NSW Labor’s Proposed Religious Vilification Law Criticised

NSW Labor’s Proposed Religious Vilification Law Criticised
Image: NSW Premier Chris Minns. Image: Facebook

The NSW Labor government on Wednesday introduced a bill to ban vilification on the grounds of religious belief or affiliation. The proposed changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 have been criticised as convoluted and vague and for failing to adequately protect vulnerable communities.

The NSW Government pledged to enact a religious anti-vilification law within its first 100 days in office and has stuck to this commitment. But law groups, who have long pointed out that the Act is outdated and flawed, remain sceptical of the bill in its current form.

NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper said, “The unfortunate reality is that certain forms of religious vilification are on the rise. No matter your personal beliefs, this is unacceptable. Members of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths have all raised concerns about the growing levels of intolerance towards members of their communities.”

Legal Concerns Over Bill

Law groups including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) have questioned the vagueness of terms in the bill which could mean organisations – and not just individuals – are protected from religious vilification.

Josh Pallas, President of NSWCCL, said that the Bill could “create a situation in which severe ridicule or vilification of institutions such as, for example, the Catholic Church, Hillsong, the Church of Scientology or the Anglican Church may be taken to constitute severe ridicule or vilification of persons who belong to those organisations, and thus made unlawful.”

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has pointed out inconsistencies in the bill.  PIAC said it acknowledged the importance of protecting people of minority faiths in NSW but argued for further amendments.

“The scope of these proposed reforms is broader than most other Australian jurisdictions, including Victoria and Queensland,” Director of Policy and Advocacy Alastair Lawrie said. “The introduction of prohibitions on religious vilification, while important, also highlights the need for the entire NSW Anti-Discrimination Act to be reviewed, and re-written. Other groups in our community also deserve respect and improved protection against discrimination and vilification.” 

LGBTQI Groups Concerned About New Law

Rachel Evans, a spokesperson for Rainbow Rights Coalition, labelled the bill “a kick in the teeth” and pointed to Labor’s double standards in simultaneously advocating LGBTQI rights but failing to act swiftly.

“Their pre-election promise was to ban so-called gay conversion therapy which was announced with great fanfare at WorldPride,” Evans said. “They haven’t bothered to move on this tortuous practice for the LGBTQI community.”

A spokesperson for Pride in Protest has said the group are “deeply worried” that the bill would entrench the right of religious institutions to continue to discriminate.

Pride in Protest said that in the “current climate of attacks against LGBTQI people by religious extremist groups that manifest itself in physical violence and intimidation in LGBTQI areas like Oxford Street and King Street,” the bill was “disgusting”.

“This bill will give religious organisations, who unfortunately are starting to really dominate the teaching and aged-care sphere and are developing quite a lot of control and management of social housing, more confidence to discriminate and sack LGBTQI workers, sex workers and single mothers who’ve had abortions.”

Disturbing Rise In Anti-LGBTQI Attacks

Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown and Greens NSW Spokesperson for Anti-Discrimination, said, “right now we are seeing a disturbing increase of anti-trans and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric and aggression online and on the streets.”

“But instead of prioritising protections against discrimination and vilification for the LGBTQI community and sex workers – the amendment introduced today only inserts broad religious protections in the Anti-Discrimination Act.”

In recent months, emboldened far-right religious groups have targeted safe spaces for queer communities across the country, gate-crashing queer rights protests and causing a series of councils to cancel drag story-time events over security concerns.

In March this year, religious fanatics surrounded and assaulted a group of queer activists, protesting against a Mark Latham event, outside a Catholic church in south-west Sydney.

‘Bill Cannot Be Fixed’

Law groups prefer to see the entire act reviewed via a referral to the NSW Law Reform Commission.

“The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act remains the worst in the country, and we look forward to the Government following through on its promise to refer it to the NSW Law Reform Commission and acting on the Commission’s recommendations,” said Lawrie. 

Pallas said the NSW Council for Civil Liberties “opposes the Bill in its current form. The Bill cannot be fixed with amendments.”

“The only prudent way to facilitate such far-reaching reform is through a referral of the whole Anti-Discrimination Act to the NSW Law Reform Commission. There is widespread community support for a complete review, the Attorney General should just get on with it.”

Pride in Protest accused NSW Labor of “brazen hypocrisy”.

“We think it’s unfair that the law reform is seen as a delaying tactic for the rights of LGBT+ people”, a Pride in Protest spokesperson said. “If the Labor Party has the ability to rush through these changes [for religious people and groups], why is there the delay on our rights? Labor needs to get their priorities in order”.

Pallas questioned the state government on its perceived hierarchy of priorities, stating “others within the community, trans people, people with intersex variations and sex workers also receive limited protections under NSW anti-discrimination law. Where is the protection for them? Why should religious organisations receive protection before them?”

You May Also Like

2 responses to “NSW Labor’s Proposed Religious Vilification Law Criticised”

  1. Petition to #DefundChurches – they do not serve taxpayers or society, only their own interests.

    What a disgrace, Labor. I’m so dissapointed. Labor really is lib-lite. Greens it is.