Legal groups call for rejection of Religious Discrimination Bill in its entirety
In its final report into the Religious Discrimination Bill, a Senate committee noted that the legal profession had several concerns but was “not persuaded” that this warranted any significant changes. In response, legal groups have reiterated their calls for the entirety of the bill to be rejected when it comes before Parliament.
During two hearing days and in submissions, legal groups – including the Law Council of Australia, Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) – said time and again that clauses 11 and 12 of the Religious Discrimination Bill should either be amended or removed entirely to protect women, LGTBQIA+ people, and others from faith-based discrimination.
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In the final report, the committee noted that these sections were contested by eminent members of the profession and would likely result in judicial consideration, but this was not enough to recommend any changes other than to say that the government should address these constitutional concerns prior to passing the bill.
In response, ALHR and PIAC said the entire bill should be withdrawn because it is unworkable and at odds with international human rights. ALHR added that it is also an “unprecedented attack on existing anti-discrimination protections in Australia” and will likely see an increase in discrimination among minority groups.
“Religious freedom does not mean freedom to visit harm upon others in the name of one’s own religion,” ALHR president Kerry Weste said. “Australian society should not tolerate behaviour that is religiously motivated, just by reason of that motivation, and our laws should not protect behaviour that is discriminatory.”
If passed in its current form – which looks likely after this week – the bill’s clause 11 and 12 could see Australians at work, school, on transport and in healthcare subjected to “offensive, uniformed, insulting, demeaning or damaging statements of belief as long as those statements are based on or in religion”, Ms Weste explained.
PIAC chief executive Jonathon Hunyor agreed that it was “extremely disappointing” that the Senate committee and a parliamentary joint committee on human rights were unwilling to address the problems “this complex legislation creates”. PIAC is mirroring calls for the bill to be rejected in its entirety to protect vulnerable groups.
“The majority reports have not grappled with the serious problems created by the bill’s extraordinary and excessive religious exceptions,” PIAC policy manager Alastair Lawrie added. “This includes exceptions that apply to a far broader range of organisations than any other Australian anti-discrimination law, and which adopt a far more lenient test to determine when discrimination will be permitted.”