Penny Wong spoke passionately about Israel Folau’s comments.
Penny Wong spoke passionately about Israel Folau’s comments.

Penny Wong’s ‘emotional’ message for Folau

Penny Wong has a message for Israel Folau.

The Labor Senator took a moment to compose herself before delivering what she called an "emotional" response to the ex-Wallaby's social media tirade.

Wong was responding to a question from the studio audience on Monday night's Q&A about whether the response to Folau's comments would be different if he were a Muslim rather than a Christian.

"OK, two points I want to address," Wong began.

"First, in relation to Mr Folau, can I say - first on an emotional level - I wish that we could have more expressions of love and forgiveness rather than condemnation when it came to belief.

"I wish public figures, politicians, sporting stars, may consider … where their words land with vulnerable Australians."

Then the practising Christian, who attends Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide, made it clear she and Folau see their religion very differently.



"He is entitled to his beliefs," she said. "I disagree. I think we ought remember he doesn't speak for all Christians.

"In terms of the broader issue, we are an accepting, tolerant nation … Whatever happens in this current debate around religious freedom, I think we mustn't lose sight of those key characteristics of Australian identity.

"We don't want to become less accepting, less tolerant. We don't want to abrogate our agreed view that people are entitled to equality before the law, that we believe that people are equal, regardless of gender, race, faith, sexuality, disability, etc.

"We should hold to those objectives, that we're not seeking to diminish that. I'm open to a discussion about how we deal with religious protections. But I would make this point: There is a distinction between a right to belief and the assertion that that belief should lead to you being treated differently before the law."






Folau was sacked by Rugby Australia after posting views on social media that were deemed in breach of his contract.

He paraphrased Bible passages suggesting "drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters" would go to hell unless they repented.

Folau is arguing he was unfairly dismissed on religious grounds and is seeking $10 million in damages from RA. He also wants his contract reinstated.

Human rights lawyer Diana Sayed told the panel the Morrison Government - which is expected to table a religious discrimination bill later this year - must not "give people a licence to discriminate".

"It is really important that this bill strikes a balance that people who are free to practice their religion are not granted a licence to discriminate," she said.

Liberal Senator Scott Ryan said legislation cannot "peer into people's souls".

"I don't know if something can be said - or something that is said - should be legal because of a particularly religious view, whether that be being Christian, being Muslim or the writings of (American author) L Ron Hubbard.

"I don't like laws going to motive. I like laws looking at actions."


Earlier in the program, Professor Hugh White was quizzed on his new book How to Defend Australia.

The defence specialist from the Australian National University wrote that Australia should consider developing nuclear weapons because America can no longer be trusted to protect the region against powerful threats.

"In light of the recent Cuban missile crisis-style stand-off between the US and North Korea because of this very reason, what makes you think that our instigation of a nuclear arsenal won't have a similar effect?" Professor White was asked by a member of the studio audience.

He made it clear immediately that he does not call for nuclear weapons but for a discussion about whether Australia will eventually need them.



"What I argue is Australia's decision about nuclear weapons - the one we made 50 years ago when we decided that we weren't going to develop them ourselves - was made in circumstances very different from the circumstances of today and even more different from the circumstances we are going to live in … I would say 20, 30, 40 years from now."

He said China has emerged as the biggest power in the Asian region, overtaking the United States.

"I'm less confident of America's place in Asia, primarily because the fundamental shift in the distribution of wealth and power. America has been the dominant power in Asia for decades, as long as any of us can remember.

"As China grows, China's wealth challenges America's position and its ambitions to be the

leading power in Asia."

Asked if he thought China posed an "existential threat", Professor White said: "Well, at least a very, very serious threat, and one which we can no longer rely on America to defend us from."

Continue the conversation: @ro_smith |