The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has called on Federal Parliament to reject the Religious Discrimination Bill after its contents were finally released yesterday.
‘Unfortunately, the Religious Discrimination Bill is even worse than we feared, and may lead to more discrimination in the Australian community, not less,’ PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor said.
‘This extraordinary legislation seeks to protect the ability of people with extreme religious views to make offensive and derogatory comments, at the expense of the rights of others to be free from discrimination on the basis of who they are.’
‘It will also entrench the privileges of large religious organisations, like schools, hospitals, aged care and disability services, to discriminate in employment, and in some cases service delivery, based on religious belief’ said Mr Hunyor.
PIAC’s two primary areas of concern about the Bill – the statement of belief provisions, and its religious exceptions – have been made worse in its final version. The Bill also undermines our national system of discrimination laws in ways we have never seen before.
Statements of belief
‘The statement of belief provisions mean that people will be able to lawfully make comments that offend, humiliate, insult and ridicule others simply because of who they are, as long as those comments are motivated by religious belief,’ PIAC Policy Manager Alastair Lawrie said.
‘These unprecedented provisions will mean women, LGBTI people, people with disability, single parents and even people of minority faiths will be exposed to derogatory comments as they go about their daily lives, in workplaces, in education, in health care, in public transport, in shops, cafes and restaurants.’
For example, a male manager would be able to tell a female employee that a woman’s place is in the home, serving her husband, while a school teacher would be able to tell a student with disability that their disability was a ‘trial imposed by God’.
The test for what constitutes a statement of belief has been expanded even further in the final Bill, and now applies when the person making the statement ‘genuinely considers [it] to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.’
‘This entirely subjective test, and the fact the Bill expressly overrides laws like the Racial Discrimination Act and Disability Discrimination Act, shows just how far this legislation goes to protect demeaning comments,’ Lawrie added.
Interfering with our legal framework
The statement of belief provisions override other Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws, as well as all state and territory discrimination laws, which also creates significant practical problems.
‘This is the first time the Commonwealth has sought to directly interfere in state and territory anti-discrimination laws. It is vandalism of our federal discrimination framework,’ Jonathon Hunyor said.
‘This approach will make it significantly more difficult for vulnerable people to bring complaints to state and territory discrimination tribunals, denying them access to justice.’
The laws are also unnecessarily complicated.
‘Rather than developing a standard discrimination law that provides the same protections as exist for other grounds like sex, disability, race and age, the Religious Discrimination Bill is full of tricks and turns. This makes the law much less clear and harder to implement,’ said Mr Hunyor.
The religious exceptions contained within the Bill remain far broader than similar provisions in any other anti-discrimination law anywhere in Australia.
‘These religious exceptions are unlike anything we have ever seen before. The category of organisations that are covered is far broader, and the test these organisations must satisfy in order to discriminate against others is far easier, than anywhere else,’ Alastair Lawrie said.
Unlike previous versions of the Bill, the religious exceptions in the final version now also potentially override state and territory laws, in relation to employment by religious educational institutions.
‘This should be a law that promotes tolerance and respect in our community. By seeking to provide special treatment for religious organisations and those who want to express potentially extreme religious views, the Bill fails to deliver what we need. It must be rejected,’ said Mr Lawrie.