Beyond Blue has slammed Scott Morrison’s contentious Religious Discrimination Bill, claiming its “statements of belief” provisions could impact mental health of LGBTIQ+ Australians.
The mental health organisation’s CEO Georgie Harman says further changes to the legislation are needed to “provide discrimination protections for people of faith without removing existing anti-discrimination protections for others”.
The mental health charity wrote in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry that provisions in the bill “may jeopardise national efforts to reduce the rates of depression, anxiety and suicide in communities already disproportionately affected by mental health issues, such as people from LGBTIQ+ communities and people living with disability.”
“Section 42 would allow people expressing prejudiced or harmful views about LGBTQI+ people, people with disabilities, women and others protection from any consequences for their conduct under current anti-discrimination laws,” Beyond Blue wrote.
“We acknowledge that Section 42 subsection 2 means the proposed legislation will not protect people who make statements that are malicious, likely to harass, threaten, seriously intimidate or vilify another person or group of persons, or which encourage serious offence.
“However, we believe these protections are not sufficient to protect people from statements causing profound and unjustified psychological damage.
“The line between statements that are allowed and those which are not is unclear.”
Bill ‘prioritises religious views over patient needs’
Beyond Blue said the statements of belief provisions in the Religious Discrimination Bill should be removed.
They went on, “‘Statements of belief’, despite being made in good faith, have the potential to cause significant” psychological distress amongst certain groups.
“For example, stating that gay people will go to hell or that mental health issues are the work of the devil.
“Such statements can cause lasting hurt, fear, isolation, helplessness and shame and prevent people seeking support and treatment for psychological distress or suicidality.
“Comments can be especially harmful when made by people in positions of trust and influence, such as health professionals, support workers or educators.”
Beyond Blue also called for the removal of provisions on “health practitioner conduct rules and conscientious objection to providing a health service.”
If passed, they wrote, “employers and professional health bodies will find it much harder to impose policies or standards that require health practitioners to provide health services to everyone, such as reproductive and sexual health care.”
“Our health care services should provide welcoming, respectful and safe environments for people of all sexualities, sexes and gender identities,” Beyond Blue wrote.
“These subsections effectively prioritise religious views over patient needs, and we strongly recommend removing them.”
Morrison government panned for ‘rushed’ religion bill inquiry
Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced the third draft of the contentious Religious Discrimination Bill to parliament.
Morrison has framed the long-delayed bill as “a shield, not a sword” to protect Australians of faith from discrimination.
However LGBTIQ advocates and legal experts reject this. They warn the latest draft will “legislate bigotry” and explicitly override existing laws protecting LGBTIQ people, women, and minority groups from discrimination.
On Tuesday, one of two parliamentary committees looking at the bill began its first hearing in Canberra.
The Australian Christian Lobby, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group, Equality Australia and the Human Rights Law Alliance were all listed to address the hearing.
Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Janet Rice, who is sitting on the human rights committee, said anti-discrimination laws must protect everyone equally.
She slammed the tight timeframe of the two inquiries and their schedules over the Christmas-New Year period. Both inquiries will deliver their final reports on February 4, 2022.
“[Tuesday’s] hearing is an important opportunity to hear from diverse voices about the problems with this bill,” Senator Rice said.
“[However] the Liberals pushed for a rushed inquiry because the more people know, the less they like it.”
Senator Rice said the legislation “remains a Trojan horse for hate.”
“This bill will override existing state laws that protect people from discrimination and bigoted speech in the name of religion.”
If you need someone to talk to, help is available from QLife on 1800 184 527 or online at QLife.org.au, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800, or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.
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