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Religious Discrimination Bill will create a “set of swords”: LIV

Religious Discrimination Bill will create a “set of swords”: LIV

By Karin Derkley

Discrimination Human Rights Legislation 


A national human rights charter would be a more effective way of safeguarding religious freedom than the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, the LIV says.

In a memo contributing to the Law Council of Australia’s (LCA) submission to the Religious Discrimination Bill, the LIV says that while protecting religious freedom within a human rights framework is a positive reform, it is not convinced the Bill as currently drafted strikes the right balance between competing rights and freedoms.

LIV Human Rights Committee member Jamie Gardiner says the Bill is loaded with "bizarre and extraordinary over-reaches seeking to entrench religious privilege".

"It is very badly drafted, some of its clauses don't make any sense and are utterly unprecedented and out of sync with any other anti-discrimination law in the country," he says.

Mr Gardiner says that of particular concern is clause 41, which has as its core concept a "statement of belief" that is "by definition described as not discriminatory if it is connected to a person's belief – even if it might be harmful."

The clause potentially protects people from the consequences of offending others as long as it is under the "cloak" of religious belief, Mr Gardiner says.

The clause is unlikely to protect people belonging to minority religions, he says. It also opens the way to creating “a set of swords that will set off fights between religions”.

"It's not just people who are not religious who will be affected by this. It is all the inter-religious conflicts, which we know can be extremely vehement. It will be a terrible mess."

Also of concern to the LIV is clause 8 which exempts a health practitioner from performing services to which they have a religious objection. The clause may have an adverse impact on people seeking abortions, blood transfusions, contraceptives, circumcision or HIV/AIDS treatment, he points out.

"This is particularly concerning for people who live in regional areas or are from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have other options for seeking treatment," Mr Gardiner says.

The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has also voiced its concerns that the Bill may threaten people's ability to access healthcare without discrimination.

“Women and LGBTIQ+ people shouldn’t have to fear whether they’ll get the healthcare they need because of the religious views of their doctor,” says HLRC executive director Hugh De Kretser.

Protecting religious freedom within a national charter of human rights would achieve the same objective but within a human rights framework, Mr Gardiner says.

"Having a national charter that respects the equality and indivisibility of human rights, and a proper human rights respecting process for resolving claims would deal with all the genuine issues that religious people want."

The LCA has also called for a legislated charter of rights as a way to resolve tensions between rights.

"Freedom from discrimination on the ground of religion, and the freedom to manifest one’s religion, are important human rights that should be vigorously upheld," LCA president Arthur Moses said.

"But the same applies to other human rights, such as the right not to be discriminated against on other grounds such as race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or age."

The LCA's submission identifies a range of concerns about the Bill held by the legal profession.

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