New exemptions in redraft of government’s religious freedom bill

christian porter religious discrimination bill religious freedom
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Attorney-General Christian Porter will redraft the Morrison government’s religious discrimination bill to allow faith-operated hospitals and aged care providers to hire and fire staff on the basis of their religion.

But LGBTIQ advocates have warned the changes to the bill must not allow discrimination on the basis of people’s sexuality.

Porter said the organisations would get the new exemptions under what he says is the biggest change in his controversial religious freedom laws.

“Religious hospitals and aged care providers will be given protections equivalent to those given to other religious bodies, in relation to employment of staff,” he told the National Press Club.

Poter said religious hospitals and aged care operators want to retain a “religious ethos and culture” within their organisations.

“The religious hospitals and aged care providers themselves recognise that competing objectives of providing access to health services and maintaining a faith-based identity must be reconciled,” he said.

Porter said religious hospitals and aged care providers had told him they don’t “make decisions about the admission of patients based on any given patient’s religion or absence of religion, and do not seek to do so.”

“Likewise for aged care providers – with very few exceptions – they do not appear to consider religion or lack of religion before making a decision to accommodate a person,” he said.

Speaking on ABC News, Porter claimed the changes would not allow hospitals to hire and fire on the basis of sexuality, age or disability.

“The exemption is only about making a decision about an employee based on their faith, not their sexuality, not their age or disability,” he said.

“A religious aged care provider can employ people of their own religion now. This affirms the status quo and doesn’t change the status quo.”

Religious discrimination bill should ‘discourage discrimination, not foster it’

Just.equal spokesperson Brian Greig called for the government’s “appalling” bill to be voted down, for legislating new forms of discrimination.

He fears the changes will “give a green light” to faith-operated, taxpayer-funded hospitals and aged care services to exclude LGBTIQ staff, including those in same-sex marriages, on the basis of “religious ethos”.

“Australia needs laws that discourage discrimination, not foster it like Mr Porter’s bill will,” he said.

“We call on all fair-minded MPs and senators to vote down this appalling, damaging and totally unnecessary legislation when it comes to Parliament.”

Meanwhile, LGBTIQ advocates are also concerned the religious freedom laws could impact people’s access to medical treatments based on a doctor’s religious beliefs.

Equality Tasmania spokesperson Rodney Croome also slammed the Attorney-General for standing by a provision explicitly undermining existing state law.

The federal bill overrides a clause in the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act allowing offensive language if religious in nature.

Croome said Porter’s argument that the override is necessary was based on a misrepresentation of a complaint against the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart in 2015.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said he hopes to introduce the bill to parliament within the next fortnight, the last sitting days of the year.

He said he expects it to be put to a Senate committee for further consideration.

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