SHADOW MINISTER FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM
MEMBER FOR ISAACS
RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION BILL
Labor believes all Australians have the right to live their lives free of discrimination.
We don’t want to see anyone treated unfairly, whether it’s because of their gender, their disability, sexuality, age, marital status or because they are pregnant, and we do not believe anyone should be discriminated against because of their religious beliefs.
This is why Labor supports the extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure that Australians are not discriminated against because of their religious beliefs or activities.
Labor believes religious organisations and people of faith have the right to act in accordance with the doctrines, beliefs or teachings of their traditions and faith.
But as we have made clear from the outset, any extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework should not come at the expense of existing laws that protect Australians from other forms of discrimination.
Scott Morrison’s bill, currently before the Parliament, goes some way towards protecting Australians from religious discrimination.
But it also has some big flaws that Labor will seek to change through amendments in the Parliament, and, if we are unsuccessful, in Government.
Labor will be moving amendments to change the law in four key areas to:
- prohibit religious vilification;
- prohibit discrimination against children on the grounds of sexuality and gender identity;
- make it clear that in-home aged service providers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion in the provision of aged care services; and
- make it clear that the “statement of belief” provision does not remove or diminish any existing protections against discrimination.
Labor will move our amendments in the House and the Senate. If any of our amendments are successful in either the House or the Senate we will insist on them.
Labor’s proposed anti-vilification provision would make it unlawful for a person to engage in conduct on the ground of the religious belief or activity of another person or group of persons:
- that is not in private; and
- that a reasonable person would consider would threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify the other person or group.
Labor will also be seeking to change section 38 (3) of the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit schools from discriminating against students because of who they are.
Labor supports removing discrimination against all kids.
Most religious schools don’t expel or discriminate against their students because of who they are, and they never want to.
But sadly, recent events have shown us that this is not the case in all schools and changes needs to be made to protect all children, and we can do this while still ensuring that religious schools are able to conduct themselves in accordance with the teachings of their faith.
Before the last election the Prime Minister promised to make it unlawful to discriminate against all students. He should deliver on that promise.
Labor also supports removing discrimination against teachers while recognising the right of religious schools to give preference to hiring school staff of their own faith.
Because these two rights interact in a complex way, we believe this issue cannot be rammed through the Parliament and will need to be carefully considered by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Under the current version of the Bill, religious in-home aged care services providers would be able to discriminate against people on the basis of religion in the provision of services. The Council on the Ageing is rightly concerned that this will send a chilling message to older people who are vulnerable that their aged care provider may no longer treat them with the dignity and respect that the current law ensures they receive.
Labor’s amendment to protect our elderly would ensure residential aged care facilities and in-home aged care providers are treated equally under the Bill – and that neither can discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in the provision of services.
In its current form, clause 12 (the “statement of belief” provision) is drafted in a way that suggests people of faith should be able to discriminate against other Australians on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability and other protected attributes.
Labor does not believe that people of faith want the right to discriminate against other Australians.
The current version of clause 12 sends the wrong signal to people of faith and of no faith alike.
Labor’s amendments will ensure that statements of belief will not constitute discrimination under the new Religious Discrimination Act, while also preserving – in full – all existing protections against discrimination.
Scott Morrison made an election commitment to work across the Parliament in the spirit of bipartisanship to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill that already enjoyed broad cross-party support.
He broke that promise, and now he is trying to rush a bill through the Parliament on the eve of a federal election.
The Australian people deserve better. Religious institutions and the very many Australians of faith deserve better.
WEDNESDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2022