Why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be opposed…for the third time

Update - a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry into the Bills has now been announced.

The third version

Last week the Government introduced the third version of its contentious Religious Discrimination Bill into Parliament. NSWCCL has always supported religious freedom and supports the protection of persons from discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs, but for the third time we are unable to support the Government’s Bill.

Despite some improvements (e.g. the removal of the Israel Folau provision) we remain strenuously opposed to core elements of the proposed legislation - which are in some cases worse than in the previous bills.

Core problem

Central to our opposition is the continued privileging of religious rights over other rights. The Bill still proposes not only protection from discrimination based on religious beliefs but also permission to discriminate against others on the basis of those religious beliefs.

The Bill includes a new and disturbing provision to override existing state and territory discrimination laws - as well as council by-laws which may place obligations on professions or organisations which deliver essential public services such as healthcare, housing and education. We strongly oppose it.

This privileging of religious rights over other rights and the weakening of state and territory law will have serious implications for the rights of many in the community - including LGBTQI+ people, women, migrants, people living with disability, single parents and divorcees.

LGBTQI+ discrimination

In his second reading speech the Prime Minister said, ‘Nothing in this bill allows for any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity. You won’t find anything of that nature in this bill.’

This statement could not be further from the truth, as this bill will expressly allow such discrimination on religious grounds to continue and the over-riding of state laws appears to weaken existing protections. The Victorian Attorney General has flagged her concern that the Bill will over-ride her state’s anti-discrimination laws including proposed legislation to prohibit religious schools from refusing to hire or sacking teachers because of their sexuality or religious beliefs.

It is a disappointment that the Government has not acted on the Prime Minister’s promise 3 years ago to legislate to protect LGBTQI+ students from expulsion.

Achieving balance and coherence

Balancing human rights is a complex exercise. It is clear that we need to move beyond piece-meal state, territory and national human rights and discrimination laws. NSWCCL has long argued that the best context in which to develop a balanced anti-discrimination legislation is within an Australian Charter of Human Rights.

This unbalanced Bill and its two predecessors provide further evidence of this need for a more coherent national context. The Australian Government shows no current interest in an Australian Charter of Human Rights. In its absence however, we should strive to achieve the necessary balance and coherence in any Commonwealth legislation.

Effective consultation on Bill

NSWCCL welcomes the Government decision to refer this Bill (and two related bills) to a joint parliamentary committee inquiry. We call on members of the inquiry to genuinely engage with community concerns and give sufficient time for community organisations and stakeholders to express their concerns to the inquiry.

NSWCCL is committed to engaging with the consultation process and expressing strong opposition to these bills in an effort to attain a better balance between protection from discrimination based on religious adherence, and the rights to discriminate against others because of religious adherence.

Immediate action

To support our campaign please assist us with the following actions:

1) Email your MP using this webform calling on them to oppose the bills and calling for them to support a joint parliamentary inquiry into their contents.

2) Join the rally against the bills from 1:00pm on 5 December in Taylor Square, Sydney.

3) Call for a joint inquiry into the bills using the ALHR's pro forma letter. (Update - this inquiry has already been announced)

More Information: