Revamped religious discrimination bill is still ‘unacceptable’


scott morrison federal government prime minister religious freedom
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More religious organisations will be permitted to discriminate in hiring and firing staff under the government’s revised religious discrimination bill.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter unveiled the reworked legislation on Monday.

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Mr Morrison said the government was committed to “ensuring that people would not be discriminated against in this country, on the basis of their religious beliefs or non-beliefs.”

“This is a Bill for all Australians. Australia is a country of respect and of tolerance,” he said.

He claimed the laws are “a shield from discrimination, not a sword,” however LGBTIQ advocates disagree.

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said the new bill allows a broader range of organisations to discriminate against LGBTIQ people and others.

Among the 11 changes are provisions allowing religious charities, hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers to hire and fire based on faith.

The reworked bill also allows camps and conference centres run by religious organisations to refuse bookings from groups they believe are incompatible with their faith.

“The government heard the LGBTIQ community say we want the bill to allow less discrimination. It gave us precisely the opposite,” Croome said.

“When Scott Morrison says this bill is a shield protecting against discrimination rather than a sword allowing it, he is not telling the truth.

“The Bill continues to allow ‘statements of belief’ even if they attack others and undermine workplace inclusion.

“[It allows] patients to be turned away if there is a religious objection to the procedures they seek and an override of Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.

He said the Bill’s expanded definition of religious doctrine “is so broad it opens the floodgate to any kind of prejudice and bigotry camouflaged as religious belief.”

Religious discrimination bill ‘divides our communities’

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said the “unacceptable” bill creates a “double standard” in Australian law.

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“[It privileges] 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,” she said.

“Australians who don’t hold religious views, or disagree with the religious views held by others will have less protections under the law.”

Brown said the Bill’s clauses related to statements of belief will “immunise bigotry”. She said the bill “allows people with extreme views to define their own rules.”

“This Bill divides our communities and provides different standards for different people,” she said.

Changes to healthcare provisions not good enough

The new draft also narrows provisions around “conscientious objection” apply by nurses, midwives, doctors, psychologists and pharmacists only.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the provisions would not allow discrimination based upon a person’s gender or other characteristics.

However, Equality Australia’s Anna Brown said the changes “demonstrate the initial Bill went way too far.”

“The healthcare provisions in the second draft still apply to doctors, nurses, psychologists, midwives, and pharmacists,” she said.

“These are the healthcare workers most likely to be the first line of response for people seeking treatment.

“They still don’t have minimum safeguards for patient health. The Bill still allows for adverse impacts on patient health.

“Laws that privilege religious views over patient health are unacceptable.”

Labor not consulted on the new bill

The government is accepting public submissions on the second draft of the bill until January 31.

Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Janet Rice said despite the revisions, the bill is still a “Trojan horse for hate.”

“It appears the bill still includes the potential for a manager to tell employees, ‘Your homosexual lifestyle is a sin,'” she said.

“Or a counsellor to encourage their client to pray for healing of their ‘sexual brokenness’.

“This kind of bigotry cannot stand. Any Bill that comes to the parliament must ensure all Australians are treated equally.

Labor shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the opposition had not been consulted on any of the changes.

“We agree … all Australians should be able to go about their lives free from discrimination,” Dreyfus said.

“Because of this, 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.

“As we did with the first draft, Labor will now take the time to consult widely with the Australian community.”

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