Guardian Aus: NSW Council for Civil Liberties says religious vilification bill allows organisations ‘to discriminate against others’

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) opposes the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023 in its current form. The bill should just get on with it and address all discrimination now or be withdrawn and wait for the ongoing NSW Law Reform Commission Review into the Act to be completed so that all changes that need to be made are made at once.

Anti-discrimination law reform is long overdue and necessary. NSWCCL is not opposed, in principle, to reforms that protect people from vilification for their religious expression or affiliation, however, the Bill does more than this and fails to address other necessary issues, especially aspects of discrimination against LGBTQI+ people.

NSWCCL is aware of amendments that are intended to be moved by NSW Greens MP, Jenny Leong. These amendments would clarify the scope of what it means to hold a religious belief or affiliation, clarify that the bill only empowers natural persons with a cause of action, and clarify that the Bill does nothing to overturn any other prohibitions that exist in the law. If the Bill is to pass, then NSWCCL supports these amendments as a step in the right direction.

The Anti-Discrimination Act is in dire need of holistic reform. Successive amendments have made it unwieldy and difficult to understand. Such reform should follow consideration by the NSW Law Reform Commission and with input from stakeholder groups, of how the Act can be modernised to better achieve its aims considering current community standards and expectations. Any question of incorporating protection for religious based discrimination can only properly be considered as part of that wider reform process.

Comments from Josh Pallas, President, NSWCCL

“The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is disappointed to see that the Attorney-General is bringing this Bill on for debate today. The Bill should either be withdrawn to await the findings of the comprehensive review into the Anti-Discrimination Act by the NSW Law Reform Commission or get on with it and fix all of the well-known issues with the Act”.

“It’s not fair that religious belief gains more protections when religious organisations will still be exempt from parts of the Act and be allowed to discriminate against others. We want an Anti-Discrimination Act that does not discriminate. To move on one part, without moving on other glaring deficiencies sends a bad message to the community about whose rights and interests are privileged over others.”

“We are aware of amendments that are being proposed by NSW Greens MP Jenny Leong. As the government looks intent on ramming through this Bill over criticisms from human rights and LGBTQI+ organisations, we support the amendments as a modest way to make a bad Bill better. But it shouldn’t have to come to this.”

“If the Bill were to pass without the NSW Greens’ proposed amendments, then the uncertainty surrounding the implications of this Bill and the impact it could have on other fundamental rights and the urgent need for a complete revamp of the Act, makes it inappropriate for the NSW Government to move before a complete review of the Act has concluded. This too was a promise from the Government in the 2023 election campaign. We urge the Opposition and the crossbench to support the proposed amendments to this Bill so that it better articulates its scope.”

“Others within the community, trans people, people with intersex variations and sex workers receive inadequate protections under NSW anti-discrimination law. Where is their protection? Why should religious organisations receive protection before them?”

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