Scott Morrison has today released a second version of the religious discrimination bill, which was overhauled after criticism of the first bill was raised by businesses, faith-based organisations, community groups and thousands of written submissions.
Outlining eleven changes to the draft bill, the Morrison Government says its commitment is in protecting every Australian from discrimination.
“This is not a process that should be rushed,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s office said. “What is important is that we get this legislation right and deliver lasting reforms that provide real protections for all.”
The Bill will continue to allow staffing and other decisions to be based on faith, which currently exists under federal law; while other changes include defining the word “vilify” as inciting “hatred or violence”, and exemptions to allow religious camps and conference centres to take faith into account when providing accommodation.
A change to the health practitioner laws narrows the health professions to medicine, midwifery, nursing, pharmacy and psychology, which means workers could object to carrying out procedures that are against their faith, but not to treating a patient based on their faith.
“A double standard exists in the Religious Discrimination Bill privileging religious institutions to the detriment of Australians who hold different beliefs, or no religious belief at all, in employment, education settings, and in the provision of goods and services,” said CEO of Equality Australia Anna Brown.
“Australians who don’t hold religious views or disagree with the religious views held by others will have less protections under the law.”
In their statement, Equality Australia noted that the revised Religious Discrimination Bill provides protections for people who intimidate others through their expression of religious beliefs and provides protections for people who break local council by-laws, such as street preachers.
It establishes double standards in the law, allowing religious organisations the ability to discriminate against others with different or no belief, while protections are provided to companies associated with religious individuals who are refused services, goods or facilities.
Brown said this compromises patient health by making it harder for health employers and professional bodies to ensure doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and psychologists do not refuse treatment to people on religious grounds.
“The law should set clear standards which must apply to everyone, equally,” Brown said. “The Bill introduces an unprecedented, radical test to determine whether discrimination against people of different beliefs can be justified.
“A person who agrees with you should not be determining whether the harmful statement you made comprises a religious belief. The Statements of Belief clauses immunise people who intimidate others from being held to account through anti-discrimination laws, and by their relevant professional bodies.
“This Bill divides our communities, provides different standards for different people, and allows people with extreme views to define their own rules.”
“We need to ensure any laws aimed at protecting Australians from discrimination based on religious belief do not create legal uncertainty or compromise existing anti-discrimination protections,” said Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus, who noted in his statement that Labor will be doing its own consultation on the second draft of the Bill.
“I’m very much looking forward to this next round of consultation,” the Prime Minister said in the press conference earlier today, “so when we do get to a position when we are able to bring a Bill into the Parliament and seek to pursue that through both chambers, that we will do so in a way that I will hope will be a very unifying expression of our countries firm belief in religious freedom.”
The public are able to read the draft Bill here, and submissions on the bill close on 31 January 2020.