The Morrison Government has today released the draft of its Religious Discrimination Bill in which it backtracks on the promises made about the legislation during its drafting process.
An explanatory memorandum accompanying the draft legislation specifically states that it intends to override Tasmanian anti-discrimination law “given its broad scope and demonstrated ability to affect freedom of religious expression.”
Tasmania is the only jurisdiction where religious organisations do not have the right to discriminate against people in employment and service provision.
The draft legislation also appears to enshrine existing exemptions for religious groups in state-based legislation.
Attorney General Christian Potter had previously stated that the bill would not override existing state anti-discrimination laws.
According to the draft legislation seen by the Star Observer, its stated aims are to “eliminate, so far as is possible, discrimination against persons on the ground of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life.”
“To ensure, as far as practicable, that everyone has the same rights to equality before the law, regardless of religious belief or activity; and to ensure that people can, consistently with Australia’s obligations with respect to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and subject to specified limits, make statements of belief.”
“This Act makes it unlawful to discriminate on the ground of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of public life,” the draft legislation continues.
“It is unlawful to discriminate on the ground of religious belief or activity in relation to work, in certain other areas such as education, and in providing goods and services.”
“However, it is not unlawful to discriminate on the ground of religious belief or activity if a particular exception or exemption applies.”
“Statements of belief do not generally constitute discrimination [but] certain conduct involving advertisements and victimisation is an offence.”
“Conduct that is unlawful or an offence under this Act is unlawful discrimination for the purposes of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986. Complaints can be made under that Act to the Australian Human Rights Commission about such conduct.”
“The office of the Freedom of Religion Commissioner is established by this Act … The Australian Human Rights Commission has a number of functions in relation to this Act.”
Civil society groups representing women, LGBTIQ+ people, and people of colour quickly reacted to the draft legislation and have today condemned the Government’s draft Religious Discrimination Act Exposure Draft.
“Laws must apply equally to everyone – this Act enshrines religious exceptionalism by giving new privileges to people of faith, while overriding existing protections from discrimination for others,” Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said.
“There appears to be a specific override of Tasmanian prohibitions on conduct which ‘offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’ other members of our community, including LGBTIQ+ people.”
“The Bill explicitly privileges religious beliefs over secular beliefs. In a multicultural free country like Australia – this is simply unacceptable.”
“It introduces a carve-out to stop employers from upholding their inclusive non-discriminatory policies when staff express negative religious beliefs about LGBTIQ+ people outside the workplace such as on social media, except where necessary to avoid unjustifiable financial hardship’.”
“But people who aren’t religious don’t have the same level of protection. Our laws need to treat all beliefs equally – regardless of whether they’re based on religion or a person’s individual moral view.”
“We must not go backwards or remove any protections from harmful behaviour which have already been achieved – at great cost.”
Brown noted that the Government was still yet to meet with any of the groups who could find themselves targeted if the bill is made law in its current form.
“It’s really disappointing that the Government has drafted a series of special measures for religious individuals and organisations without speaking to those who could be targeted if those measures are passed,” Brown said.
National Director of Democracy in Colour, Neha Madhok said she wanted a bill that protects people of all faiths, equally
“But if it’s one that divides LGBTQI+ people of faith from their own religious community, it’s gone too far,” Madhok said.
Diana Sayed, a senior campaigner for Fair Agenda, added “No one person’s beliefs should override another person’s protection from harm. We’re very worried about the potential impact these changes could have on women’s protection from harm and access to services, including reproductive healthcare.”