Attorney General should be wary of ‘Religious Freedom’ minefield as Committee leaves problems unresolved

Public Interest Advocacy Centre

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman must carefully consider the negative consequences of any possible ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill, including for women, LGBTIQ people, and people of minority faiths, following today’s disappointing Joint Select Committee Report on the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill.

Despite the concerns of a diverse range of stakeholders across civil society, the Joint Select Committee has recommended that the Government introduce its own legislation building on the Bill originally introduced by One Nation’s Mark Latham MLC.

‘The Joint Standing Committee’s report outlines the serious concerns from a diverse range of stakeholders across civil society about how this would undermine their rights. But these are simply side-stepped, leaving a minefield for the Attorney General,’ PIAC CEO Jonathon Hunyor said.

‘If the NSW Government develops legislation building on One Nation’s fundamentally flawed Bill, women, LGBTIQ people, people of minority faiths and others, may face increased discrimination as they go about their daily lives.’

‘The lack of protection for religious belief is a genuine gap in NSW anti-discrimination law, but this Bill is not the answer and the Committee’s report leaves us no closer to finding one,’ said Mr Hunyor.

PIAC was one of many civil society organisations to raise serious problems with the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill through the inquiry process.

This includes women’s organisations (Women’s Electoral Lobby, Women’s Health NSW, Women’s Safety NSW and the Women’s Legal Service), LGBTIQ groups (ACON, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, NSW Gender Centre and Equality Australia), legal bodies (Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group, Community Legal Centres NSW, the Law Society of NSW and Bar Association of NSW) and some faith voices (such as the Uniting Network NSW and ACT).

Even Anti-Discrimination NSW (ADNSW), who would be tasked with implementing any such reform, has raised significant concerns, submitting that ‘the Bill could be used as a ‘sword’ against others, rather than as a ‘shield’ protecting religious people from discrimination.’

‘We call on Attorney General Speakman to consult widely and, listen carefully to the voices of people and communities who stand to lose under any so-called ‘Religious Freedom’ Bill.’

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