Religious Discrimination Bill remains deeply flawed and should be rejected

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre has called for the second exposure draft of the Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill to be rejected in its current form.

In its submission, published today and endorsed by Community Legal Centres NSW, PIAC has outlined how the latest version of the Bill will negatively impact on the enjoyment of rights across the community, and creates more problems than it solves.

‘This Bill is deeply flawed. It is radical, unnecessarily complex and unworkable in practice. It is likely to permit more discrimination than it prevents and create divisions in society, rather than promoting tolerance,’ said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor.

‘Despite some changes from the First Exposure Draft to the Second, major problems remain – and indeed some problems have been made worse. We therefore urge the Government not to proceed with this Bill.’

PIAC’s submission raises an important issue that has been overlooked in debate surrounding this Bill: namely, the right not to disclose one’s religious beliefs.

‘When engaged in public life, such as seeking access to social services, being required to answer the question “what is your religion?” would be seen by many as unnecessary, inappropriate and an invasion of privacy,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

‘This Bill makes it a question that can be asked in a very broad range of circumstances, unrelated to religious observance or inherently religious activity. A homeless person seeking food at a soup kitchen, a young person seeking support at a drop-in centre, a parent seeking care for their infant child, someone seeking aged-care services in their home: this Bill not only allows them to be asked “what is your religion?”, but makes the answer one that can determine their access to services or employment.

‘This is wrong in principle and inconsistent with community standards. It will serve to create and highlight division in our community’, said Mr Hunyor.

Specific problems addressed in PIAC’s submission include:

  • Clause 42, permitting a wide range of otherwise discriminatory comments to be made against people because they are religious ‘statements of belief’.

‘Clause 42 would allow a range of discriminatory statements that incite serious contempt and severe ridicule – as well as those that are offensive, insulting, demeaning and degrading. It must be removed from the Bill so that all people are free to go about their lives free from the fear of discrimination,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

  • The draft Bill’s ‘conscientious objection’ provisions in relation to health care. Despite some improvements on the earlier draft, patients can still be denied access to essential health care, based on a health practitioner’s personal religious beliefs.

‘The Bill’s conscientious objection provisions could have serious consequences for the provision of health care across Australia and risk having a particularly deleterious impact on the health of vulnerable groups within the community,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

  • The novel and excessively broad exemptions that will allow religious organisations including schools, universities, aged care service providers and hospitals to discriminate on the basis of religion in a range of ways.

‘PIAC can see no legitimate justification for permitting a religious hospital to discriminate against potential or current employees, simply because they hold a different religious belief to the hospital’, said Jonathon Hunyor.

‘We also oppose allowing religious schools and universities to disadvantage or expel students on religious grounds – for example, if a student decides they no longer share the faith of the religious body, but wish to complete their education in the school, they should not be subject to expulsion’ said Jonathon Hunyor.

Read the submission.

Media contact: PIAC Media and Communications Manager, Gemma Pearce – 0478 739 280

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