Coronavirus and the Religious Discrimination Bill

2020 is still less than ten weeks old. A lot has already happened in that time.

Obviously, the year started with the climate change-driven bushfires that devastated large swathes of South-Eastern Australia.

Around the same time, the first reports were emerging about a respiratory illness, caused by a novel coronavirus and which is now called COVID-19, wreaking havoc in Wuhan, China.

On a personal level, both at work and outside, most of my time has been spent trying to stop the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, which will inflict its own serious harm on the Australian community.

At first glance, there may not appear to be much to connect these three developments. But dig a little deeper and there is a clear interaction between the Religious Discrimination Bill and the first two crises, at least in terms of how Australia responds to them.

For example, in relation to the bushfires in January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison encouraged Australians to give freely to charities, and then specifically named three: the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul.

While the Red Cross is secular in ethos, the ‘Salvos’ and St Vincent de Paul are faith-based charities, which means that under clause 11 of the Religious Discrimination Bill they would legally be able to:

  • discriminate in terms of who they provide assistance to, including by ‘preferencing’ people who are Christian and consequently neglecting people who are Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, atheist or agnostic, and
  • discriminate in terms of who they employ, including by not hiring the most qualified person for the job, but instead the most religious.

To date, St Vincent de Paul has largely rejected these new special privileges, but as far as I understand, the Salvation Army has not (at least not Australia-wide). I wonder how many people would give so generously in the future if they were aware their money is funding religious discrimination and not emergency relief?

Nevertheless, it is the second major crisis – the coronavirus – and the Religious Discrimination Bill that I want to primarily focus on today.

Once again, despite superficially seeming unrelated, the Government’s proposed legislation could have a major influence on how our country responds to this grave threat. Indeed, I would argue that COVID-19 provides (at least) five reasons why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be abandoned.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill allows hospitals to hire the most religious, not the most qualified

In the coming months, we are going to be relying on our health care system more than ever before. From GPs to pharmacists, health information lines to hospitals – both public and religious. All parts of the system must be high quality – and that means all must hire the best-qualified person for each and every position.

Unfortunately, the Religious Discrimination Bill subverts that entirely reasonable expectation. Under clauses 32(8) and (10), religious hospitals would be permitted to discriminate in employment on the ground of religious belief.

That means a religious hospital would be legally able to hire a doctor, or nurse, or pharmacist, or other essential employee, because of their religious beliefs and instead of a better-qualified alternative candidate.

Surely that must have an impact on the standard of care that patients will receive. Imagine the worry if one of your loved ones is taken to the emergency department of a faith-based hospital and you can’t be certain whether the health practitioner is there because of what they believe, not what they can do.

The fact that religious hospitals receive public funding to deliver these services makes this proposal even more sickening.

If the Australian Government wants us to have confidence in all parts of the health system as it responds to coronavirus, then it must abandon legislation that inevitably damages that confidence.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill allows aged care facilities to hire the most religious, not the most qualified

Another area that has an important role in dealing with COVID-19 is our aged care sector. This is because the death rates from coronavirus are much higher among people aged over 70, and especially 80, and where they have existing medical conditions – exactly the demographic profile of aged care facilities.

Because of these particular vulnerabilities, we will be relying on our aged care workers to limit the spread of infection and keep our elderly as safe as possible – as well as to respond appropriately where transmission does occur.

Unfortunately, the same provisions of the Religious Discrimination Bill named above – clauses 32(8) and (10) – also allow religious aged-care services to discriminate in employment of the ground of religious belief.

Once again, that means aged care services operated by faith-based organisations will be permitted to hire someone because of their religious beliefs rather than their qualifications. Once again, the services will be able to discriminate in this way even where they are government-funded.[i]

As someone with a grandmother who turned 99 last Wednesday, and who is in a nursing home, I would hate to think she is being cared for by someone who is there because of their views and not their vocational skills.

Older Australians must be looked after by the people most likely to keep them safe, irrespective of their religious beliefs. This is especially important during the coronavirus pandemic. The Religious Discrimination Bill directly contradicts this principle, and is another reason why it must be abandoned.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill will already make it more difficult for women, LGBTI people and other vulnerable groups to access essential health care. Coronavirus will exacerbate this problem

Of course, while COVID-19 will likely receive the lion’s share of health care system resources in the weeks and months ahead, people will continue to get sick in other ways, and to rely on health practitioners to keep them well.

Unfortunately, as has been highlighted previously,[ii] clauses 8(6) and (7) of the Religious Discrimination Bill would make it easier for doctors, nurses, pharmacists, psychologists and midwives to refuse to participate in particular health services.

As Attorney-General Christian Porter has himself conceded, these provisions would allow doctors and pharmacists to:

  • refuse to provide reproductive health services, even where this has a disproportionate impact on women
  • refuse to provide access to hormone therapy, including puberty blockers, even where this has a disproportionate impact on trans and gender diverse people, and
  • refuse to provide PEP and/or PrEP, even where this disproportionately exposes gay and bisexual men to the risk of HIV transmission.

Where patients are denied this essential health care, they are supposed to find another health practitioner who is willing and able to do so (although the refusing practitioner likely does not have any obligation to make a referral).

As has been pointed out, this may be practically difficult, both for time-critical services (such as PEP, or the ‘morning after’ pill), as well as for people in regional, rural and remote parts of Australia.

Well, the impact of the novel coronavirus could make this situation much worse. For example, say you are a trans youth living in a regional centre, and rely on a certain doctor and/or pharmacist to provide access to puberty blockers.

And then that doctor or pharmacist is required to self-isolate for a minimum of two weeks because of potential exposure to COVID-19. Note that this is already happening in Sydney and Melbourne, with individual health practitioners ordered to stay away from work at extremely short notice.

What exactly is the trans young person meant to do in these circumstances, especially where other doctors and pharmacists in town have the ‘right’ to turn them away?

With the impending massive strain of coronavirus on our health care system, all effort should be made to ensure it operates effectively and efficiently for all people who need health care – all types of health care. The Religious Discrimination instead erects barriers to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. It must be abandoned.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill will divide Australia at a time it needs unity

It is only early days in terms of the impact of COVID-19 on Australia, with the total number of people diagnosed remaining at fewer than 100 (at the time of writing).

However, the impact on our social cohesion is already quite large. This includes countless reported incidents of racism directed at Chinese-Australians, and Asian-Australians more generally.

And of course just this week we witnessed the run on the nation’s toilet paper supply – with panic buying leading to physical altercations in a number of supermarkets around the country.

As the situation worsens, and more and more people are infected, this pandemic will likely test the ties that bind us together, often in unexpected ways.

This is exactly the wrong time for our Government to introduce legislation that divides the community into ever-smaller groups of ‘us’ and ‘them’.

It is the wrong time to allow schools, and universities, and charities, and accommodation providers, and hospitals, and aged care services, and conference venues, and camp sites, to discriminate on the ground of religious belief in terms of who they offer services to, and/or employ.

It is the wrong time for our Government to pursue a Bill that encourages religious individuals to make degrading and demeaning ‘statements of belief’ against women, LGBTI people, people with disability, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and even people from minority faiths, in all areas of public life.[iii]

While I haven’t seen many examples yet, I’m sure there will soon be a deluge of extremists seeking to exploit coronavirus, blaming it on women exercising reproductive choice, gay men having sex, LGBTI people getting married – all with the possible tick of approval from the Religious Discrimination Bill.

If the Government wants to lead on COVID-19, and bring the community together to deal with a common threat, it must abandon legislation that makes nearly everybody an enemy of somebody else.

  1. The Religious Discrimination Bill is a distraction for a Government that should be focused on more important things

The fifth and final reason why the Government must abandon the Religious Discrimination Bill is arguably the most important – and that is because it is an unnecessary distraction from much more important issues that warrant their urgent attention.

Like responding to the immediate health challenges presented by coronavirus, particularly as the illness begins its inevitable spread across the community.

And dealing with the significant economic fallout, with Australia now facing our first economic recession in almost three decades.

There is an entire generation of people (including myself and my partner) who have grown up not knowing what a recession looks like, but it seems we are soon to find out. And it won’t be pretty.

Surely the Government should be focused on taking action to stop the economy grinding to a halt, and preventing rising unemployment in education, tourism, retail, construction and pretty much every other industry in the country.

Oh, and then there’s the equally urgent need to make structural changes to reduce our carbon emissions, to minimise the chances of the other disaster that heralded the start of 2020 (the bushfires) from happening again.

Instead, the Morrison Government is wasting its time on proposed legislation that almost nobody actually wants, except religious fundamentalists who demand it so they can use it as a weapon against non-believers.

In pushing forward with the Religious Discrimination Bill, the Government is wasting our time, too – because we must continue to expend our time, energy and resources to stop this abhorrent and appalling legislation.

If it sounds like I’m sick and tired, that’s only because I am. Sick and tired of having to defend my community against the constant attacks against it, from a Government that can’t find the time to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination, but has miraculously created the time to progress two exposure drafts (and counting) of this law.

And if it sounds like I’m anxious about coronavirus, well I am that too. If we’re being honest, most of us are right now. That anxiety might turn out to be unfounded. Or it could be an entirely rational response to what confronts us. It could even be we aren’t worried enough.

We don’t really know – only the weeks and months ahead will truly tell.

Here’s what we do know. As of this morning, a third Australian has tragically died from COVID-19, out of more than 3,500 deaths – and 105,000 cases – worldwide. Each of those numbers will continue to grow.

But there’s one death that would not be mourned – if the Morrison Government finally did the right thing and abandoned its Religious Discrimination Bill. That would be a mercy killing, and it would be met with relief from most members of the Australian community.

 

Coronavirus

 

For more on this subject, see The Religious Discrimination Bill: What you should know.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Footnotes:

[i] I should highlight here that government-funded aged care facilities operated by religious bodies are already entitled to discriminate in employment in relation to sexual orientation and gender identity, under section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth). As I have argued previously this provision already jeopardises the standard of care provided to people accessing aged care services and it must be removed. See Submission to Royal Commission into Aged Care.

[ii] See The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must be Blocked.

[iii] Under clause 42 of the Bill, which effectively exempts ‘statements of belief’ from all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, unless they meet the high bar of being malicious, harassing, threatening, seriously intimidating, vilifying (meaning inciting hatred or violence) or promoting the commission of a serious criminal offence.

Did You Know? The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act Doesn’t Protect Bisexuals Against Discrimination

The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is on tonight, and I am looking forward to attending the festivities in Taylor Square.

 

Although it will likely be in less noteworthy company than last year when, through an unlikely combination of circumstances, I ended up watching most of the parade standing next to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.

 

Always the activist, and never one to waste an opportunity, I did manage to ask her an LGBTI rights question during the event. The question I chose:

 

Are you aware that NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not protect bisexuals against discrimination?

 

The Premier answered that ‘no, she wasn’t aware of that’ (or words to that effect) before turning back to talk to her companions.

 

In her defence, she would not have been alone in not knowing about this bizarre, and unacceptable, loophole in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (although she definitely cannot claim ignorance now).

 

It is a gap that has existed from the time discrimination on the basis of homosexuality was prohibited in late 1982 (a full 18 months before male homosexuality was even decriminalised in this state).

 

And one that wasn’t fixed when a definition of ‘homosexual’ was inserted in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1994: ‘homosexual means male or female homosexual’.

 

This is the definition that remains to this day. Which quite clearly excludes people whose sexual orientation is towards people of the same sex and people of different sexes. [Interestingly, it also prevents heterosexual people from enjoying protection under the Act].

 

As I stated in my question to Ms Berejiklian, NSW is alone in having such a narrow definition.

 

The Commonwealth prohibits discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, with a definition that clearly covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual people.

 

Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania all also prohibit discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’, while Queensland the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory cover ‘sexuality’ [for more, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws].

 

What does NSW’s exclusion of bisexuals mean in a practical sense?

 

Well, on the positive side, because bisexuals are still protected under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act, discrimination against them in NSW remains prohibited in most (although not all) circumstances.

 

However, there are limits to this coverage – limits that do not apply to lesbians and gay men.

 

For example, section 13 of the Sex Discrimination Act provides that protections against discrimination in employment under that Act ‘do not apply in relation to employment by an instrumentality of a State.’

 

Instrumentalities are independent government agencies or corporations. In effect, bisexual employees of independent NSW Government agencies are not protected against discrimination during their employment.[i] Ironically, this means bisexual employees of Anti-Discrimination NSW itself are potentially not protected.

 

Another practical effect of the exclusion of bisexuals from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is that they are not covered by civil prohibitions on vilification, unlike their gay and lesbian counterparts.

 

For example, section 49ZT of the Act defines homosexual vilification as ‘to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person of group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person of members of the group.’

 

Because there is also no prohibition against anti-LGBTI vilification at Commonwealth level, this means bisexual people cannot make a civil complaint of vilification in any circumstance.

 

Confusingly, bisexual people are protected by the 2018 amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), with section 93Z(1)(c) criminalising:

‘a public act [that] intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on [the ground of] the sexual orientation of the other person or one or more of the members of the group.’

 

Sexual orientation is then broadly defined in section 93Z(5) as:

‘a person’s sexual orientation towards:

(a) persons of the same sex, or

(b) persons of a different sex, or

(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.’

 

Which is obviously welcome, but invites the logical question that, if the NSW Government was willing to include ‘sexual orientation’ in the Crimes Act, why hasn’t it also updated the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act along the same, inclusive, lines?

 

The third practical effect of the general exclusion of bisexuals from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is that it limits their options in terms of where to lodge complaints and/or file lawsuits.

 

Whereas lesbians and gay men discriminated against in NSW have the ability to complain to either Anti-Discrimination NSW or the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – and therefore of pursuing legal action in either the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) or multiple courts – bisexuals can only complain to the AHRC and can only file in court.

 

This has implications in terms of the timelines for lodging complaints, the allocation of costs and the potential award of damages.

 

Each of these practical effects should be sufficient in and of itself to convince the NSW Government to update the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and replace ‘homosexuality’ with ‘sexual orientation’.

 

But, as with most anti-discrimination laws, the symbolic effect is just as important. After all, what does it say about the place of bisexuals in our own community, and society more widely, that they continue to be excluded from the primary legislation in this state which is designed to ensure all people are treated equally?

 

Unfortunately, it is not just bisexuals who are excluded in this way either.

 

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 also excludes non-binary people, because the definition of transgender in section 38A only covers someone who ‘identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex’.

 

Similarly, the Act also fails to provide discrimination protections to intersex people, because it does not include a protected attribute of either ‘sex characteristics’ (the terminology preferred by Intersex Human Rights Australia) or ‘intersex status’ (the protected attribute in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984).

 

Although, unlike for bisexuality, NSW is far from alone in these deficiencies:

  • NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all fail to protect non-binary people, and
  • Those same jurisdictions (NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA and the NT) also exclude intersex people from their discrimination frameworks.

 

There is a long, long way to go before Australian anti-discrimination laws adequately and appropriately protect LGBTI Australians against discrimination.

 

The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 arguably has the longest journey ahead.[ii] Let’s hope Premier Berejiklian hears that message loud and clear at tonight’s Mardi Gras – and every parade until this exclusionary and out-dated law is fixed.

 

Bi Pride

 

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Footnotes:

[i] To complicate matters, bisexual employees of NSW Government agencies are protected against unlawful termination, because section 772 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) applies. However, the adverse action protections in section 351 of that Act (which prohibit mistreatment during employment) don’t apply because they must also be prohibited by an equivalent Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination law – which is not the case here.

[ii] For more problems see: What’s Wrong with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

Don’t Rain on Our Parade

It’s reached that point in late February where, every day at 4:20pm, I visit the Bureau of Meteorology website to check the forecast for Saturday night’s Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

 

But, irrespective of whether the BoM says it will rain, hail, (smoke) or shine, there’s a much larger cloud hanging over Australia’s LGBTI community: the Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.

 

This legislation has the potential to adversely affect nearly every aspect of our existence.

 

From health-care, where it will allow doctors and pharmacists to deny hormone therapy, including puberty blockers, to trans and gender diverse people. And to refuse to provide access to PEP, and PrEP, exposing gay and bisexual men to greater risk of HIV transmission.

 

To the workplace, where employers and colleagues will be able to make comments that offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule us, as long as those statements are based on religious belief.

 

A manager could tell a staff member that gay sex is sinful, and same-sex relationships are intrinsically disordered.

 

An interviewer may inform a trans applicant that gender is binary, and therefore their gender identity is not real.

 

A colleague could respond to a lesbian co-worker showing pictures of her family in the lunch-room that she has deliberately denied her children of a father, and will be condemned by god for her ‘lifestyle’ choices.

 

These are all entirely plausible scenarios. And all would be legally permitted under the Religious Discrimination Bill, because statements of belief are effectively exempt from all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

 

Indeed, statements of belief would be protected across all areas of public life, not just employment.

 

If this legislation passes, international tourists visiting Sydney this time next year could be subjected to degrading and demeaning comments anywhere and everywhere, at the airport, in the taxi or uber, on buses, trains and ferries, at the hotel or B&B, at tourist attractions, in cafes and restaurants, at shops and on the streets.

 

That sounds more like hate-song than ‘matesong’.

 

Except, once the party is over tourists will be able to leave these homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments behind, while LGBTI Australians will be stuck with them, like unshakeable glitter, invading every nook and cranny for years to come.

 

As a certain bank tried to remind us last week – and was then itself reminded by the community – ‘words do hurt’. It is unacceptable that our own Government is so focussed on ensuring we are all exposed to more hurtful words in our lives.

 

The Bill also further entrenches the special privileges granted to religious schools and other faith-based organisations to discriminate against teachers, other employees, students and, in some cases, people accessing their services, on the grounds of religious belief or lack of belief. Even where these services are being delivered using public funding.

 

It doesn’t explicitly grant new powers to religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and students. But then it doesn’t need to, either – because those powers already exist under the Sex Discrimination Act and, despite promising to protect LGBT students before the end of 2018, the Morrison Government has so far failed to shield some of the most vulnerable members of our community.

 

The theme for this year’s Mardi Gras is ‘What Matters’. In pushing ahead with the Religious Discrimination Bill, despite criticism from LGBTI organisations and a wide range of other civil society bodies, while failing to protect students in religious schools, it is clear the right to be a bigot matters much more to them than the safety of LGBT kids.

 

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the current debate is that, from an LGBTI advocate’s perspective, it is a purely reactive one – defending existing rights under what are already-flawed anti-discrimination laws, rather than trying to make those laws better (for example, including bisexual, non-binary and intersex people in NSW’s out-dated Anti-Discrimination Act).

 

It takes attention away from other urgent law and policy reform, too.

 

We shouldn’t forget that this Saturday’s march takes place in a state where trans people still need to have surgery – which is both expensive, and for some people, unwanted – before being able to update their identity documentation.

 

And in a country where children born with variations in sex characteristics continue to suffer massive human rights violations, including coercive, intrusive and irreversible surgery and other medical treatments.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will take LGBTI rights in Australia backwards, when there is still so much progress left to be made, on these and many other issues.

 

It’s time the Morrison Government abandoned this legislative attack on our community, and instead worked with us to achieve positive change – maybe then we can finally celebrate under clear skies.

 

Mardi Gras flag

 

For more on this subject, see The Religious Discrimination Bill: What you should know.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

Cooperative workplaces must be trans and intersex inclusive workplaces

The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department has issued a consultation paper titled: ‘Cooperative Workplaces – How can Australia capture productivity improvements from more harmonious workplace relations’.

 

Submissions are due by Friday 28 February 2020. The following is mine:

 

Attorney-General’s Department

via IRconsultation@ag.gov.au

 

Monday 24 February 2020

 

To whom it may concern

 

Cooperative workplaces must be trans and intersex inclusive workplaces

 

Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission in response to the Cooperative Workplaces consultation paper.

 

I do so as a long-term advocate on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

 

In this submission I will focus on the following questions posed in the paper:

2. To what extent do employees benefit from cooperative workplaces?

7. How does the Australian industrial relations system support and encourage cooperative workplaces?

10. What has been the experience with techniques and practices to foster cooperative workplaces including, but not limited to: …

e) Fair treatment policies and procedures.

 

From my perspective, the benefits of cooperative workplaces flow from all employees being treated fairly and with respect, and where all employees are protected against discrimination on the basis of who they are.

 

If employees are able to bring their full selves to work, without having to hide who they are or fear mistreatment and other forms of abuse, they are likely to be happier, healthier and consequently work better.

 

Unfortunately, this is not the situation for all employees in Australian workplaces today. That’s at least in part because some groups, including trans and gender diverse, and intersex, employees do not enjoy the same rights as other employees.

 

Specifically, while gender identity and intersex status are protected attributes under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), they are not included in equivalent protections in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

 

For example, the adverse action provisions in sub-section 351(1) cover:

  • Race
  • Colour
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Age
  • Physical or mental disability
  • Marital status
  • Family or carer’s responsibilities
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Political opinion
  • National extraction, and
  • Social origin.

 

Note that this long list does not protect trans, gender diverse or intersex people.

 

The same list of attributes, with the same exclusions, is found in sub-section 772(1)(f), which protects employees against unlawful termination. Meaning that the Fair Work Act does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians from mistreatment or unfair dismissal based on who they are.

 

There are other exclusions too:

  • Section 153 provides that discriminatory terms must not be included in modern awards. The list of relevant attributes includes sexual orientation, but excludes gender identity and sex characteristics;
  • Section 195 includes a similar prohibition on discriminatory terms in enterprise agreements, and once again omits trans, gender diverse and intersex people;
  • Sub-section 578(c) provides that the Fair Work Commission must perform its functions taking into account ‘the need to respect and value the diversity of the work force by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.’

 

There is literally no requirement for the Fair Work Commission to help prevent or eliminate transphobic and intersexphobic workplace discrimination.

 

This leaves trans, gender diverse and intersex employees at a distinct disadvantage compared to other groups, including lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.

 

Indeed, even a certain infamous footballer was potentially covered against unfair dismissal on the basis of religious belief, whereas one of the main groups that he directed his offensive statements against – transgender Australians – is not.

 

I wrote to the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the former Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Senator Michaelia Cash, raising this issue in May 2018, calling on them to amend the Fair Work Act to include gender identity and sex characteristics (being the terminology preferred by intersex advocate organisations including Intersex Human Rights Australia) as protected attributes.

 

I received a response to that letter from the then Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, Craig Laundy, in July of that year, rejecting this call.

 

While he stated that ‘The Australian Government believes that discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable and all employees have the right to be free from discrimination at work”, he pointed to the SDA protections as being sufficient:

 

“The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is the principal legislation providing protection against discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex and/or gender. It also covers discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Sex Discrimination Act explicitly covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and intersex status.”

 

Which, to be blunt, entirely misses the point.

 

First, other groups protected by the Fair Work Act, including those based on race, sex, age, disability and even sexual orientation, are covered by both that Act and an equivalent Commonwealth anti-discrimination law. If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians.

 

Second, being included in the Fair Work Act gives people who are mistreated in the workplace, or unfairly dismissed, additional options in terms of making complaints, with potential implications for timing, jurisdiction, costs and compensation. Excluding gender identity and sex characteristics from one puts trans, gender diverse and intersex employees in an inferior legal position.

 

Third, there is a symbolic effect from the exclusion of gender identity and sex characteristics from the Fair Work Act, with many employers possibly viewing anti-trans and anti-intersex workplace discrimination as being less important than other types of workplace mistreatment.

 

Perhaps that is an inevitable outcome when the Government itself, as recently as 2018, was saying the same thing – loudly and clearly – by failing to address this obvious inconsistency, even after it was brought to their attention.

 

With a new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a new Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations – both portfolios held by Christian Porter – as well as an apparent interest in ‘cooperative workplaces’, I believe it is essential for the Government to take action on this issue as a matter of urgency.

 

Recommendation 1

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) should be amended to include gender identity as a protected attribute, with a definition based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984:

‘Gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.’

 

Recommendation 2

The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) should be amended to include sex characteristics as a protected attribute, with a definition settled after consultation with Intersex Human Rights Australia and other intersex individuals and organisations, and based on the definition in the Yogyakarta Principles + 10:

‘understanding sex characteristics as each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genital and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’

 

If these recommendations are implemented, then trans, gender diverse and intersex employees around the country stand to benefit from being able to work with less fear from workplace mistreatment and abuse.

 

In doing so, the Australian industrial relations system will better support and encourage cooperative and harmonious workplaces where people are able to bring their full selves to work (if they so wish).

 

And all workplaces will be encouraged to adopt improved fair treatment policies and procedures, that don’t exclude trans, gender diverse and intersex employees, and don’t treat prohibitions on transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination as somehow less important than prohibitions relating to other protected attributes, including sexual orientation.

 

Overall, Australia would benefit from a significant minority of happier, healthier and yes more productive employees.

 

Thank you for taking this submission into consideration. Please contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Cooperative workplaces

 

For more, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

A Potential Warning to LGBTI Tourists to Australia

Today is one of my favourite days of the LGBTI calendar: Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Fair Day. Tens of thousands of people will gather in Victoria Park in a beautiful celebration of our community.

 

That includes visitors from interstate and from overseas, especially from the Asia-Pacific region, whose numbers will swell over the next fortnight in the lead-up to the Mardi Gras Parade and Party, to be held on Saturday 29 February.

 

It creates a real buzz around the city. I can only imagine how much louder Sydney will hum in 2023 as we host World Pride, the first city in the Southern Hemisphere to do so.

 

However, there is a looming threat to LGBTI tourism to Australia, one that has the potential to dampen our celebrations more than even literal rain on our parade: the Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill.

 

If passed, this legislation could have a negative impact on nearly every aspect of the visitor experience. So much so, it is easy to envisage the following warnings being handed out to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex tourists to Australia in the future:

 

  1. Don’t get sick

 

Not only because our health care system can be expensive for people who are not citizens or permanent residents. But also because the Religious Discrimination Act allows doctors, pharmacists and some other health practitioners to refuse to provide health services, even where this has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable groups. For example, doctors and pharmacists can:

  • refuse to provide hormone treatments, even where this adversely affects trans and gender diverse people[i]
  • refuse to provide PEP/PrEP, even where this has a detrimental impact on gay and bisexual men (and others at increased risk of HIV transmission), and
  • refuse to provide reproductive health services (such as the morning after pill), irrespective of the effect on people with uteruses.

 

If possible, make sure you bring all of your medications with you, and be careful not to lose them during your stay.

 

  1. Be prepared to ‘shop around’ for doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners

 

If you do get sick, or lose your medication, while in Australia, you should be prepared for the possibility any individual doctor or pharmacist may refuse to provide a specific health service or treatment. You may need to see several of each in order to obtain access to the medications you need. Unfortunately, it is also likely you will be charged for appointments even where the health practitioner refuses to provide a service.

 

Importantly, whether a doctor or pharmacist will refuse to provide a specific health service or treatment may not be apparent before you see them. Individual doctors or pharmacists at public hospitals are also entitled to refuse service: if this happens, try asking for a new practitioner until you receive treatment.

 

  1. Be prepared for doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners to express abhorrent views about you, to you

 

Even if a doctor, pharmacist or other health practitioner provides you with the health service or treatment that you need, they are also free to express offensive, humiliating, ‘moderately’ intimidating, insulting or ridiculing views about your sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics while doing so. For example, they may be able to:

  • tell trans and gender diverse people that gender is binary and that their gender identity is an abomination[ii]
  • tell lesbian, gay and bisexual people that same-sex relationships are intrinsically disordered and sinful, and
  • tell intersex people that sex should be male or female and that their sex characteristics are a mistake that must be corrected.

 

Doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners will be able to express these abhorrent views to you as long as they are based on their religious beliefs.

 

  1. Be prepared for people to express abhorrent views about you, to you, in all areas of public life

 

In fact, people will be to express such views about you, to you, in all areas of public life: on the plane or boat you arrive on; at the airport; in taxis, ubers, buses, ferries, trains and other forms of transport; at hotels, motels and B&Bs; at galleries, museums and other tourist attractions; at cafes and restaurants; at shops. Everywhere you go while you are in Australia.

 

That’s because the Religious Discrimination Act exempts ‘statements of belief’ from constituting discrimination under all other Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, as long as those statements are based on that person’s religious beliefs and fall short of harassment, threats, serious intimidation or incitement to hatred or violence.

 

  1. If you are subjected to abhorrent views and wish to make a complaint, try to find out whether the person expressing them is religious

 

Because abhorrent views are protected where they are based on religious beliefs, you may be able to complain about homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic comments that are not motivated by religion.[iii] Therefore, if you wish to make a complaint about such mistreatment, you will first need to work out whether the person making the statement is religious.

 

In practice, it may be difficult to determine whether someone is religious and/or whether their anti-LGBTI prejudice is based on their religious beliefs. It may also be physically unsafe to do so. In these circumstances, it may be wiser not to make a complaint and instead try to avoid the person(s) expressing such views (if possible).[iv]

 

  1. If you need emergency food or shelter during your stay, consider pretending to be Christian

 

In Australia, the Government outsources a wide range of health, education and other community services to religious organisations. This includes some homelessness shelters, as well as food vans and other welfare services.

 

Under the Religious Discrimination Act, religious charities are able to discriminate on the basis of religious belief in terms of who they provide these services to, even where they are providing them with public funding.

 

Given the vast majority of faith-based charities in Australia are Christian, if you experience financial difficulties during your stay and need emergency food or shelter, you should consider pretending to be Christian. You may even need to pretend to be from the specific Christian denomination providing that service (eg Catholic or Anglican).

 

**********

 

The above warnings might sound absurd, but if the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill becomes law in its current form, then they will be all too real.

 

And we will have a responsibility to provide these warnings to all LGBTI tourists to Australia, not just during Mardi Gras and World Pride, Midsumma, Feast and other pride festivals around the country, but all year round, each and every year.

 

Of course, it won’t just be tourists who will be adversely affected by this legislation either. In fact, all of the warnings I have included will also apply to LGBTI Australians.

 

Doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners will be able to refuse to provide specific health services and treatments to us, and we won’t necessarily know before we make an appointment.

 

Everyone in public life (including health practitioners, as well as people providing education, accommodation, transportation, food and other goods and services) will be able to express abhorrent views about us, and to us, as long as those views are religiously-motivated.

 

And if we fall on hard times, our religion (or lack of religion) may determine whether we are able to access some publicly-funded essential services.

 

The only glimmer of hope is that this post is a potential warning, rather than an actual one. It is only a Religious Discrimination Bill at this stage, not an Act. This disturbing vision of the future can still be prevented from becoming a reality – but only if we take action now.

 

Please speak up in the coming days and weeks. If you see a federal politician at Fair Day, or at the Mardi Gras Parade, ask them whether they will vote against a Religious Discrimination Bill that takes rights away from the LGBTI community. If they post about it on twitter, facebook or other socials, ask them the same thing.

 

You should also write to:

  • ALP MPs and Senators
  • Greens MP and Senators
  • Centre Alliance Senators (if you’re in South Australia)
  • Senator Jacqui Lambie (if you’re in Tasmania), and
  • Liberate moderate/gay and lesbian MPs (including Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson, Angie Bell, Warren Entsch, Senator Dean Smith)

because they will help determine whether this legislation becomes a waking nightmare, or just a temporary bad dream.

 

PFLAG Australia has made this process easy, using the website Equality, Not Discrimination. Equality Australia has a similar helpful platform, here. Make your voice heard, because this legislation will affect LGBTI tourists, and LGBTI Australians, alike.

 

Rainbow Bridge

 

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Footnotes:

[i] Attorney-General Christian Porter confirmed that trans and gender diverse patients could be denied treatment on the day he released the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill:

“Mr Porter used the example of a GP who did not want to ‘engage in hormone therapies’ for a trans person. ‘That’s fine, but you have to exercise that in a consistent way, so you don’t engage in the procedure at all’.”

‘Rules for doctors, pharmacists tightened in new religious discrimination bill’, 10 December 2019, Sydney Morning Herald.

[ii] The explanatory notes to the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill confirm this. At para 549, on page 66:

‘For example, a statement by a doctor to a transgender patient of their religious belief that God made men and women in his image and that gender is therefore binary may be a statement of belief, provided it is made in good faith. However, a refusal by that doctor to provide medical services to a transgender person because of their religious belief that gender was binary would not constitute a statement of belief as the refusal to provide services constitutes an action beyond simply stating a belief, and therefore may constitute discrimination on the basis of gender identity.’

[iii] This also depends on the jurisdiction the tourist finds themselves in. Anti-LGBTI vilification is not prohibited under Commonwealth law, or in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory. Anti-LGBTI vilification is prohibited in both Tasmania and the ACT, anti-LGBT vilification is prohibited in Queensland, while NSW has different coverage for inciting or threatening violence (LGBTI), or civil vilification (only lesbian, gay and binary transgender). For more see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[iv] Indeed, this seems to be the Government’s intention – to discourage people who experience discriminatory conduct from bringing complaints.

Submission to Victorian Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

The Committee Manager

Legislative Assembly Legal and Social Issues Committee

Parliament House, Spring St

East Melbourne VIC 3002

Submitted via: avpinquiry@parliament.vic.gov.au

Thursday 19 December 2019

 

To the Committee

 

Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

 

Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission on this important subject.

 

I do so as a long-term advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, having previously served on the Committee of Management of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby (2004-05, and 2007).

 

In this submission, I will primarily focus on term of reference 8: ‘Possible extension of protections or expansion of protection to classes of people not currently protected under the existing Act.’

 

As the Committee is aware, Victoria currently only provides protection against vilification on the basis of two attributes – race (section 7) and religion (section 8) – under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic).

 

From an LGBTI perspective this is incredibly disappointing, especially because the similar absence of LGBTI anti-vilification protections under Commonwealth law, which only covers race,[i] means that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Victorians currently have no vilification protections at either level.

 

This stands in contrast to the laws of several other Australian jurisdictions.

 

For example, Tasmania protects against ‘incite[ment of] hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of’ sexual orientation,[ii] gender identity[iii] and intersex variations of sex characteristics.[iv]

 

Tasmania’s best practice legislation also prohibits ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute’, which again includes sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex variations of sex characteristics.[v]

 

The Australian Capital Territory protects against ‘incite[ment of] hatred toward, revulsion of, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’ persons on the basis of gender identity,[vi] intersex status[vii] and sexuality.[viii]

 

Although I note that intersex advocates have called for protection of the attribute of ‘sex characteristics’,[ix] rather than ‘intersex status’, reflecting both the biological rather than identity-based nature of variations of sex characteristics, and to promote consistency with the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10.[x]

 

Queensland also prohibits the ‘incite[ment of] hatred towards, serious contempt of, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race, religion, sexuality or gender identity of the person of members of the group.’[xi]

 

Meanwhile, NSW has adopted two separate, and in some ways contradictory, approaches to vilification. It provides civil protection against vilification (which includes ‘incite[ment of] hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’) to binary[xii] transgender people,[xiii] and lesbians and gay men.[xiv]

 

On the other hand, in 2018 NSW Parliament amended the Crimes Act 1900 to provide that ‘[a] person who, by public act, intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on any of the following grounds is guilty of an offence’ and nominated sexual orientation,[xv] gender identity[xvi] and intersex status.[xvii]

 

Overall, then, LGBTI people are protected against vilification in both Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, LGBT people are protected in Queensland, and lesbians, gay men and some trans people have access to civil protection in New South Wales, while all LGBTI people are covered by the narrower criminal offence of ‘publicly threatening or inciting violence’ in that state.

 

Of course, the fact other jurisdictions have adopted a different approach to this issue is not necessarily a compelling argument that Victoria should do the same. However, I do support such an expansion for two main reasons.

 

First, in principle, there is no reason why vilification on the basis of race or religion should be treated any differently to vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

Vilification on any of these attributes is serious, and racial or religious vilification is no more serious than anti-LGBTI vilification. This is especially so given the harm caused by each type of vilification can be severe, and therefore the conduct which contributes to this harm should be prohibited, irrespective of whether it is racist, anti-religious or homophobic, biphobic, transphobic or intersexphobic.

 

Second, in practice, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australians remain exposed to unacceptably high rates of discrimination and vilification on the basis of who they are.

 

This was particularly demonstrated during the Commonwealth Government’s 2017 Same-Sex Marriage Postal Survey, and its lingering aftermath.

 

This unnecessary, wasteful and divisive vote on the rights of a minority group encouraged people to ‘have their say’ about LGBTI Australians, and inevitably (and, it should be noted, entirely predictably) stirred up significant amounts of public homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia against us.

 

Sadly, once the genie of anti-LGBTI bigotry was deliberately let out of the bottle by the Turnbull Liberal-National Government, it will take the rest of us many years, if not decades, of concerted effort to put it back in again.

 

This can be seen by the ongoing hate-based campaign targeting trans and gender diverse people, and especially trans children, which appears on an almost daily basis in our nation’s newspapers, and elsewhere.

 

As we enter the 2020s, the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia whipped up by the Commonwealth Government in the last decade still haunts us, and will likely continue to do so for some time yet.

 

For both of these reasons, principled and practical, I urge the Victorian Parliament to follow the lead of other jurisdictions and introduce vilification protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

 

Recommendation 1: That the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of:

  • sexual orientation
  • gender identity, and
  • sex characteristics.

 

I note that the Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019, introduced by Fiona Patten MLC, proposes to do exactly that. It also proposes to add gender, and disability, to the list of attributes that would be protected against vilification under that legislation.

 

While I am not an expert on gender or disability-based vilification, for (at least) the first of the reasons outlined above, I can see no good reason why Victorians should not also be protected against vilification on the basis of these attributes.

 

Recommendation 2: That the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) be amended to prohibit vilification on the basis of gender and disability.

 

One final issue I would like to address in this submission also arises through Ms Patten’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019, and specifically relates to proposed amendments to section 24 of the principal Act which creates the offence of serious racial vilification.

 

These amendments would add the words ‘or recklessly’ to, and remove the words ‘the offender knows’ from, the fault element of this offence.

 

I support both changes. The first change would help create consistency with the offences established in other jurisdictions (including the recently-introduced NSW Crimes Act 1900 provisions).

 

The second would remove the ‘offender knows’ subjective test from this offence, which is important because such harmful conduct should be prohibited irrespective of whether the specific offender knew that was the likely outcome.

 

Recommendation 3: That serious vilification offences in the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) be amended to prohibit intentionally or recklessly engaging in conduct that is likely to incite hatred, or to threaten, or incite others to threaten, physical harm or harm to property.

 

Thank you for taking this submission into consideration as part of this inquiry. Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided, should you require additional information.

 

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

 

Fiona Patten

Fiona Patten MLC, whose Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019 would protect LGBTI Victorians against vilification.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Section 18C Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

[ii] Section 19(c) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[iii] Section 19(e) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[iv] Section 19(e) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[v] Section 17(1) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[vi] Section 67A(1)(b) Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

[vii] Section 67A(1)(d) Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

[viii] Section 67A(1)(g) Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).

[ix] Darlington Statement, March 2017, Article 9: ‘We call for effective legislative protection from discrimination and harmful practices on grounds of sex characteristics.’

[x] Which defines sex characteristics as ‘each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’ Yogyakarta Principles plus 10, 10 November 2017.

[xi] Section 124A Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 (Qld).

[xii] Because the definition of transgender in section 38A only protects a person:

(a) ‘who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or

(b) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…’

[xiii] Section 38S Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW).

[xiv] Section 49ZT Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW).

[xv] Section 93Z(1)(c) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

[xvi] Section 93Z(1)(d) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

[xvii] Section 93Z(1)(e) Crimes Act 1900 (NSW).

The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked

It is ironic that a Bill that uses the phrase ‘in good faith’ multiple times (four times in the First Exposure Draft, and nine times in the Second) was itself developed through a process that was the polar opposite.

The Religious Discrimination Bill is the end product of the Religious Freedom Review, which was a gift to religious fundamentalists during parliamentary debate about marriage equality in 2017, and was payback against LGBTI Australians for having the temerity to demand equal rights under secular law.

When that review was finally released in December 2018, Attorney-General Christian Porter promised that the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill would be similar to other anti-discrimination laws, and ‘follow a very standard architecture’.[i] Instead he has delivered incredibly complex legislation with several unique, special rights for religious individuals and organisations to discriminate against others (more on that below).

Mr Porter also stated in December 2018 that ‘we are well-advanced on the drafting of [the Bill] and which we would have out early next year [2019], so that people can see it.’ Yet the Liberal-National Government did not reveal any details of the Bill until after the May 2019 federal election, leaving voters in the dark about a central plank of their platform (perhaps some voters may have voted differently had they known their human rights would later come under sustained attack).

In August, the Guardian Australia reported that:

Christian Porter has sought to allay concerns that a federal religious discrimination bill could water down protections for LGBT people in state legislation. The attorney general told Guardian Australia the bill “is not intended to displace state law…”’[ii]

But when the First Exposure Draft Bill was released on 29 August it did exactly that, with clause 41 directly over-riding Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation, and specifically over-riding Tasmania’s best practice protections against ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults of ridicules’[iii] others, including women, LGBTI people and others.

At no point between December 2018 and August 2019 did the Morrison Government consult with anyone other than the religious organisations who would benefit from the Bill. There was no engagement with any of the people who stood to lose the most, from women, to LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people and people in de facto relationships, and people with disability.

Even when the Attorney-General released the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill for public comment – and received a deluge of criticism from representatives of those groups, as well as the vast majority of civil society organisations, and even the Australian Human Rights Commission, the independent body who would be responsible for overseeing any legislation once passed – Porter, and the Government, have chosen to ignore that feedback.

In fact, the only major substantive change to the Bill was something demanded by religious organisations – to expand its religious exceptions even further, allowing religious hospitals and aged care services to discriminate on the basis of religious belief in employment. Even when receiving taxpayers money to deliver public services.

It is completely unsurprising that, having undertaken a bad faith process to develop its legislation, the Government has produced what is essentially a ‘bad faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill. A Bill that prioritises and privileges the rights of religious individuals and organisations over and above everyone else.

This can be seen in how the Second Exposure Draft[iv] differs from the First in relation to its four major problems[v] – or, rather, in how there is nothing to separate the two Bills, meaning the Government has not addressed these flaws.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ minorities

Clause 42 (which was previously clause 41) continues to exempt ‘statements of belief’ from discrimination complaints under all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation, including the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) and Tasmania’s best practice Anti-Discrimination Act 1998.

Indeed, multiple changes to the Bill will actually ensure more discriminatory statements of belief are protected from legal consequences. This includes expanding the definition of statements of belief (so that they do not need to align with the mainstream views of any religion, but can be from the extreme fringes of faith), as well as providing that comments will be protected even where they are ‘moderately’ intimidating towards the victim.[vi]

Nor has the Government addressed the constitutional flaws of this provision. Because the Bill would introduce a Commonwealth defence to state laws, state tribunals would legally be unable to determine whether the defence was valid. So where a person makes a complaint of discrimination, and a respondent claims it was a ‘statement of belief’, it would need to be referred from the tribunal to a court to hear that particular issue, and then referred back to the tribunal to determine the remainder of the complaint – massively increasing the costs and time involved, with the likely outcome that many discrimination complaints will be withdrawn no matter how valid they are.

Overall, clause 42 will still encourage degrading and demeaning comments about women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disability, and even people from minority faiths,[vii] in all areas of public life, from workplaces to schools and universities, health care, aged care and other community services, to cafes, restaurants and even shops.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to serve minorities

There have been some minor improvements to the ‘conscientious objection’ provisions in the Second Exposure Draft (previously clauses 8(5) and (6), now clauses 8(6) and (7) of the Bill). This includes narrowing the list of health practitioners who will be able to take advantage of these sections, as well as including a note that they are not intended to allow practitioners to refuse to provide a service to a category of people.

But, in practice, these changes are superficial rather than substantive. The list of practitioners who remain covered:

  • Doctors
  • Midwives
  • Nurses
  • Pharmacists, and
  • Psychologists

means the vast majority of interactions between patients and the health system are nevertheless potentially jeopardised via ‘conscientious objection’.

Meanwhile, the distinction between refusing to provide a service to a category of people (which would not be permitted) and refusing to provide a category of service to people (which would be) is so blurry as to be meaningless.

As Attorney-General Porter himself confirmed when releasing the Second Exposure Draft, it is designed to protect ‘a GP who did not want to “engage in hormone therapies” for a trans person. “That’s fine, but you have to exercise that in a consistent way, so you don’t engage in the procedure at all.”’[viii]

The net effect is that GPs and pharmacists will be empowered to:

  • Refuse to provide reproductive health services, even where this disproportionately affects women
  • Refuse to provide PEP and/or PrEP, even there this disproportionately affects gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men, and
  • Refuse to provide hormone therapy (including puberty blockers), even where this disproportionately affects trans and gender diverse people.

Overall, clauses 8(6) and (7) will still encourage practitioners to refuse to provide vital health care services to some of the most vulnerable members of the Australian community.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it easier for religious bodies to discriminate against others

In fact, as hinted at earlier, the religious exceptions contained in the Second Exposure Draft will make it even easier for even more religious organisations to discriminate in even more circumstances.

Clause 11 (which was previously clause 10), provides an exception to all religious schools and universities, as well as ‘registered public benevolent institutions’ (even where providing commercial services to members of the public), as well as ‘any other body that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion (other than a body that engages solely or primarily in commercial activities)’.

This exception allows these bodies to discriminate on the ground of religion in both employment, and who they provide services to (or withhold services from).

The test for determining whether the organisation can (ab)use these special privileges is also much easier to satisfy in the Second Exposure Draft. In fact, there are now two alternative tests, and the organisation need only satisfy one:

  • Clause 11(3) is already a lower standard than the existing religious exception in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), because the organisation can simply act, ‘in good faith, in conduct to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of the same religion’ – unlike section 37(1)(d) of the SDA, these acts do not need to be ‘necessary’.
  • Clause 11(1) sets an even lower standard again. It provides that a ‘religious body does not discriminate against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in conduct that a person of the same religion as the religious body could reasonably consider to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.’

This second test is entirely subjective. A religious body is only required to demonstrate that one other person considers their discrimination is in accordance with their faith. They don’t even have to agree with the discrimination itself! This hurdle is so easy to clear that it is almost impossible to imagine any scenario where a court or tribunal will disallow religious discrimination by these organisations.

Which is particularly devastating because the Second Exposure Draft also expands the types of organisations that can take advantage of these privileges.

Clauses 32(8) and (10) allow religious hospitals, aged care services and accommodation providers to discriminate in employment on the ground of religion. And clauses 33(2) and (4) permit religious camps and conference sites to discriminate in who they provide services to (even where these are facilities run on a commercial basis and otherwise open to the public).

As I have written previously, these religious exceptions will mean that:

  • A professor can be denied a job because they are Jewish.
  • A doctor can be refused employment at a hospital because they are Muslim.
  • A school student can be expelled because they are atheist.
  • A homeless person can miss out on a bed in a shelter because they are Hindu.
  • A charity worker can be rejected for promotion because they are Buddhist.
  • An aged care employee can lose shifts because they are agnostic.

Overall, clause 11 (and related clauses) will fundamentally divide Australia, by empowering religious organisations to discriminate both in employment, and in who they provide services to, on the grounds of religion. And they will be able to do so while using taxpayers’ money. Your money. My money, Our money.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will still make it more difficult for big business to promote diversity and inclusion

Clauses 8(3) and (5) (which were previously 8(3) and (4)) are the provisions which were created in response to the circumstances of a certain ex-footballer – by making it incredibly difficult for organisations with revenue of at least $50 million per annum to impose codes of conduct that prevent an employee from making discriminatory comments outside their ordinary hours of employment.

These clauses have been slightly improved in the Second Exposure Draft. By clarifying they only protect employees in conduct ‘other than in the course of the employee’s employment’, it actually applies to a reduced set of circumstances.

But Attorney-General Porter has also included a new clause 8(4), which makes things much worse again – by preventing qualifying bodies (like legal admission or medical registration bodies) from taking into account degrading or demeaning public comments which applicants may have made ‘unless compliance with the rule by the person is an essential requirement of the profession, trade or occupation’.

Previously, these bodies may have denied admission or registration on the basis that the applicant was not a ‘fit and proper person’ – instead, homophobes, biphobes and transphobes will be encouraged to discriminate with little or no professional consequences.

**********

Any of these problems should be sufficient in and of itself for anyone interested in human rights for all Australians, and not just for some, to oppose the Bill. All of them together should be enough for Labor, the Greens and Senate Cross-Bench to vote against it – although only the Greens’ opposition is secure at this stage.

And that’s not even including some of the other ‘lesser’ problems in the package of ‘religious freedom’ laws the Government is seeking to pass, which are each significant in their own right:[ix]

  • Creating a ‘Religious Freedom Commissioner’ within the Australian Human Rights Commission, to advance the ‘religious freedom’ agenda, even though such a position was not recommended by the Government’s own Ruddock Review, and while LGBTI Australians continue to be denied a Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics Commissioner.
  • Amending the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) to reinforce the ability of religious educational institutions to reject same-sex weddings, even where they provide those services to the public on a commercial basis – and despite the fact such a ban was not previously required to reject divorced people remarrying (meaning this is essentially an anti-marriage equality provision),[x] and
  • Amending the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) to ‘protect’ charities advocating against an inclusive definition of marriage, even though the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC) explicitly stated such a clause was not needed, and despite the fact no other type of advocacy (from Indigenous, to environmental or LGBTI) is protected in this way.

Unfortunately, there are even more problems in the Religious Discrimination Bill, and its two related Bills (the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill, and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill), although it would take too long to describe them all in detail here.

In short, these are deeply flawed Bills, developed through a bad faith process, that will have a terrible impact on women, LGBTI people, people with disability and others. If passed, they would lead to increased division between different communities, changing our country for the worse. They must be blocked.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of this debate is that a genuine Religious Discrimination Bill, one that protected people of faith and no faith against discrimination on the basis of who they are, would have been a welcome development.

If the Government had prepared the Religious Discrimination Bill in good faith, it would have been met with substantial community goodwill. Instead, they listened to religious fundamentalists, and have now released two slightly different versions of legislation containing the same fundamental flaw – it increases discrimination rather than reducing it.

Significantly, the victims of the Government’s Bill will not only be women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, and people with disability. People from minority faiths, atheists and agnostics all stand to lose under Attorney-General Porter’s, and Prime Minister Morrison’s, disingenuous and disastrous Second Exposure Draft ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills.

Anti-discrimination legislation should reduce discrimination, not increase it. It should unite us, rather than divide us. The Religious Discrimination Bill fails on those most fundamental criteria. It is a bad faith Bill, and the only possible good outcome from here would be for it to be rejected in its entirety.

 

Take Action

One of my main objectives for the blog this year is to include practical information on as many posts as possible about actions readers can take. In this instance, there are at least three things you can do:

 

  1. Write a submission on the Second Exposure Draft Bills

The Second Exposure Draft ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills are open for public consultation until Friday 31 January 2020. Details of the Bills are here, and you can send written submissions via email to FoRConsultation@ag.gov.au

You don’t have to be a lawyer to make a submission, nor do you need to comment on all of the Bills’ many problems. Instead, you can simply describe your general concerns about the proposed legislation, as well as any specific fears about its impact on you and your community. Some suggested points include:

  • All Australians deserve to be protected against discrimination.
  • This includes people of faith, and no faith. But it must also include women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disability and others.
  • Unfortunately, the Second Exposure Draft Religious Freedom Bill will increase discrimination against many groups, including people from minority faiths, rather than reduce it.
  • It will encourage people to make ‘statements of belief’ that degrade and demean others just because of who they are, in workplaces, schools and universities, health care, aged care and community services, cafes, restaurants, shops and other public places.
  • It will encourage doctors, pharmacists and other health practitioners to refuse to provide vital health services to vulnerable Australians.
  • It will encourage religious organisations to discriminate against people on the basis of their faith, in schools and universities, hospitals, aged care and other community services, even where they are delivering essential public services using public funding.
  • The Government should scrap the current version of the Religious Discrimination Bill, and prepare a new Bill that reduces discrimination rather than increasing it.
  • If the Government fails to do so, the Parliament must reject the Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill, and associated ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills.

 

  1. Write to MPs and Senators expressing your concerns

While submissions about the Exposure Draft Bills are valuable, it is essential you also convey your concerns directly to your elected representatives.

It is especially important to write to the following:

  • ALP MPs and Senators
  • Greens MP and Senators
  • Centre Alliance Senators (if you’re in South Australia)
  • Senator Jacqui Lambie (if you’re in Tasmania), and
  • Liberate moderate/gay and lesbian MPs (including Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson, Angie Bell, Warren Entsch, Senator Dean Smith).

PFLAG Australia has made this process easy, using the website Equality, Not Discrimination.

You can also access a range of materials from Equality Australia here, including a submission-writing toolkit.

 

  1. Attend a public rally against the Bills

For those who prefer their activism to be on the streets, there will also be a number of public rallies around the country in coming weeks, including:

Sydney: Saturday 8 February at 1pm, Sydney Town Hall

Melbourne: Sunday 9 February at 1pm, State Library of Victoria

Brisbane: Saturday 1 February at 5pm, King George Square, and

Perth: Saturday 8 February at 1pm, Forrest Chase

The bad faith Religious Discrimination Bill, and the two other proposed ‘Religious Freedom’ Bills, can be blocked, but only if we all take action together.

 

Christian Porter

Attorney-General Christian Porter, author of the ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill.

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

Footnotes:

[i] Attorney-General Media Conference, 13 December 2018.

[ii]Christian Porter says religious freedom bill won’t erode state LGBT protections’ 12 July 2019.

[iii] Section 17(1) Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

[iv] The complete Religious Freedom Bills – Second Exposure Drafts (which includes the updated Religious Discrimination Bill) can be found here.

[v] See The Growing List of Problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill.

[vi] Clause 42(2) provides that statements of belief will not be protected if it is:

  • malicious
  • that would, or is likely to, harass, threaten, seriously intimidate or vilify another person or group of persons; or
  • would be considered ‘counselling, promoting, encouraging or urging conduct that would constitute a serious offence.’

[vii] See The Internal Contradiction of the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

[viii] ‘Rules for doctors, pharmacists tightened in new religious discrimination bill’, Sydney Morning Herald, 10 December 2019.

[ix] For more detail, see The Growing List of Problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill.

[x] Unfortunately, it would not be the only provision in the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) which discriminated against same-sex couples, despite the postal survey result. For more see: No, We Don’t Have Marriage Equality Yet.