Mark Latham’s push to amend NSW’s Religious Freedom laws have been endorsed by a parliamentary committee, with the committee chair, Gabrielle Upton urging that the recommendations should be adopted and laws introduced by the end of the year.

The majority of the 14 member parliamentary committee looked at amendments to the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act that were introduced by One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham and agreed that his bill had merit and could be used as a template for reform, with some changes. 

Religious Freedom laws go to far

Three members of the committee dissented from the majority, with the Greens’ Jenny Leong and Independent MP Alex Greenwich sending a letter to Attorney-General Mark Speakman urging him to “disregard” the report, which “does not reflect the evidence” and Mr Lynch expressing concern for the integrity of the decision making process saying, 

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“As with everyone else on the Committee, I support making religion a protected attribute in NSW Anti-Discrimination law. However, Latham’s bill was not the way to do that. The decision-making process on the committee was a travesty, with lengthy amendments bundled together and rammed through without proper discussion.”

Ms Leong said there was “broad recognition across the experts and the community that there is a need to protect people from being discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs, but that is not the same as enshrining protections for people to engage in whole scale discrimination against women and the LGBTIQ+ community under the guise of religious freedoms”.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) released a statement from their CEO, Jonathon Hunyor, who said

“The Joint Standing Committee’s report outlines the serious concerns from a diverse range of stakeholders across civil society about how this would undermine their rights. But these are simply side-stepped, leaving a minefield for the Attorney General,”

“If the NSW Government develops legislation building on One Nation’s fundamentally flawed Bill, women, LGBTIQ people, people of minority faiths and others, may face increased discrimination as they go about their daily lives.”

“The lack of protection for religious belief is a genuine gap in NSW anti-discrimination law, but this Bill is not the answer and the Committee’s report leaves us no closer to finding one.” said Mr Hunyor.

Some religious groups aren’t happy either

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The PIAC weren’t the only civil society organisations to raise concerns with the proposed changes with women’s organisations, LGBTQI groups, legal bodies and even some faith representatives voicing concerns via the inquiry process with Uniting Church NSW and ACT Synod moderator Simon Hansford saying last year, 

“Christians are not victims in Australia because of our faith, and we should not seek freedoms that are self-serving and come at the detriment of others in the community,” he said.

“We strongly urge that any such provisions to protect Christian freedoms, must in no way diminish mutual respect, freedom from discrimination and enjoyment of the human rights of everyone in NSW.

The proposed changes will not only protect religious beliefs but takes things even further by protecting people like Israel Folau from punishment from their employer for saying “statements of genuine belief and faith that have got nothing to do with their job”, words from Latham’s maiden speech launching the bill last year in parliament.  

This isn’t even Latham’s only bill in play at the moment – his anti-trans The Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020 is also making the rounds.

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