Equality Australia have partnered with the groups Fair Agenda and Democracy in Colour to deliver a 14,272 signature petition against the government’s draft Religious Discrimination Bill, expressing fears that the bill will undermine existing anti-discrimination protections and enshrine exemptions to those laws.

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

“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.”

“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.”

“The Bill explicitly privileges religious beliefs over secular beliefs. In a multicultural country like Australia – this is simply unacceptable.”

Those concerns were shared by Diana Sayed, campaign manager for women’s advocates Fair Agenda.

“We are very concerned that the bill in its current form will negatively impact women’s access to reproductive healthcare,” Sayed said.

“One person’s religious beliefs should never limit another person’s access to the healthcare they need.”

Democracy in Colour co-director Neha Madhok feared that the proposed legislation would make state-based anti-discrimination laws meaningless.

“This proposed legislation goes too far. It gives license to override state discrimination protections including those based on race, gender, sexuality and disability,” Madhok said.

“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 Morrison Government has set an October 2 deadline for public submissions on the bill, which it intends to put before the Parliament before Christmas.

If you would like to make a submission on the draft Religious Discrimination bill or any of the related amendments you can do so via the Attorney General’s website at https://www.ag.gov.au/Consultations/Pages/religious-freedom-bills.aspx

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