This Media Release relates to the Religious Discrimination Bill. Join the campaign to fight the 2nd draft Religious Discrimination Bill here.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019
LGBTIQ+, racial justice, and women’s advocates today delivered a petition to the Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Greens Senator Janet Rice arguing for a fair Religious Discrimination Bill.

The Exposure Draft released by the Morrison Government in Sydney has been closely analysed by legal experts and revealed to privilege religious belief above the rights of all other Australians.

“This Bill creates one set of rights for some Australians, and a different set of rights for everyone else”, said Anna Brown* CEO of Equality Australia.

“The Government promised a Bill in the style of existing anti-discrimination laws and what we have instead will punch holes in protection from discrimination for the majority of Australians.”

Diana Sayed*, Campaign Manager for Fair Agenda said “We are very concerned that the bill in its current form will negatively impact women’s access to reproductive healthcare. One person’s religious beliefs should never limit another person’s access to the healthcare they need.”

Neha Madhok*, Co-Director of Democracy in Colour said “This proposed legislation goes too far. It gives license to override state discrimination protections including those based on race, gender, sexuality and disability.

“With the rise of hate crimes, particularly against people from Muslim communities, we have to protect all minority faith groups from vilification. We need a bill that is balanced and fair for everyone. 

“We’re seeing calls for burqa bans, vandalism of temples and religious sites and even campaigns by community groups to prevent the building of mosques. This bill must include a definition of vilification so that there is protection from something like Islamophobia.”

The Reverend Dr Josephine Inkpin, an Anglican priest and trans woman, speaking also for Equal Voices, called for “Fresh legislative approaches to enable LGBTIQ and religious Australians to live together – after all some of us are both!  Privilege and segregation are dead ends.  We need, as Jesus said, with no exceptions, to learn to love all our neighbours”.

*uses she/her pronouns

MEDIA CONTACT: Hayley Conway, 0484 313 466

It will be harder for large employers to foster an inclusive culture or achieve their mission by imposing reasonable employee conduct rules on religious expression outside of work hours (s 8(3)-(4)). The Bill makes it unlawful for a private sector employer with revenues of at least $50 million in the current or previous financial year to restrict or prevent an employee from making a ‘statement of belief’ outside of work hours unless compliance with that rule is necessary to avoid ‘unjustifiable financial hardship’ to the employer (s 8(3)). 

Employer conduct rules imposed by other types of employers, or during work times, must comply with general indirect discrimination provisions, which require rules that otherwise disadvantage employees on religious grounds to be reasonable in all the circumstances.

The test for ‘unjustifiable financial hardship’ is novel and does not appear to take into account other harms that employers should be able to legitimately consider when setting employment conduct rules, such as damage to staff morale or safety, cultures of inclusivity and achieving non-financial organisational objectives such as promoting health and well-being.  Standard indirect discrimination definitions in law would already look at the reasonableness of such requirements – so it is unclear why a specific class of employers should be singled out.

“The ‘Folau clause’ prevents employers from upholding non-discriminatory policies and undermines their ability to foster inclusive workplaces that promote their vision and mission. For example, it could prevent a large mental health charity from ensuring that members of its senior leadership team weren’t tweeting that suicide was a sin or that homosexuality was an abomination.

“The Bill explicitly privileges religious beliefs over secular beliefs. In a multicultural country like Australia – this is simply unacceptable.”
Privileging religious expression over discrimination protections
Certain religious statements will trump LGBTIQ+ legal discrimination protections in federal, state and territory laws, leaving LGBTIQ+ people vulnerable in public life, such as workplaces, schools and in the provision of goods and services (s 41).
Section 41 of the Bill overrides federal, state and territory discrimination protections, and Tasmanian offensive conduct provisions, by preventing ‘statements of belief’ from being the subject of a complaint under these laws provided that such statements: are not malicious; do not or are not likely to harass, vilify, or incite hatred or violence against another person or group of persons; do not counsel, promote, encourage or urge conduct constituting a serious offence. ‘Statements of belief’ are statements by religious people, made in good faith, which ‘may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings’ of their religion, or good faith statements made by non-religious people about religion.

“The Attorney-General promised that the Religious Discrimination Bill would not ‘displace’ state or territory laws, but the Bill explicitly overrides existing protections from federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws through a new carve-out for a ‘statement of belief’.

“While a statement must not be malicious or likely to harass, vilify or incite hatred of others, the current drafting does not provide critical protections from the broad range of harms LGBTIQ+ people experience daily through bullying or online attacks.  For example, calling a transgender person by their previous name or gender would be protected if founded in a religious belief, even though this can be discrimination under Australian law,
All quotes attributable to Anna Brown, Equality Australia.  

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