Fundamental Problems in Religious Discrimination Bill

 Public Interest Advocacy CentreThe Public Interest Advocacy Centre has expressed its extreme disappointment that two Parliamentary Committees have failed to adequately address any of the fundamental problems in the Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill 2021.

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights released their reports on the Bill today. (Friday, 4 February 2022)

‘Waving the Bill through’ not good enough

‘It is extremely disappointing that both committees were unwilling to address the problems this complex legislation creates. Waving the Bill through leaves serious dangers unaddressed,’ PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor said.

Neither majority Committee report recommends substantive improvements to the ‘statement of belief provision (clause 12) which, if passed would protect religiously-motivated demeaning and derogatory comments towards women, LGBT people, people with disability and even people of minority faiths.

‘The “statement of belief” provision will protect a variety of fringe views, even white supremacist speech, as long as the person making it ‘genuinely considers’ it reflects their own interpretation of their faith. ‘This would be a dangerous step backwards for rights protection in Australia’, Mr Hunyor added.

Excessive religious exceptions remain

‘The majority reports have not grappled with the serious problems created by the Bill’s extraordinary and excessive religious exceptions,’ PIAC Policy Manager Alastair Lawrie said.

‘This includes exceptions that apply to a far broader range of organisations than any other Australian anti-discrimination law, and which adopt a far more lenient test to determine when discrimination will be permitted.’

‘Amongst the biggest losers will be Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist workers in religious hospitals, housing, aged care and disability services, who will be able to be discriminated against on the basis of their faith.’

‘Entrenching discrimination against workers from minority faiths is a perverse outcome from any Religious Discrimination Bill,’ Mr Lawrie added.

Rights of children at risk

PIAC also highlights the failure of the majority Committee reports to recognise and address the negative impact of the Bill on the rights of children.

Under the Bill, religious schools will be free to discriminate against students on the basis of religious belief throughout their education.

‘The situation at Citipointe Christian College has demonstrated how religious schools will be able to discriminate against LGBT students under the guise of religious views,’ Mr Hunyor said.

‘This is a problem for all students at religious schools. These provisions deny the fundamental freedom of all children and young people to question, explore and develop their faith as they learn and grow, without fear of punishment for doing so,’ said Mr Hunyor.

The Bill should be rejected

‘In light of the ongoing concerns by a wide range of civil society organisations, which have not been adequately addressed by these committee inquiries, we reiterate our call for the entire Religious Discrimination Bill to be rejected,’ Mr Lawrie said.

‘Instead, the Government should draft a more conventional Religious Discrimination Bill, which simply protects people of faith against discrimination, without undermining the rights of others,’ added Mr Lawrie.


Australian Parliament House


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Disclaimer: this article represents the views of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre and does not express any views nor opinions of Religions for Peace Australia. This article is provided for information only.