Prime Minister Scott Morrison has introduced the controversial Religious Discrimination Bill to parliament, but LGBTIQ advocates and academics say the new draft permits “far too much harm in the name of religion”.
The government unveiled the third draft of the long-delayed legislation earlier this week, after substantially watering down previous drafts.
Scott Morrison told parliament on Thursday the legislation gives Australians of faith “confidence they’ll be protected from discrimination.”
“The Commonwealth has a Sex Discrimination Act, a Racial Discrimination Act, a Disability Discrimination Act, and an Age Discrimination Act,” he said.
“However, there is no standalone legislation to protect people of religion, of faith, against discrimination.
“Or indeed for those who choose not to have a faith or religion.”
Morrison claimed the Bill aims to protect people from “cancel culture”.
“Many people from various religious traditions are concerned about the lack of religious protection against the prevalence of cancel culture on campuses and in Australian corporate life,” he said.
Morrison said the legislation “protects the fundamental right for religious schools to hire religious staff, to maintain their religious ethos in accordance with a publicly available policy.”
“This protection will be able to override state or territory laws which seek to interfere with that right,” he said.
Equality Australia say legislation fails to protect us all equally
Scott Morrison claimed the Bill “does not seek to set one group of Australians against another”.
However Equality Australia has said the legislation fails that test.
“The Prime Minister is right to say that people of faith should be protected from discrimination and the process of doing so should not divide the Australian community,” CEO Anna Brown said.
“But his Religious Discrimination Bill fails his own test.
“Our laws should protect all of us, equally, no matter who we are, whom we love, or what we believe.
“But the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill fails to do this.
“[It includes] provisions that would wind back hard-fought protections for women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people, and even people of faith.”
Brown took aim at the bill’s controversial “statement of belief” provisions.
“What constitutes discrimination today, will be lawful tomorrow, allowing people to say harmful, insulting and demeaning things,” she said.
“Things like a medical worker telling a person living with HIV that AIDS is a punishment from God.
“Or a person living with disability that their disability is caused by the devil.”
LGBT students and teachers in religious schools
Anna Brown also challenged Scott Morrison’s claim that “nothing in this bill allows for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality.”
Scott Morrison pledged in 2018 to repeal existing laws allowing religious schools to expel LGBT students. However a government-ordered legal review of those laws won’t report until 2023.
“It is already legal for religious schools to fire, expel or otherwise discriminate against LGBT students and staff,” Brown said.
“The Religious Discrimination Bill will do nothing to change this.”
Reviewing the new draft of the bill in The Conversation, legal academics Liam Elphick and Alice Taylor said the laws would “allows more, not less, discrimination” through “very wide” legal exemptions.
“No matter how you cut it, the Religious Discrimination Bill permits far too much harm in the name of religion,” they wrote.
MPs respond to Religious Discrimination Bill
Moderate Liberal Trent Zimmerman wants more clarity around preventing religious schools from expelling gay students and sacking gay teachers.
“It is disturbing that still today, a school could exercise those rights to expel a student because of their sexuality,” he said.
“As someone who has personally lived through this, it is this fear of action by your school during that extraordinarily difficult time in your life when you’re coming to terms with your sexuality.
“[It’s] something that can have a profound impact on a young person.”
Labor’s shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said the party “supports the extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure that Australians are not discriminated against because of their religious beliefs or activities.”
Dreyfus said the party would “carefully review the bill” and consult with the community on the legislation.
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