• New draft Religious Discrimination Bill is dangerous and unworkable
  • Government's changes permit "positive discrimination" and should be scrapped

 

The Morrison government's revised Religious Discrimination Bill is entirely ineffective and will create a two-class society, the nation's peak secular body says.

In a submission to changes made by the federal government in December to its Religious Discrimination Bill, the National Secular Lobby (NSL) warns the revisions threaten Australia's social harmony by creating a raft of new religious discrimination problems in Australia where there were previously very few.

"The changes made to the Bill in its second exposure draft only serve to increase the legal privilege granted to some parts of society over others, effectively allowing various groups to be refused employment and services due to their religion, destroying Australia's social cohesion and creating a form of religious apartheid in Australian society," the NSL’s submission says.

"The second exposure draft specifically enshrines into law the right for religious institutions and individuals to discriminate against others on the basis of their beliefs."

The federal government is officially secular, yet continues to show favour to religious interest groups. The NSL seeks to uphold the basic democratic principle of separation between Church and State.

Under changes to the Bill revealed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter, churches, faith-based schools, hospitals and charities will be able to discriminate on hiring staff based on their religious beliefs.

Religious camps and conference centres will now also be allowed to take faith into account when deciding whether to provide accommodation services – one of 11 changes made after the initial draft bill was almost universally criticised.

Julian Burnside, QC, an NSL Ambassador, says the Prime Minister should be honest about the motivation for promoting such flawed legislation.

"When government ministers explain publicly what proposed legislation aims to achieve, it is essential that their explanations are accurate and honest," Mr Burnside says.

"Mr Morrison’s explanations of the Religious Discrimination Bill - the original and the revised version - simply fail that test.

"Australia is a tolerant and trusting society: we will not be improved by legislation which creates a form of religious apartheid. Australia does not need legislation which permits discrimination based on religion, but that is what the new Bill would permit."

The NSL's submission is that among significant failings is the Bill's ham-fisted attempt to define religious belief, and its enshrining of rights to discriminate in employment and provision of services. The Bill also allows for medical practitioners' faith and right to conscientious objection to affect access to medical services if they choose to implement a blanket refusal to provide certain treatments.

"It vastly oversteps its mark in permitting 'positive discrimination' and does so in ways that will be impossible to fairly and reasonably legislate," the NSL submission says.

"It will result in a form of religious apartheid in Australia in which personal faith becomes a deciding factor in access to healthcare and who can be employed for a position. It enshrines into law the right for religious institutions and individuals to discriminate."

NSL Ambassador Jane Caro says the Bill is "particularly dangerous for women who seek legal medical procedures and reproductive health care".

"It is simply not acceptable to pass a Bill in Australia that exposes women to real health risks," Ms Caro says. "Women should not lose their human rights, their liberty or autonomy when they become pregnant but this Bill appears to enshrine that terrifying prospect in law."

NSL President Peter Monk warns the revised Bill will divide society down religious lines.

"To try and legislate to positively discriminate in this way is unworkable, unwarranted and dangerous," Mr Monk says. "The bill fails dismally to come close to achieving its stated aims, and must be abandoned."

 

A national Ipsos poll conducted in 2016 showed that 78% of people supported the question: "How important do you think it is to separate personal religious beliefs from the business of government?"