Policy motion considered at the NSWCCL 2019 Annual General Meeting, 23rd October 2019.
NSWCCL cannot support the Religious Discrimination Bill (the Bill) as currently drafted. It has too many negative aspects which will undermine current anti-discrimination protections and it fails to address pressing issues. NSWCCL strongly opposes the privileging of religious freedoms over other rights.
It does, however, have some positive aspects and could be supportable by accepting recommended deletions and some other amendments to improve provisions, as contained in NSWCCL’s submission to the Attorney General’s Department.
- The Australian Government should move quickly to the development of an Australian Charter of Human Rights to provide a strong and effective framework for the protection of the rights of Australians.
- In the context of this and the related reviews on the right to freedom of religion and the current ALRC Review of Framework of Religious Exemptions in Anti-Discrimination Legislation, the Australian Government should initiate a review of existing federal human rights and discrimination laws to ensure comprehensiveness and appropriate consistency - including with the international human rights framework.
- The Bill must be amended to include provisions which will prohibit the expulsion of, or other forms of discrimination against LGBTI+ students in all Australian schools. These provisions should include the necessary limitation of exemptions on religious or other grounds to ensure this protection of children from discrimination is legally enforceable.
- Clauses 8(5) and 8(6) which set out the ‘conditions that are not reasonable relating to conscientious objections by health practitioners’ should be deleted from the Bill.
- The Bill should be amended to specify that an obligation to refer a patient to a different practitioner who does not conscientiously object to provide a health service by the medical practitioner who does conscientiously object, is reasonable.
- Clause 41 - which specifies that statements of belief do not constitute discrimination for the purposes of existing anti-discrimination laws, or contravene subsection 17(1) of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 of Tasmania or a future provision prescribed by regulation - should be deleted from the Bill.
- Clause 10 of the Bill which exempts religious bodies from unlawful religious discrimination should be deleted and replaced with specific context exemptions based on a genuine need for the discriminatory conduct - in line with relevant international law principles.
- The definition of ‘religious body’ at 10(2) of the Bill should be amended to include only bodies established for religious purposes.
- NSWCCL strongly supports the AHRC recommendation that the definition of ‘person’ be removed from the Bill and the Explanatory Notes be amended to make clear that a complaint of discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activity can only be made on behalf of a natural person.
- If a new Freedom of Religion Commissioner is appointed to the AHRC, it should have its budget increased appropriately to cover the costs associated with that position and support staff.