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Service delivery the next religious right to go?
Religious organisations who deliver key services to the community should not have the right to discriminate against LGBTI people, a Senate inquiry has told the federal government.
A report published on Thursday from the the Senate inquiry into the exposure draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 has recommended service delivery by religious organisations should not be protected by religious exemptions.
LGBTI rights advocates are calling on the federal government to pass the bill into legislation before the election now that the committee has made its findings.
The cross-party committee also supported the draft bill’s removal of religious exemptions for Commonwealth-funded aged care providers but did not go as far as taking away religious organisations’ right to employ or fire people based on their beliefs.
“The committee is of the view that no organisation should enjoy a blanket exception from anti-discrimination law when they are involved in service delivery to the general community,” the report stated.
“It is vitally important that the rights of minority groups are upheld when they are receiving help from service providers, particularly in cases where the service provision is Commonwealth-funded.”
In the tender process for government services, the committee said the Australian government should have the option of specifying that the organisation must provide services to everyone, despite exisiting religious beliefs.
It also recommended that religious organisations who intended to use clause 33 of the bill – to discriminate against potential employees – should have to advertise that they intended to.
It added that some religious organisations who had presented evidence to the inquiry said they already provided services on a non-discriminatory basis.
The New South Wales Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) welcomed the release of the report.
“The recommendations of this report represent a win for LGBTI Australians and are a step in the right direction in terms of improving protections for LGBTI people in Commonwealth anti‐discrimination law,” GLRL co-convenor Dr Justin Koonin said.
“There is compelling evidence in Australia that LGBTI people’s access to education, health and social services is impeded by discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status and the recommendations of this report reflect and acknowledge that.”
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby convenor Anna Brown said religious groups should be not given free license to discriminate against LGBTI people as well as single mothers and de facto couples.
“The changes better balance freedom of religion with the right to be free from discrimination. In particular, people should be told if they are to be discriminated against so they can make an informed choice about applying for a job or buying goods or services,” Brown said.
“The proposal that religious service providers and employers publish their intention to discrimination encourages transparency and makes common sense.”
Transgender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner and Organisation Intersex International’s Tony Briffa both welcomed the committee’s recommendations for clearer definitions of transgender and intersex people within the draft bill.
While the Coalition supports national protections for LGBTI people, some Coalition senators rejected the bill entirely and recommended the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 be amended to include the community.
Goldner added the committee had overlooked the issue of a LGBTI commissioner, similar to national commissioners representing other areas such as race, sex and age.
Brown urged the government to adopt the recommendations of the committee and pass the legislation as soon as possible, to deliver on its commitment to introduce discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.