‘I feel sick’: One Folau question sparks fury
One question from the audience was all it took for a fired up panellist on Q&A to let rip at Israel Folau's social media comments - saying the heated debate on religious freedom they had begun made her feel "sick".
Just four minutes into the show Sally Rugg, Executive Director of Change.org, lashed out after an audience member asked whether Folau's comments could be seen as an act of kindness or love as, in his own mind, he was trying to save Australians from eternal hell.
Visibly angered by the rugby star's comments and the nature of the debate which followed, she couldn't even bring herself to repeat the words which have caused so much outrage.
"I am not going to repeat Folau's words," she said. "But he made a disgusting comment about transgender children.
"That comment doesn't exist in a vacuum. That comment exists in a reality where if you're a teenager in Australia who's transgender, you have a one in two chance of attempting suicide."
She then hit out at the Morrison government's plans to introduce a Religious Discrimination Act, which she believes would give rise to hate speech.
"The words that Folau uses about gay Australians - people like me - they exist in a context where the Morrison government is looking at whether people really care or not that religious schools can exclude LGBTI teachers and students," she said.
"How do they make me feel? They make me feel - they make me feel a bit sick, they make me feel tired.
"I feel confused as to why in 2019 we are having this sort of esoteric discussion about whether it is really harmful for these words to just sort of be bandied about in our society."
She added that she feared that a government act could take away the protection that anti-discrimination laws have provided for LGBTI people in Australia.
However, Minister for Education, Dan Tehan, said the Folau furore is evidence that Australia needs to take action on religious freedom.
"I think what the Israel Folau case shows us is that we need a Religious Discrimination Act in Australia, because what isn't clear at the moment is how we define the boundaries about what is - what we should be free to say, and what we shouldn't, especially when it comes to our religious faith," he said.
"We have it for sexual discrimination, we have it when it comes to disability, we have it when it comes to age. But we don't have anything which defines the boundaries in Australia properly when it comes to religious discrimination."
However, Ms Rugg hit back saying people already have the right to say what they want in Australia.
"People still have the right to say I am going to hell," she said. "This isn't something that is currently illegal and we're trying to make legal. People can already do that."
The Morrison government's religious proposal was also questioned by other panels members, such as Shadow Minister for Infrastructure Catherine King.
"What is it that you can't say now that you want to be able to say?" she asked.
"That potentially will infringe on a whole group of other people's rights? And potentially do harm?
"And from my point of view, if it is something that harms and discriminates another group of people, then I don't think that we should go down that path."
South Australian Centre Alliance Senator, Rex Patrick, said religious discrimination laws might be difficult to implement on a technical level when it comes to somebody making a defamatory statement.
"There's no easy answer on this," he said. "The parliament can attempt to legislate, but it is always going to come down to the circumstances of the case."
He gave an example saying that if you're standing in front of a group of schoolchildren in a religious school and you say that if in accordance with my faith, marriage is between a man and a woman, most people would say that's OK".
My god, if telling people they’re going to hell for being queer isn’t hate speech, what the hell do you think IS hate speech, this is the most tedious national conversation honestly just shoot me into the core of the sun #qanda— Benjamin Law (@mrbenjaminlaw) June 24, 2019
"However, if you then suggest it's a sin, it starts to get perhaps a little bit more confrontational, and then if it gets carried out into the schoolyard by kids calling someone who's LGBTI a sinner, it has a different context."
Returning to the original question about Folau's alleged good intentions, the rugby star found sympathy from panellist Ash Belsar - who has run for parliament three times for the Australian Christian Party.
He said people of faith are victims of discrimination too and that "hurt and the fear goes both ways".
He suggested the sportsman may have weight of his conscience if he didn't say something on the issue, due to the strength of his beliefs.
"All of our essential nature sends us directly to hell according to Christ," he said. "The whole thing is Jesus said I came not to condemn the world but to save it.
"The question becomes what? And so for a lot of our points of views, whether you agree with us or not, we look at something and go - is that harmful?
"I actually tend to think even if I look like a fool, I feel the weight of that on my conscience that I actually didn't say something. I think that's where Folau's coming from here. I think that's where a lot of us come from on this situation."
The debate then turned to whether somebody with views like Folau's should be allowed to express his controversial opinions on university campuses.
Mr Tehan said he believes the rugby star should have the right to speak his mind, depending on the circumstances.
"My hope would be that he would be able to go there, and express his fundamental beliefs on that campus and do so, and my hope would be that someone like Sally (Rugg) could be there and could express her fundamental beliefs - if they were contrary to what Israel Folau is saying," he said.
"We have to be able to, especially on university campuses, to be able to have these types of debates, and that is my hope, that we will see that as a result of this code, because if we
can't have them on university campuses, then I worry that free speech will be stifled in other places, and future generations will suffer as a result."
The fiery debate comes as GoFundMe decided to remove the sacked Wallaby's crowd-funding campaign from its website, saying several other organisations have "expressed interest" in his efforts to raise money.
The crowd-funding site pulled Folau's fundraising page and is issuing refunds to all his donors, saying the campaign breached its terms of service.
"Today we will be closing Israel Folau's campaign and issuing full refunds to all donors. After a routine period of evaluation, we have concluded that this campaign violates our terms of service," GoFundMe's Australia regional manager Nicola Britton said.
Folau's team hit back at the decision, saying it was "very disappointing".
"Unfortunately, GoFundMe has buckled to demands against the freedom of Australians to donate to his cause," they wrote in a statement.
"There appears to be a continuing campaign of discrimination against Israel and his supporters."