Community groups slam proposed Religious Discrimination Act
2 October 2019 at 5:09 pm
Civil society leaders are voicing their concerns about the proposed Religious Discrimination Act, which they say privileges religious belief over other human rights.
The bill – which introduces religious exemptions to Australia’s race and disability discrimination acts for the first time – has come under fire for including provisions allowing medical practitioners to refuse treatment on religious grounds.
With the consultation period for the bill closing on Wednesday, advocates representing women, LGBTIQ+ people, people with disability, people of colour, and workers are lodging submissions criticising the legislation.
Anna Brown, the CEO of Equality Australia, said exemptions to long-standing anti-discrimination laws were completely unwarranted.
She said while it was important that people of faith were protected from discrimination, giving new privileges to people of faith and overriding existing protections from discrimination for LGBTIQ people and others was unacceptable.
“No religious belief should overwhelm the right of a person to live, work, study, and access healthcare with dignity,” Brown said.
“New, radical provisions go too far and hand a sword to people of faith to use their religious beliefs to attack others in our community. This bill is not like other anti-discrimination legislation.”
The bill will override Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits behaviour that “offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules” other people.
This has drawn the ire of Jessica Munday, the secretary of Unions Tasmania.
“Tasmania has the best Anti-Discrimination Act in the country which has served Tasmanians well for over two decades,” Munday said.
“The Morrison government wants to override Tasmanian anti-discrimination law to pass legislation that will remove protections for Tasmanians to be free from discrimination at work and in other aspects of their lives. This is completely unacceptable.”
Renee Carr, the executive director of Fair Agenda, added that the bill would be detrimental to reproductive health.
“We are extremely concerned that current provisions will increase barriers people face in accessing reproductive healthcare – including contraceptives, the morning-after pill, assisted reproductive technology, and in some states, abortion care,” Carr said.
But Attorney-General Christian Porter has argued the bill was the result of extensive consultation.
“Whilst there will always be competing views on issues such as this, the government considers the [draft bill] strikes the right balance in the interests of all Australians,” Porter said.
This bill also includes a recommendation from the Ruddock review to amend the Charities Act 2013 to clarify that religious charities advocating traditional marriage would not be at risk of losing their charitable status.
But legal experts believe this amendment is unnecessary, and have warned that changing the Charities Act for one type of charitable purpose could spark a list of others seeking similar clarification.