ACTCOSS today expressed its deep concern about the Federal Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and its potential impact on marginalised communities.
ACTCOSS CEO, Dr Emma Campbell said: “People of faith should – of course – be protected from discrimination. However, we are concerned that the ‘statements of belief’ provisions included in the draft bill will undermine people’s right to respect and dignity whenever they access essential goods and services provided to the public.
“The bill fails to ensure our laws protect all of us equally and will take away many rights from people who are currently protected under anti-discrimination laws. These people include LGBTQIA+ people, women, and people with disability.
“The very bill that is meant to protect people from discrimination fails to consider that religious discrimination under the bill can still occur from one religion to another. The bill if passed, has the potential to be problematic for multicultural communities and more divisive than the current anti-discrimination laws.
“In the workplace, additional barriers will be created for those that seek to implement and enforce standards to ensure inclusive and safe workplaces.
“We are pleased the amended Religious Discrimination Bill is now going to a joint Parliamentary Inquiry of both houses. We would like to see a proper process with a fair amount of time for consultation and reporting, not just rushed over the holiday season.
“The Inquiry needs to hear from all sides of civil society, to give the best possible insights to Government and parliament and there should be no Parliamentary vote until after the Inquiry report is tabled.
“The amendments include a lot of exemptions and carve-outs, so it’s complex and there is a significant possibility of unintended consequences that could result in adverse impacts for people currently protected.
“The Prime Minister is right to say that people of faith should be protected from discrimination and the process of doing so should not divide the Australian community, but this Religious Discrimination Bill needs serious and deep consideration first to avoid unintended consequences,” Dr Campbell concluded.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.