discrimination laws

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Katina Curtis
The Nightly
2 Min Read
Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash, left, and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus clashed heads in a fiery meeting over religious discrimination laws.
Liberal Senator Michaelia Cash, left, and Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus clashed heads in a fiery meeting over religious discrimination laws. Credit: The Nightly

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and his shadow counterpart Michaelia Cash had a heated blow-up during a meeting to discuss religious discrimination laws on Tuesday that ended with the WA Liberal senator storming out.

The two sides dispute each other’s version of events, with both offering accounts by witnesses in the room to say the other’s behaviour was unacceptable.

The Government has taken the unusual position of saying it has drafted religious discrimination laws ready to go but is keeping them secret unless they get bipartisan support.

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It held initial meetings with staff from Senator Cash and Opposition Leader Peter Dutton’s offices earlier in the year.

Anthony Albanese also had two shorter personal discussions with Mr Dutton where the Prime Minister said he wanted bipartisanship on the issue.

The Government provided Senator Cash with a copy of the draft legislation in March but it was subject to a confidentiality order.

The Coalition has called on the Government to either release an exposure draft or introduce the bill to Parliament so it can be open for public scrutiny.

Tuesday’s meeting was supposed to further negotiations over the legislation, which the Coalition insists it is still open to backing.

But it was derailed by what Senator Cash saw as aggressive and demeaning behaviour by Mr Dreyfus, understood to have involved telling her to pause or take a breath and put his hand up in a “stop” gesture, possibly while leaning over the table.

Senator Cash interrupted the Attorney-General, described his request for the Opposition’s position on religious discrimination as unreasonable, and walked out of the meeting.

She said afterwards she was appalled.

“Mr Dreyfus needs to stop playing games with his religious discrimination legislation,” Senator Cash said in a statement.

“As I told Mr Dreyfus, he needs to take on board the feedback he has received from the faith communities and release his legislation publicly.”

The Attorney-General’s office disputes Senator Cash’s version of events and that Mr Dreyfus raised his voice to her.

Staff in the room told colleagues it was Senator Cash who entered with a raised voice and pointing at people, making them uncomfortable.

“Senator Cash’s claims are not correct. The Attorney-General did not raise his voice and at no point was aggressive or demeaning,” a spokesman for Mr Dreyfus said.

“Senator Cash interrupted the Attorney-General, described his request for the Opposition’s position on religious discrimination as unreasonable, and walked out of the meeting.”

The only thing both ideas agreed on was that there was a meeting and that Mr Dreyfus repeatedly asked whether the Coalition supported the bill and which parts.

Mr Dreyfus attracted headlines in December when he had a heated exchange with a female reporter during a press conference, telling her not to interrupt and saying he would not be apologising to anyone after the High Court’s ruling on indefinite immigration detention.

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