The flawed religious discrimination bill is an alarming backwards step which will take away hard-fought protections for people who need them, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
“The proposed legislation will override existing discrimination protections by allowing religious hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, sexuality or disability, if it is based on genuine religious belief,” said Mr Andrew Christopoulos, ALA National President.
“The Bill’s wide definition of ‘statements of belief’ means that current unlawful acts of discrimination could become lawful if based on someone’s faith.”
According to the ALA, conduct which would otherwise be unlawful under existing discrimination legislation such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Age Discrimination Act 2004, will be considered lawful if made with the rider that it is a statement of religious belief.
“The Bill effectively legislates bigotry, by enabling religious belief to be used as a cloak for sexism, racism, homophobia and other prejudices,” said Mr Christopoulos.
In a submission to the Attorney General’s Department, the ALA says that if the proposed legislation becomes law it will weaken existing protections for people who rely on other discrimination laws to protect them from offensive, insulting or intimidating conduct.
“If the Bill proceeds it will override all anti-discrimination laws because it would privilege people with religious beliefs over others. The legislation prioritises religious rights over others also requiring protection from discrimination due to gender, race, sexuality, disability and age,” said Mr Christopoulos. “In our view, this is not acceptable and the legislation must not proceed in this form.”