The religious discrimination bill will shield Australians who make statements of belief from state anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws and allow religious-run businesses, schools, hospitals and aged care homes to prioritise the hiring of people from their own faith. The Prime Minister personally tabled the bill, a key 2019 election promise, in the lower house last week and is expected to push for a vote before sending the legislation to the Senate. Under subclause 12 of the legislation distributed to Coalition MPs, moderately expressed religious views that do not incite hatred or violence “would not constitute vilification”. The statement of belief clause, which leads protections for individuals and was a key demand from Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders, is defined as a “religious belief held by a person”.
Statement made in good faith in writing or by way of spoken words or other communication by a person who genuinely considers such to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion, will also be protected by the bill. The bill provides similar protections for atheists who don’t hold a religious belief. Statements of belief will be considered as discrimination if they are “malicious” or considered by a “reasonable person” to be threatening or intimidatory. It is not discrimination for a religious hospital, aged care facility, accommodation provider or disability service provider to seek to preserve a religious ethos amongst its staff by making faith-based decisions in relation to employment. Such conduct is therefore not unlawful.
Catholic Bishops Conference spokesman Peter Comensoli, the Archbishop of Melbourne, said a religious discrimination bill was “an important progression towards parity with other anti-discrimination protections”. It is understood faith-based groups have adopted a pragmatic approach to the bill, realising that outcomes gained from the proposed laws would offer more protections than they currently have. Under previous draft legislation prepared by former attorney-general Christian Porter, the right of employees to make religious statements outside work was dubbed the “Folau clause” after Rugby Australia pushed out Israel Folau over an Instagram post claiming gay people went to hell. This clause has now been removed.
The legislation outlines conduct not considered to be discrimination or unlawful across areas including work, education, access to premises and the provision of goods, services and accommodation. Religious education institutions, including schools, colleges, universities and training facilities, “must have a publicly available policy in relation to conduct in the context of employment”. They will not contravene state or territory laws if they give “preference, in good faith, to persons who hold or engage in a particular religious belief or activity”. The written policies must outline the religious body’s position in relation to “religious beliefs or activities and explain how the position will be enforced by the religious body”.
While the government removed the contentious Folau clause, which would have given individuals in large companies and organisations legal protection from termination as a result of expressing their religious belief, the bill stops professional bodies from striking off or restricting members over their religious beliefs and statements. A baker will not be able to refuse to bake a cake for a same-sex couple because it is still considered discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act. Part six of the legislation outlines the role of a new religious discrimination commissioner operating inside the Australian Human Rights Commission alongside aged, disability, sex and race commissioners. Conscientious objection protections for health professionals was not included in the final bill.
The religious discrimination bill will be debated by the lower house before being sent to the Senate, where it is expected to be referred to a committee process. While moderate Liberal MPs could cross the floor, the government believes the inclusion of a statement of religious belief will win support from Labor right-faction MPs. It is more likely than not that the bill will remain stalled in a Senate committee process until after the election. LGBTI rights groups have warned the government against bringing in any religious-focused legislation that would increase discrimination against gay people. Moderate Liberal MPs Warren Entsch, Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson and Dave Sharma have publicly raised concerns about the proposed law becoming a religious bill of rights or winding back protections for LGBTI people.
National Catholic Education Commission executive director Jacinta Collins, a former Labor senator, called on the Morrison government to speed up its legislation because proposed reforms to Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act could curb the rights of Catholic schools. Senator Cash was inundated with calls from religious leaders to override state government bans on gay conversion therapy and to significantly broaden the bill’s definitions of faith-based institutions to cover a wider group of institutions than places of worship and schools. Senior government sources said the revised bill removed some of the more controversial or “extreme” measures contained in earlier drafts and offered a “sensible compromise”.
Source: Compiled by APN from media reportsPrint This Post