PIAC supports the protection of religious belief in anti-discrimination legislation, both at Commonwealth level and in NSW.
Unfortunately, the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill 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 – including reproductive services, contraception and abortion – for women generally as well as for specific groups (single women, lesbian couples, transgender people);
- the breadth of exclusions provided to religious bodies in proposed cl 10 and their application to school students to permit expulsion;
- 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 collective impact of these problems means that the Religious Discrimination Bill cannot be supported in its current form.
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 Actwhich 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.