Religious freedom bill ‘inherently flawed’, tainted by blocking reports

By Naomi Neilson|07 April 2021
Religious freedom bill

Human rights lawyers are “shocked” with reports that a pro-religious freedoms group formed by an MP blocked certain stakeholders from giving evidence if their opinions differed, leading to “considerable evidence” being excluded from the final report.  

Practitioners with Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) have condemned the final report from the joint select committee on One Nation’s Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 for not being conducted “according to the principles of representative democracy or procedural fairness”.

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It alleged that the Parliamentary Friends of Religious Freedoms, a group created by member for Bankstown Tania Mihailuk to advance and protect the freedom to hold and express religious beliefs, blocked “important stakeholders” from giving evidence if their views did not align with the group’s “routinely expressed vitriol”.

ALHR LGBTQI co-chair Georgia Burke claimed that the group voted together to remove any references to opposition to the bill from the final report. While these claims have not been spoken to, the majority of the NSW parliamentary committee did appear to endorse the push to amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws. 

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“If the NSW government intends legislation to ‘protect’ religious freedoms then it should commission an inquiry that affords all concerned parties the opportunity to submit and give evidence. Its final report should reflect all of the evidence received and make findings based on those facts,” Ms Burke commented. 

ALHR president Kerry Weste added that the bill is “inherently flawed” and has ignored the NSW government’s binding international legal obligations to uphold all human rights equally, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or religion. She said that religious freedom should not mean freedom to visit harm on others – including for their sexual orientation or gender identity – in the name of a religion. 

“The bill would create impractical, unprecedented and extremely far-reaching protections for religious-motivated discrimination. It also contains provisions that risk enabling religious organisations to challenge any NSW program or law if the program or law is contrary to the religious doctrine of that organisation,” Ms Weste said. 

Ms Weste said that while the ALHR is supportive of the protection of religious freedoms in a manner consistent with established international legal standards, this current bill is not consistent with human rights laws or community expectations. 

“The appropriate balance between freedom of religion or belief and other human rights would best be served by the passage of a Human Rights Act to protect everyone in NSW equally,” Ms Weste said.

Religious freedom bill ‘inherently flawed’, tainted by blocking reports
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