The Australian Human Rights Commission supports reform to improve protections against religious discrimination for all people in Australia.
While supporting much of the draft Religious Discrimination Bill, the Commission urges that the Bill be amended to avoid limiting other human rights and overriding existing anti-discrimination laws.
“The Commission has advocated for more than 20 years for a Bill to protect against religious discrimination,” said Commission President Rosalind Croucher.
“Australia is a tolerant, pluralistic society and it is right that we provide the same level of protection against religious discrimination as we do against discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, disability and age.
“However, it is important that our laws do not give preference to one human right over others.”
The draft Religious Discrimination Bill would fill gaps in Commonwealth law and provide enforceable protections against religious discrimination in employment, education, the provision of good and services, and other areas of public life.
In its detailed submission to the Attorney-General’s department, the Commission identifies some problems with the Bill. For example, the Bill would allow people to make a statement of belief even if the statement would otherwise be discriminatory on the basis of a person’s race, sexual orientation, disability or other protected attribute.
“Human rights are for everyone. They are indivisible and universal,” said Human Rights Commissioner Edward Santow. “Our law should not permit discriminatory religious statements to override all other Australian anti-discrimination laws.”
The Bill also would extend protection against religious discrimination to corporations.
“Human rights protect innately human characteristics, and so our human rights law has only ever protected humans. It would be inconsistent with international law to allow corporations to sue people for religious discrimination,” Commissioner Santow said.
The Commission’s submission also raises concerns about provisions in the draft Bill dealing with codes of conduct by large employers, and conscientious objections by medical practitioners. Unlike other discrimination law, these provisions prejudge the assessment of what is reasonable in the circumstances by deeming some kinds of conduct not to be reasonable.
“Removing the few highly problematic provisions of the Bill would make it consistent with other Commonwealth discrimination law, while giving strong protection against religious discrimination,” Commissioner Santow said.
You can read the Commission’s submission to the Attorney-General’s department at humanrights.gov.au/our-work/legal/submissions