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”.
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.
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.