New South Wales Attorney-General, Mark Speakman announced plans on Tuesday for a religious discrimination bill, bringing the state in line with anti-discrimination protections in most other Australian states and territories. 

“NSW is a proudly multicultural and multi-faith society. We’re pleased to be taking this critical step to protect people of faith and of no faith from discrimination and to support freedom of religion,” Speakman said in a statement.

“By making discrimination on the grounds of religion unlawful, we’re ensuring that our laws reflect modern community values.”

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Tuesday’s media release said that, “the NSW Government will introduce a bill in Parliament to amend the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), adding religion to existing protected grounds of disability, sex, race, age, marital or domestic status, homosexuality, transgender status and carer’s responsibilities”.

Will Wait For Commonwealth’s Religious Discrimination Bill  

NSW clarified that it would wait for the Commonwealth’s Religious Discrimination Bill to be passed before finalising its own draft.

“In June 2021, the Commonwealth Government announced its intention to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill to protect against discrimination based on religious belief or activity in key areas of public life into Federal Parliament by the end of this year,” said the NSW government’s press release.

“The NSW Government plans to await the passage of the Commonwealth Bill through Parliament before finalising the detail of NSW reforms, to enable it to consider the interaction of Commonwealth law with NSW reforms and to avoid constitutional inconsistency.”

But as the Greens member for Newtown, Jenny Leong, mentioned in April 2021 when Mark Latham’s push to amend NSW’s Religious Freedom laws were endorsed by a parliamentary committee, “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”, which was reported by the Star Observer at the time. 

Concerns Raised Over Bill

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Ms Leong released a statement after the announcement of the planned amendments on Tuesday, raising concerns about the benefits of taking at face value advise from a party with a questionable track record.

“From the very start, the hypocrisy of having a member of One Nation, a party that has a current policy of banning the burqa and the building of mosques, propose so-called religious freedoms legislation should have been enough to deter the Liberal/National Government from showing any support to this inquiry in the first place.”

“We urge the NSW Attorney General to recognise the extreme bigotry, hatred, xenophobia and transphobia spouted on a regular basis by One Nation representatives and to not act in any way to legitimise these views.”

“We hope that the Attorney General has listened to legitimate concerns about the proposed Commonwealth Religious Freedoms bill and will ensure that any NSW legislation does not elevate the rights of religious people over others.”

Law Fails To Protect LGBTQI+ Community

For those who needed a quick reminder of the kind of compassion that One Nation holds for religious freedoms, Pauline Hanson, leader of One Nation actually dressed in a burqa and presented herself for question time in the Senate chamber as part of her fight to ban the burqa in 2017. Hanson was quickly rebuked by then Attorney-General George Brandis, who received a standing ovation from many in the senate chamber.

“It is also long-overdue that a holistic, public review of the Anti-Discrimination Act with input from community and experts was undertaken to address the fact that it currently fails to adequately protect many of the LGBTIQ+ community from discrimination.” Leong added.

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