Submission on the 2nd Exposure Draft of the Religious Freedom Bills Alternative formats available on request to PIAC - Contact PIAC
While PIAC supports the inclusion ‘religious belief (or lack of belief)’ as a protected attribute in Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation, the primary recommendation of this submission is that the draft Religious Discrimination Bill should not proceed, because it diminishes existing rights protections and privileges the rights of some over others.
Like the First Exposure Draft released in August 2019, the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill released in December 2019 contains a number of features that undermine existing anti-discrimination protections and, more generally, the integrity of Australia’s anti-discrimination law regime. This includes:
- the Bill’s approach to the test for reasonableness, which seeks to interfere with the ordinary balancing of rights and interests in individual cases, as used in existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation;
- the specific impact of the ‘conscientious objection’ provisions on access to health services which are disproportionately used by vulnerable populations (such as the refusal to provide hormone treatment to trans and gender diverse people);
- the breadth of exclusions provided to religious bodies in proposed cl 11 and related clauses, their application to school students to permit expulsion, as well as the inclusion of new provisions allowing religious hospitals and aged care services to discriminate in employment on the ground of religious belief;
- the winding back of existing protection from discrimination in relation to ‘statements of belief’; and
- by overriding State and Territory laws, the departure from the decades-long, bi-partisan commitment to maintaining complementary Commonwealth and State/Territory laws that allow for local variation to provide the highest level of rights protection.
The creation of a Religious Freedom Commissioner in the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill is also not supported, given it was considered and not recommended by the Religious Freedom Review.
Amendments to the Charities Act which would single out charities expressing support for the pre-2017 definition of marriage for protection, proposed in the Exposure Draft Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill, should also be removed.