8 February 2022

ACT Government opposed to federal religious discrimination bill; local MLA 'heartbroken'

| Lottie Twyford
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Johnathan Davis

ACT Greens MLA Johnathan Davis said he was heartbroken to learn Federal Labor will support the Coalition’s religious discrimination bill with minor changes. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Both ACT Government coalition partners – Labor and the Greens – are in staunch opposition to the contentious Religious Discrimination Bill which will be debated in Federal Parliament this week.

That’s despite Federal Labor providing conditional backing to the bill last week.

ACT Greens MLA Johnathan Davis – who is openly queer – said he was “heartbroken” when he learned Labor’s position.

“I’m always disappointed but never surprised to see hate and bigotry supported by the Liberal and National parties,” Mr Davis said, but he wasn’t expecting to see it supported by Labor.

Mr Davis describes the bill as one designed to “wind back existing discrimination protections for LGBTIQA+ people under the guise of so-called religious freedoms”.

“In the ACT, we successfully balance religious discrimination protections with protections for LGBTIQA+ people through a robust human rights framework. It can be done, but this legislation isn’t it. This bill is obviously about protecting hate speech.”

The ACT Government – comprised of a coalition of ACT Labor and the Greens – has previously put its opposition to the package of religious discrimination bills on the public record.

In its submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into the bills, the government made 14 recommendations for changes, including increased protections for students and employees.

It is the view of the ACT Government that the package of proposed bills would place religious freedom protections over other human rights such as freedoms from discrimination on the basis of sex, age, disability and race.

A spokesperson for Chief Minister Andrew Barr said the bills may be “amended to the point that religious freedom is protected without impinging on the rights of others”, adding that “an example of such an outcome is the ACT Human Rights Act”.

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The government’s submission to the inquiry noted that the bill would erode existing protections provided under ACT law.

The submission read the government is “particularly concerned about the chilling effect of the override clauses, as they disempower victims of discrimination from accessing their human right to non-discrimination, and may reduce community willingness to call out intolerant behaviour”.

“In turn, the ACT Government is also concerned that this will jeopardise the ability of ACT employers to regulate what is acceptable in ACT workplaces.”

The government further noted provisions that would allow schools to discriminate against students and employers to discriminate against staff.

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Prime Minister Scott Morrison first promised religious discrimination bills intended to protect all religious beliefs before the last federal election, but it has since proven extremely difficult to narrow down the scope of such laws.

Mr Morrison did face resistance to the bill’s current form from within the Coalition, although the party room green-lit the bill last night. Federal Labor’s support may still be required, however.

One of the main concerns is a clause that allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBTIQA+ teachers if they have a written policy allowing them to do so.

Thanks to a recent amendment, gay students at religious schools would be protected from expulsion – but not other forms of discrimination – however, transgender students may not be.

If passed, the bill will override existing state and territory protections against discrimination.

Equality advocates have slammed the bill for failing to protect vulnerable groups like transgender and gay children, while minority religious groups fear they will be open to increasing levels of discrimination.

The Hindu Council of Australia said the bill allows religious institutions to discriminate against people from other minority religions, meaning they may find it more difficult to get a job as they don’t have hospitals, schools, institutions of their own.

It remains unclear if the bill will be passed before the federal election is called.

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If the Greens are heartbroken, a little butterfly must have died in the Amazon

“The key intent of the legislation is to elevate religious privilege ahead of other rights, including the right to be free from discrimination.

“Freedom from religion is just as important as freedom of religion.”

“It would be entrenching religious persecution of people who were accepted into an educational institution; so in this instance, it would be entrenching religious persecution of children.

“It is morally objectionable on those grounds alone, let alone the awful precedence it sets for Australian society. It is just morally repugnant.”

HiddenDragon6:49 pm 09 Feb 22

Yes, Canberra is different – and if the ACT government is counting on a federal Labor government to bail it out with much more generous funding for extension of the tramline, and increased APS numbers etc. etc., this decision might be part of the price to pay for that.

Note, in particular, the names of electorates at the bottom of this webpage –


It’s legalised discrimination…
Why bother allowing same sex couples to marry, and then openly reject them in this way, unless the government are bigoted fraudsters.

How is it when someone has a different opinion, they automatically become a “hater” and a “bigot”?

Different opinion? This bill is an excuse to be hateful, bigoted and homophobic. The law doesn’t need changing!

Jack D,
Have you read the bill?

Most human rights groups and legal organisations recognise that there are benefits in additional protections in this space and that most of the bill is welcome change.

The argument is about how far that goes and how it interacts with other rights and laws.

The purpose of the Legislation is to set rules and protections.

I believe the PM has tried hard to present a fair balance with this Legislation.
Of note, he has said that this Legislation would prevent that recent situation in Queensland from happening again.
Those protections are hardly what I’d call hateful, bigoted or homophobic.
Just maybe there has been an unjustified campaign of fear about this Legislation? Fear of the “What if”.

“Most human rights groups and legal organisations recoginise that there are benefits in additional protections”. Chewy14 back that comment up!!!! And I won’t even bother responding to the silly comment below.

Read the submissions to the exposure drafts from the various groups below. You’ll find that most of the groups I mention are supportive of change to bolster protections in this space, it’s just the exact breadth that the changes go to and how they interact with other rights that’s at issue.

Unfortunately there’s also been beatups in the media to focus on specific clauses and whip up anger from certain political sections rather than holistic assessments. Claiming this is only about excuses to be hateful or bigoted or homophobic is extremely reductionist.


Or the most recent from the law council.


Mr Davis is so angry at the Labor party that he’ll continue to support them ahead of…. actually gaining something for his Brindabella constituents or ensuring pre election promises are met.

Capital Retro10:04 am 09 Feb 22

How many “transgender and gay children” are there in Australia?

A 2020 study found about 7% of adult aussies were. Apply that to under 18s and you’re looking at 300,000+ people.

Apologies, I misread some data. Percentage is just over 3% so. So 150,000 to 200,000 is closer.

Good to see the ACT Government focused on their core business and areas of control again.

Wonderful that everything is going so well in the ACT that they have so much time to spare.

It seems too many still have a problem with people who where born that way, and instead want everyone to conform to the strict gender rules of yore.

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