Prime Minister Scott Morrison has vowed to change laws to protect religious freedom while assuring voters he will not be a "culture warrior" on divisive social issues, as he sets out his agenda as the new leader of a battered government.
Mr Morrison said new religious freedom laws were needed to safeguard personal liberty in a changing society, while also using an exclusive interview with Fairfax Media to outline his plans on energy, climate change, industrial relations and economic fairness.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is beginning to outline his agenda as Liberal leader.
But he declared it was not his job to buy into cultural disputes that did not matter to most Australians, saying he would leave it to others to fight over so-called culture war issues like the teaching of Western civilisation in universities.
"Just because things haven’t been a problem in the past doesn’t mean they won’t be a problem in the future," Mr Morrison said of the case for legislation to protect religious freedom – the subject of a government review following the legalisation of same-sex marriage last year.
"So I’ll be taking a proactive approach when it comes to ensuring that peoples’ religious freedoms are protected.
"At the end of the day, if you’re not free to believe in your own faith, well, you’re not free."
The comments are the first sign Mr Morrison will act on calls from church groups and others to enshrine religious freedom in the law, despite a campaign from others to stop "discriminatory religious demands".
Mr Morrison told Fairfax Media he would have "more to say" on the stronger laws but gave an unequivocal "yes" on the need for the changes and argued that children in public schools should not face curbs on Christian traditions.
"Like anyone else, they should be able to do Christmas plays, they should be able to talk about Easter. That’s our culture. There’s nothing wrong with that," he said.
"The narcs can leave those things alone. If you want to send your child to a Christian school, you have the choice to do that and you can go and do it."
Mr Morrison spoke to Fairfax Media soon after his first major speech as Prime Minister, where he told an audience of Liberal Party supporters in Albury of his personal faith, his belief in "a fair go for those who have a go" and the idea that to love Australia meant to "love all Australians" as well.
The government is still recovering from the removal of Malcolm Turnbull two weeks ago, with new ministers yet to commit to new policies and the Liberal Party suffering from leaks and recriminations.
While conservatives including former prime ministers Tony Abbott and John Howard have championed issues like the Ramsay Centre’s plan to fund university degrees in Western civilisation in universities, Mr Morrison distanced himself from these debates.
"If people expect me to be a culture warrior in this job, that’s not my job," he said.
"There are plenty of people who will write long articles about these things which can tickle the ears of those who are particularly interested in them. That’s not to say these issues are not important.
"Of course they are and people can engage in those debates – I wish them all the best because that’s what a democracy and a free society is all about."
The approach sets Mr Morrison apart from Mr Abbott and others within the Liberal Party, as he tries to assure voters he will listen to their concerns rather than dwell on social questions that have split his party for a decade.
On religious freedom, however, the new Prime Minister is appealing to a large constituency on a major constitutional and legal question, given that 52 per cent of Australians identified as Christian in the last census, and another 8 per cent nominated another religion, compared to 30 per cent who said they had no religion.
Mr Morrison made clear the new law to protect religious freedom would respond to a report from former attorney-general Philip Ruddock that was set up by Mr Turnbull in the wake of the same-sex marriage postal survey last year.
The National Council of Churches in Australia told the inquiry that people of faith were concerned about a "growing level of intolerance" in the community.
"We are seeing more abuse of people because of their religion, both verbal and physical," the council said.
"It all starts with the individual. I love Australia. Who loves Australia? Everyone. We all love Australia ... Do we love all Australians? We've got to,” said Scott Morrison in his first major address as prime minister.
Church leaders urged the inquiry to legislate freedom of religion, freedom of speech in support of traditional marriage, freedom of parental rights to choose schools that support traditional marriage, freedom for schools to employ only those teachers who supported traditional marriage and freedom to teach religious traditions.
In one submission, the Condell Park Bible Church in western Sydney warned that anti-discrimination laws would lead to a "dominant viewpoint" being enforced upon people who wanted to live their Christian faith and hold to traditional marriage.
The demand for a new "religious freedom" law is being resisted by civil liberties groups and marriage equality campaigners, with the Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays telling the inquiry there were already laws to protect freedom.
"We like to believe Australia governs with a separation between church and state which allows people, religious or otherwise, the freedom to be themselves without interference," wrote the advocacy group's national spokeswoman Shelley Argent.
"Discrimination is a choice. Religious groups and individuals may choose to discriminate but a true Christian would never do so."
"And if this review continues providing religious groups and individuals the privilege to discriminate, it is not what we as a nation would call fair and not what people voted for in the unwanted postal survey."