The Religious Discrimination Debate is a Test for the States and Territories

The Religious Discrimination Bill, released in late August by Attorney-General Christian Porter, would be the biggest reform to anti-discrimination law in Australia in at least 15 years, since the passage of the Age Discrimination Act 2004.

 

In fact, it is potentially the most radical change to our federal anti-discrimination system since, well, the beginnings of anti-discrimination law in this country.

 

That’s because it fundamentally undermines one of the key concepts of this framework: concurrent Commonwealth, and State/Territory, jurisdictions.

 

Since the passage of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975, NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and similar laws elsewhere, these laws have operated effectively alongside each other, without directly interfering with each other.

 

Where conduct was prohibited under laws at both levels, the victims of such discrimination were able to choose where to lodge their complaint. Successive Commonwealth Governments haven’t sought to cover the field, or explicitly override the provisions of State and Territory anti-discrimination laws.

 

But this is no longer the case. The Religious Discrimination Bill dramatically, and unprecedentedly, upsets Australia’s anti-discrimination applecart.

 

Section 41 provides that ‘statements of belief’ do not constitute discrimination for the purposes of any anti-discrimination law – including each of the Racial, Sex, Disability and Age Discrimination Acts at Commonwealth level, and all equivalent state and territory laws.

 

The Apple Isle has even more to lose than the others – with section 17(1) of their Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 singled out by name as being specifically overruled.

 

This is undoubtedly because it offers the most effective form of protection against conduct that ‘offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’ a wide range of groups, including LGBTI people, women, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and people with disability, among others.

 

But all State and Territory Governments should be alert and alarmed at this unwanted and unwarranted intrusion, not least because of the proposal that the Commonwealth Attorney-General be allowed to override even more laws by future regulation, without needing the approval of federal Parliament (and with Senate numbers making it extremely difficult for these regulations to be disallowed).

 

It is not just the principle of federalism that is offended by this hostile takeover. It is the fact the Religious Discrimination Bill makes it easier to offend the rights of vulnerable groups in each and every Australian jurisdiction that makes its contents so disturbing.

 

This makes the current religious discrimination debate a major test for State and Territory Governments around the country. Will they stand up to the Commonwealth Government’s decision to undermine their anti-discrimination laws?

 

More importantly, will they stand up for the communities in their respective states and territories – LGBTI people, women, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and people with disability – who stand to lose the most as a consequence of the Religious Discrimination Bill?

 

There is another, related challenge for State and Territory Governments from these developments. At the same time as the Attorney-General was releasing his exposure draft Bill, the reporting date for the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of ‘religious exceptions’ was pushed back to December 2020.

 

This is the inquiry that was established earlier this year to examine whether provisions which allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, and teachers, should be amended, or repealed entirely.

 

The delay means any legislation arising from this inquiry will likely not be passed until the second half of 2021 – and therefore won’t be in place until the 2022 school year at the earliest.

 

This is incredibly disappointing given Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s broken promise, in October 2018, that he would ensure LGBT students were protected before the end of last year. Effectively, this will now be delayed by more than three years.

 

The contrast with the Religious Discrimination Bill is also revealing. On one hand, the Morrison Government wants to pass a stand-alone Religious Discrimination Bill before the end of this year – a substantial, and radical, change to our federal anti-discrimination regime, with just one month of public consultation.

 

On the other, it refuses to make what are modest, straight-forward changes to protect LGBT students and teachers in religious schools for several years. It has decided to vacate that field, and consequently to vacate their responsibilities to vulnerable kids.

 

In the meantime, LGBT students and teachers will continue to be subject to abuse and mistreatment, simply on the basis of who they are, in schoolyards, classrooms and staff-rooms around the country.

 

And so it is now up to State and Territory Governments to show the leadership that the Commonwealth Government won’t. For NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia to pass urgent changes to protect LGBT students. And for all jurisdictions other than Tasmania and the ACT to cover LGBT teachers.

 

Because all kids deserve to grow and learn in a safe environment. And they don’t deserve to wait until 2022 to know what that feels like.

 

Berejiklian Andrews RD Bill

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at Midsumma. Will they stand up against the Religious Discrimination Bill which will make it easier to discriminate against LGBTI people in their respective states?

 

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The Growing List of Problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill(s)

The Religious Discrimination Bill(s), released by Attorney-General Christian Porter in late August, remind me a lot of the ongoing Sydney apartment crisis.

 

They are the inevitable consequence of a system that has been designed to serve the interests of one group over and above everyone else. Except instead of property developers, these new laws would benefit religious fundamentalists. While those left picking up the tab are women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disabilities, and plenty of others.

 

And, just like a recently-built Sydney apartment, what might seem shiny and new on first inspection reveals a growing list of defects the closer one looks.

 

Here then is a look at the serious problems with the Religious Discrimination Bill(s) that we are already aware of (a list I’m sure will grow if we ever have the misfortune of ‘living’ under these shoddily-constructed laws):

 

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

 

The worst provision of the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill is proposed section 41. This provides that ‘statements of belief’ are basically exempt from discrimination complaints under all Commonwealth, State and Territory anti-discrimination laws (including the Fair Work Act 2009).

 

As long as the person making such comments does so on the basis of their religion and they are made ‘in good faith’, they will be lawful unless the person on the receiving end can show they are malicious, or likely to harass, vilify, incite hatred or violence. In practice, that would be extremely difficult to prove.

 

This section is a radical departure from our current anti-discrimination framework, under which Commonwealth laws like the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and State and Territory laws like the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, operate alongside each other, allowing victims to decide where to complain.

 

The provision also specifically overrides section 17(1) of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which prohibits conduct that ‘offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’ people on the basis of a wide range of protected attributes, including:

  • Gender
  • Race
  • Age
  • Sexual orientation
  • Lawful sexual activity
  • Gender identity
  • Intersex variations of sex characteristics
  • Disability
  • Marital status
  • Relationship status
  • Pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding
  • Parental status, [and]
  • Family responsibilities.

 

That’s a long list of groups who will find themselves the targets of derogatory comments having lost one of the few effective shields against them.

 

But that’s exactly what section 41 seems intended to achieve: to make it easier for religious fundamentalists to speak evil, and write evil, comments about different groups. With the obvious consequence that women, LGBTI people and others will be forced to see evil and hear evil comments about themselves.

 

This provision would build a fundamental imbalance into our existing anti-discrimination system, privileging the rights of one group within society at the expense of everyone else. It must not be allowed to pass.

 

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

 

Another serious problem of the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill are provisions which are based on the circumstances of a certain (ex-)footballer.

 

Proposed sub-sections 8(3) and 8(4) would make it much more difficult for major employers (organisations with revenue of at least $50 million per year) to introduce codes of conduct that prevent employees from making derogatory comments about minorities outside ordinary working hours where those comments are ‘statements of belief’.

 

The only way an employer will be able to enforce such restrictions is if they are able to demonstrate failure to do so would inflict ‘unjustifiable financial hardship’ on them. On a practical level, it will be extremely difficult to prove hypothetical yet significant future harm in order to justify imposing these rules in the here and now. Many big businesses will (quite understandably) simply avoid doing so.

 

It should also be noted that ‘unjustifiable financial hardship’ is the only criteria to permit these codes of conduct. They cannot be implemented on the basis of wanting to promote diversity and inclusion within the workplace (including to make other employees feel welcome), or to associate their ‘brand’ with values of diversity and inclusion more broadly – unless they can attach a sufficiently-large dollar value to it.

 

Once again the likely consequence of these provisions is to make it easier for religious fundamentalists to make offensive comments about women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and people with disabilities, among others. That seems to be the opposite outcome to what a well-constructed anti-discrimination law should achieve.

 

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

 

The next major defect of the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill is also found in proposed section 8 – this time sub-sections 8(5) and 8(6). These provisions make it easier for health practitioners to conscientiously object to providing health services.

 

If, upon reading this, you think these provisions must be referring to ‘controversial’ medical procedures such as abortion and euthanasia, you should be aware they actually cover a much, much wider range of health services.

 

This includes assisted reproductive technology, where health practitioners would presumably be empowered to ‘conscientiously object’ to providing access to single women, unmarried couples and LGBTI people.

 

But even that is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of services where it will be more difficult to impose ‘health practitioner conduct rules’ to treat all patients with dignity and respect. Indeed, the definition of ‘health service’ in section 5 ‘means a service provided in the practice of any of the following health professions:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practice
  • Dental …
  • Medical
  • Medical radiation practice
  • Midwifery
  • Nursing
  • Occupational therapy
  • Optometry
  • Pharmacy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Podiatry, [and]
  • Psychology.’

 

This full list makes it abundantly clear these provisions are not restricted to permitting health practitioners to refuse to perform certain acts, but instead will encourage them to refuse to serve certain classes of people (unless someone can explain what ‘controversial’ procedures are involved in dentistry, medical radiation practice, or optometry).

 

For example, it could allow a pharmacist to refuse to dispense hormone treatments to trans customers, while providing them to cisgender women. Indeed, this is something that the Human Rights Law Alliance (which is aligned to the Australian Christian Lobby) has been publicly advocating.

 

If you are now thinking that these provisions have the potential to substantively undermine Australia’s health care system, and in particular the right of all people to access essential health services without fear of discrimination on the basis of who they are, you would be right.

 

Both of these sets of unusual amendments to the ordinary ‘reasonableness’ test for indirect discrimination (sub-sections 8(3) and (4) re big business, and sub-sections 8(5) and (6) re health practitioners) must be rejected.

 

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

 

The fourth and final serious problem in the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill is the broad ‘exception’ in proposed section 10 that would allow religious bodies, including religious schools and registered charities, to discriminate against others on the basis of religious belief, or lack of belief.

 

Given this provision effectively allows discrimination between religions, it would be tempting for women’s organisations, and groups representing LGBTI Australians, to give it less attention than those outlined above. But it would be ill-advised to ignore its potentially far-reaching consequences.

 

For example, the test to allow discrimination: ‘conduct that may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the religion’, will be much easier to satisfy than the existing criteria in section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984: ‘an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion’ [emphasis added].

 

If the test in section 10 of the Religious Discrimination Bill becomes law, it would set a negative precedent, with some in the Government then pushing for the same, lower standard to be included in the Sex Discrimination Act (potentially through the current Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into religious exceptions).

 

The exception in section 10 also applies to an incredibly wide range of circumstances. For example, it would allow a religious school to expel a student in year 12 for expressing doubts about the school’s religion (something that is specifically excluded under equivalent laws in Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory, which allow discrimination on the basis of religious belief at admission, but not once enrolled).

 

Finally, if section 10 becomes law it could set up a potential ‘time-bomb’ for future anti-discrimination reform. If and when we finally achieve repeal of the religious exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act, this provision could allow religious schools to expel LGBT students who refuse to repent for their sexual orientation or gender identity (where the school attempts to claim they are not discriminating because they are LGBT, but instead on the basis of their religious beliefs about being LGBT).

 

For all of these reasons, proposed section 10 must be substantially narrowed in order to avoid creating a structural flaw not just in the Religious Discrimination Bill itself, but across anti-discrimination legislation more generally.

 

**********

 

These four sets of provisions are dangerous, unprecedented, unwanted and unwarranted additions to Australia’s anti-discrimination regime (so much so they might be described as the four horsemen of our ‘religious freedom’ apocalypse).

 

They will disturb any sense of balance or proportion in our laws, by making it clear the right of religious fundamentalists to discriminate against others is more important than the rights of women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disabilities and others to live their lives free from discrimination.

 

The Religious Discrimination Bill will ensure that religious belief is privileged in several key ways, in an almost unlimited range of everyday situations.

 

But they are not the only threats in the draft laws released by the Attorney-General a fortnight ago.

 

You may have noticed in this article’s title, and introduction, references to Religious Discrimination Bill(s). That’s because, along with the Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill itself, Mr Porter also released the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019, and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill 2019.

 

While these two Bills have received far less attention than the Religious Discrimination Bill, they too contain provisions that could undermine the human rights of other Australians, including:

 

The Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill creates the unnecessary position of Religious Freedom Commissioner

 

The Government’s own Religious Freedom Review (aka the ‘Ruddock Review’) found it was not necessary to create the position of Religious Discrimination Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission.

 

Despite this, the Consequential Amendments Bill would do exactly that. Further, it frames this position as a Religious Freedom Commissioner, in contrast to the Age, Disability, Race and Sex Commissioners who are all explicitly appointed as ‘Discrimination’ Commissioners.

 

Finally, adding insult to injury, the Government would be appointing a Religious Freedom Commissioner when LGBTI Australians still do not have our own Commissioner, more than six years since the introduction of protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

 

The Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill unnecessarily amends the objects clauses of anti-discrimination laws

 

This Bill would introduce the following words into the objects clauses of all other Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws:

 

‘In giving effect to the objects of this Act, regard is to be had to the indivisibility and universality of human rights, and the principle that every person is free and equal in dignity and rights.’

 

Which sounds innocuous enough, except that in the explanatory notes for the Bill the only other human right that is specifically mentioned by name is ‘the right to freedom of religion.’

 

These explanatory notes can and will be used by the judiciary in determining how these amended objects clauses affect the interpretation of the Racial, Sex, Disability and Age Discrimination Acts, potentially giving more weight to so-called religious freedom (at a time when we need to be reducing religious exceptionalism, not exacerbating it).

 

The Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill unnecessarily ‘protects’ charities advocating discriminatory marriage

 

This Bill would also amend the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) to ensure that charities that advocate for only cisgender heterosexual marriage are not de-registered. Specifically, it would include the following in section 11:

 

‘To avoid doubt, the purpose of engaging in, or promoting, activities that support a view of marriage as a union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life, is not, of itself, a disqualifying purpose.’

 

Except, when the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) was amended in 2017, the Charities and Not-for-profits Commission advised Parliament such an amendment was not needed. And, in the two years since then, there is exactly zero evidence of any charity being adversely affected.

 

Nor is there any justification for singling out this one discriminatory and exclusionary belief for special protection in our charities regulation.

 

The Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill inserts more discriminatory religious exceptions into the Marriage Act

 

Speaking of the Marriage Act, this Bill would also insert even more religious exceptions into that law. Specifically, new section 47C would explicitly allow religious educational institutions to discriminate in the provision of facilities, goods and services for the purposes of the solemnisation of marriage.

 

This would permit schools to discriminate against LGBTI couples, divorced people re-marrying and people who had previously cohabitated – even where these facilities, goods and services are provided publicly on a commercial or for-profit basis.

 

As I have written previously, the amendments that were included in the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017 already mean we do not currently enjoy genuine marriage equality in this country. We should be aiming to remove those religious exceptions, not entrench them.

 

**********

 

I wrote at the beginning of this post that the Religious Discrimination Bill(s) share several similarities with the ongoing Sydney apartment crisis.

 

But there is also one key difference – while these plans have been drafted, they have not yet been ‘built’. Which means there is still time to avert this new crisis, for the Morrison Government, and Parliament more generally, to amend the Religious Discrimination Bill and its two accompanying laws, and thereby avoid their adverse impact on large numbers of everyday Australians.

 

However, if the Government and Parliament fail to listen and take action, and instead pass these Bills unamended, they will be condemning women, LGBTI people, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people, people with disabilities and others to live under the legislative equivalent of Opal Tower, or Mascot Towers.

 

We will always be fearful of the next crack to emerge: of the next time we are discriminated against simply because of who we are, entirely lawfully, because of somebody else’s religious beliefs. We will never get to feel at home.

 

Opal Tower

The Religious Discrimination Bill(s) are the legislative equivalent of Opal Tower – but there’s still time to avert a new crisis, if the Government and Parliament are willing to listen.

 

To find out more about everyday situations in which religious beliefs will be privileged, check out this twitter thread. And if you’ve 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.

 

A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws

Commonwealth_ Sex Discrimination Act 1984

 

Given I’ve written in detail about the LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws that exist in the Commonwealth, and each of the States and Territories (those posts can be found here), I thought it would be useful to provide the following short summary of these laws, including who they cover, the religious exceptions they contain, and whether they provide protection against vilification:

 

  1. What is the relevant law?

 

Jurisdiction

Legislation

Commonwealth

Sex Discrimination Act 1984

New South Wales

Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
Victoria

Equal Opportunity Act 2010

Queensland

Anti-Discrimination Act 1991

Western Australia

Equal Opportunity Act 1984
South Australia

Equal Opportunity Act 1984

Tasmania

Anti-Discrimination Act 1998

Australian Capital Territory

Discrimination Act 1991

Northern Territory

Anti-Discrimination Act

 

  1. Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected against discrimination?

 

                                 

Lesbians and gay men

Bisexuals

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

As you can see, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the only anti-discrimination law in Australia that does not cover bisexual people[i] (relatedly, it is also the only jurisdiction where heterosexuals have no protection under anti-discrimination law).

 

  1. Are transgender people protected against discrimination?

 

Different jurisdictions have adopted different approaches to transgender anti-discrimination protection, in large part due to when their respective laws were introduced. This means that while some cover gender identity broadly,[ii] others only protect trans people with binary gender identities (where a person identifies with the ‘opposite’ gender to that which they were assigned at birth – eg MTF and FTM trans people) and exclude people with non-binary gender identities (ie people whose gender identities are more diverse).[iii]

 

                                 

Trans people with binary gender identities

People with non-binary gender identities

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

Some*
South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

Some*

 

Disappointingly, only four jurisdictions cover people with both binary and non-binary gender identities. While seven laws at a minimum cover all people with binary gender identities, there are two jurisdictions that have adopted even narrower definitions:

 

  • The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 only covers people who have been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 (meaning those people who have transitioned and where that transition has been recognised by the Government);[iv]

 

  • The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act protects ‘transsexuality’ as part of the definition of ‘sexuality’ – some people who have binary gender identities (MTF or FTM) may not identify with this terminology. More hopefully, the new NT Government is currently considering possible improvements to their legislation, including the introduction of ‘gender identity’ as a protected attribute (for more information, see their consultation paper here.)

 

  1. Are intersex people protected against discrimination?

 

 

Intersex

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

When the Commonwealth Government passed the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, it became the first national parliament in the world to include ‘intersex status’ as a protected attribute.[v] Since then, Tasmania, the ACT and South Australia have all introduced amendments to protect intersex people against discrimination.

 

It should be noted however that intersex advocates have called for this terminology to be updated, with ‘intersex status’ replaced with the protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ (as part of the historic March 2017 Darlington Statement). The Tasmanian Parliament has so far come closest to achieving this goal, recently amending its Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 to cover ‘intersex variations of sex characteristics’.

 

  1. Are LGBT people protected against discrimination by religious organisations (general)?

 

As I have written extensively elsewhere, one of the key weaknesses of most LGBTI anti-discrimination laws in Australia is that they provide special rights for religious organisations to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.[vi] We will first examine how these religious exceptions operate generally, before looking specifically at the issues of students in religious schools (question 6) and teachers and other staff in religious schools (question 7).

 

                                 

Do LGBT people have any protections against discrimination by religious organisations?

LGBT people have limited protections against religious discrimination

LGBT people have general protections against religious discrimination

Commonwealth

Aged care*
New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia Teachers*

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

There is only one LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia that offers general protections against discrimination by religious organisations: Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998. That is because the religious exceptions contained in that legislation only allow religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of people’s religious beliefs, and not on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status (or relationship status).

 

On the other hand, the religious exceptions contained in the anti-discrimination laws of New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia provide religious organisations with carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT people. Section 56 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is a typical example of the special rights given to these bodies:

 

“Nothing in this Act affects:

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religious or members of any religious order,

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religious or members of a religious order,

(c) the appointment of any other person in any capacity by a body established to propagate religion, or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established to propagate religion that conforms to the doctrines of that religion or is necessary to avid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

The other jurisdictions offer only limited protections against religious-based discrimination against LGBT people. Under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, religious organisations can discriminate against LGBT people in all circumstances other than with respect to LGBT people accessing Commonwealth-funded aged care services[vii] (although they can still discriminate against LGBT employees in these facilities).

 

The ACT Discrimination Act 1991 has recently been amended to ensure that religious schools cannot discriminate against LGBTI students, teachers and other staff – although other religious organisations continue to be able to discriminate against LGBTI employees and people accessing their services.

 

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 actually contains the third-best protections for LGBT people against discrimination by religious organisations. It does not allow discrimination against LGBT students in religious schools, and has limited protections for teachers too (see questions 6 and 7 respectively). More broadly, it does not provide a general right for religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees, but instead limits this right to employees where acting, or not acting, in a particular way breaches the ‘genuine occupational requirements’ of that position.[viii]

 

The South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 provides broad religious exceptions outside religious schools, where they are (probably, although not conclusively) able to discriminate against LGBT students, and have to satisfy procedural obligations in order to discriminate against LGBT teachers (see questions 6 and 7, below).

 

Finally, the religious exceptions contained in the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act are narrower than in other jurisdictions because of the specific wording that is used:

 

“Section 51 This Act does not apply to or in relation to: …

(d) an act by a body established for religious purposes if the act is done as part of any religious observance or practice.”

 

This at least restricts the discrimination that is permissible to acts in relation to ‘religious observance or practice’ only (although there are specific exceptions in relation to employment in religious schools – see question 7 below).

 

  1. Are LGBT students protected against discrimination by religious schools?

 

 

LGBT students at religious schools

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

Probably not*

South Australia

Probably not*
Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

There are only four jurisdictions in which LGBT students are clearly protected against discrimination by religious schools: Tasmania, Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory.

 

In two other jurisdictions, the level of protection is debatable. In South Australia section 37 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 provides quite broad protections against discrimination by educational authorities against students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.[ix] However, it is likely these protections are still overridden by the broad religious exceptions contained in sub-section 50(1)(c).[x]

 

A similar situation exists in Western Australia, where the specific exceptions which apply to religious schools (section 73 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984) may or may not allow discrimination against LGBT students, while the general religious exception in section 72 likely also still applies, allowing religious schools to discriminate in any event.

 

In all of the other jurisdictions, namely the Commonwealth, NSW, and Victoria, LGBT students do not have protection against discrimination by religious schools. Indeed, the exceptions contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 go even further, allowing discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender students by all private schools and colleges, even where those institutions are not religious.[xi]

 

For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

 

  1. Are LGBT teachers protected against discrimination by religious schools?

 

 

LGBT teachers at religious schools

Commonwealth

New South Wales

Victoria

Queensland

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell*
Western Australia

South Australia

Procedural requirements*
Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Only two Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws fully protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers and other staff at religious schools against discrimination: Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 and, following recent amendments, the ACT Discrimination Act 1991.

 

In Queensland, religious schools are allowed to discriminate against people who work for religious schools where “the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably to know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs, during a selection process; or in the course of the person’s work; or in doing something connected with the person’s work; and it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person… act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”[xii]

 

However, religious schools are not allowed to ‘seek information’ in relation to an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity. In effect, LGBT teachers and other staff at religious schools in Queensland are subject to a ‘Don’t Ask’ Don’t Tell’ policy (which, as was seen in relation to the United States military, is nevertheless an unjust and unjustifiable imposition on a minority group).

 

In South Australia, religious schools are allowed to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, however this ‘right’ is subject to procedural requirements, including that the school must have a written policy outlining its discriminatory policy which is provided to people interviewed for or offered employment. The policy must also be provided on request, free of charge, to employees, students and parents (and prospective employees, students and parents) as well as to general members of the public.[xiii]

 

In all other Australian jurisdictions (the Commonwealth, NSW, Victoria, WA and the Northern Territory[xiv]), religious schools are free to discriminate against LGBT teachers. Once again, in NSW this extends to all private schools and colleges, even where they are not religious.[xv]

 

For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.

 

  1. Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected against vilification?

 

                                 

Lesbians and gay men

Bisexuals
Commonwealth

New South Wales

Partial
Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Only four Australian jurisdictions offer any anti-vilification protections for the LGBTI community: NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.

 

In NSW, the situation has been complicated by recent amendments to both the Anti-Discrimination Act and the Crimes Act. In short, while lesbians, gay men and bisexuals are all covered by the new ‘inciting violence provisions’ in the Crimes Act, only lesbians and gay men can make civil vilification complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Board.

 

In contrast, the Commonwealth, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia all have protections against racial vilification, but fail to offer equivalent protections against anti-LGBTI vilification. The Northern Territory does not prohibit either racial or anti-LGBTI vilification – although it is considering the issue of anti-vilification protections as part of its current consultation process.

 

  1. Are trans and intersex people protected against vilification?

 

                                 

Trans people with binary gender identities

People with non-binary gender identities

Intersex

Commonwealth

New South Wales Partial

Partial

Victoria

Queensland

Western Australia

South Australia

Tasmania

Australian Capital Territory

Northern Territory

 

Four jurisdictions protect transgender people with binary gender identities against vilification (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT). However, the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 does not protect people with non-binary identities, while the situation in NSW is similar to that described above: trans, non-binary and intersex people are included in the Crimes Act incitement to violence provisions, but only trans people with binary identities can make civil vilification complaints under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

 

Only Tasmania and the ACT fully protect people with non-binary gender identities against vilification. Those same jurisdictions – Tasmania and the ACT – are also the only places in Australia to completely prohibit vilification on the basis of intersex status (which is ‘intersex variations of sex characteristics’ in Tasmania).

 

  1. What other issues exist with Australian LGBTI anti-discrimination laws?

 

The above questions have examined three main areas of the LGBTI anti-discrimination laws across the Commonwealth, and the States and Territories:

 

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

 

However, these are not the only areas where there are significant problems with the anti-discrimination laws that apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and bisexual people in Australia. The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the other issues I have come across:

 

Commonwealth: The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 does not establish a position of LGBTI Discrimination Commissioner (despite providing for a Sex Discrimination Commissioner). This leaves Australia’s LGBTI community at a significant disadvantage compared to other vulnerable groups, and should be rectified (for more on this issue, see: Why we need a full-time LGBTI Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission).

 

NSW: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 allows employers with five employees or less to discriminate against LGBT employees[xxi]. There are no such provisions allowing employers to discriminate on the basis of race.

 

Victoria: The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 doesn’t just allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people, it also includes a special right for individuals to do the same[xxii] (a provision that does not seem to be replicated in any other jurisdiction).

 

Queensland: The Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 includes a particularly abhorrent section which allows discrimination against transgender people in relation to employment that involves children. Section 28 states:

 

“Work with children

(1) It is not unlawful to discriminate on the basis of lawful sexual activity or gender identity against a person with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under subdivision 1 if-

(a) the work involves the care or instruction of minors; and

(b) the discrimination is reasonably necessary to protect the physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing of minors having regard to all the relevant circumstances of the case, including the person’s actions.”

 

Western Australia: While the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 allows for positive discrimination “to ensure that persons of a particular sexual orientation have equal opportunities with other persons”[xxiii] there are no equivalent provisions allowing for positive discrimination for transgender people.

 

South Australia: Disappointingly, the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 makes it lawful to discriminate “on the ground of gender identity in relation to employment or engagement if the discrimination is for the purposes of enforcing standards of appearance and dress reasonably required for the employment or engagement.”[xxiv]

 

  1. Are LGBTI people protected against discrimination under the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009?

 

While most anti-discrimination protections are included in the nine Commonwealth, state and territory laws discussed above, there is also a key protection against discrimination located in the Fair Work Act 2009.

 

                                 

Are lesbians, gay men and bisexuals protected under the Fair Work Act?

Are transgender people protected? Are intersex people protected?
Commonwealth

 

Unfortunately, as this table demonstrates, the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 does not protect all parts of the LGBTI community against discrimination. That is because section 351 provides that:

 

“(1) An employer must not take adverse action against a person who is an employee, or prospective employee, of the employer because of the person’s 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.”

 

While it includes sexual orientation (meaning lesbian, gay and bisexual people enjoy protection), the omission of gender identity and intersex status leaves both of these groups without equivalent protection.[xxv] This is a serious deficiency that must be addressed as a matter of priority. The extensive religious exceptions which appear in the Fair Work Act 2009, which allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGB employees, should also be repealed at the same time.

 

For more on this subject, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

 

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For more detailed analysis of the LGBTI anti-discrimination laws that operate in the Commonwealth, and each State and Territory, see:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Footnotes:

[i] NSW protects only ‘homosexuality’, with the definition in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 stating that ‘homosexual means male or female homosexual’. In contrast, other jurisdictions either include a protected attribute of ‘sexual orientation’, or specifically include both homosexuality and bisexuality.

[ii] For example, section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 defines gender identity as ‘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.’

[iii] For example, section 38A of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 states that ‘[a] reference in the Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person… (i) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or (ii) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…’

[iv] The Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 prohibits discrimination ‘against a gender reassigned person on gender history grounds’ (section 35AB), where section 4 defines a gender reassigned person as ‘a person who has been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000’ while section 35AA states that ‘a person has a gender history if the person identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex.’

[v] With ‘intersex status’ defined in section 4 of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 as ‘the status of having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are:

(a) neither wholly female nor wholly male; or

(b) a combination of female and male; or

(c) neither female nor male.’

[vi] In this section, I refer primarily to LGBT people, rather than LGBTI people, because it is generally understood that religious exceptions would not (or at the very least should not) be used against people with intersex variations.

[vii] Sub-section 37(2) of the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 limits the general religious exceptions contained in the Act by stating that they do “not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:

(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of Commonwealth-funded aged care; and

(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment or persons to provide that aged care.”

[viii] Sub-section 25(3) of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 provides that:

“It is not unlawful for an employer to discriminate with respect to a matter that is otherwise prohibited under section 14 or 15, in a way that is not unreasonable, against a person if-

(a) the person openly acts in a way that the person knows or ought reasonably know is contrary to the employer’s religious beliefs-

(i) during a selection process; or

(ii) in the course of the person’s work; or

(iii) in doing something connected with the person’s work; and

(b) it is a genuine occupational requirement of the employer that the person, in the course of, or in connection with, the person’s work, act in a way consistent with the employer’s religious beliefs.”

[ix] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: “Section 37- Discrimination by educational authorities …

(2) It is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a student on the ground of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity-

(a) in the terms or conditions on which it provides the student with training or education; or

(b) by denying or limiting access to a benefit provided by the authority; or

(c) by expelling the student; or

(d) by subjecting the student to other detriment.”

[x] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: “This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to-

(c) any other practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms with the precepts of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

[xi] Sections 38K(3) and 49ZO(3), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xii] Sub-sections 25(2) and (3) of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

[xiii] SA Equal Opportunity Act 1984: Sub-section 34(3):

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if-

(a) the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and

(b) the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and

(c) a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and

(d) a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge-

(i) to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and

(ii) to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and

(iii) to other members of the public.”

[xiv] Despite its relatively narrow religious exceptions, section 37A of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act provides an explicit right for religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers:

“An educational authority that operates or proposes to operate an educational institution in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion may discriminate against a person in the area of work in the institution if the discrimination:

(a) is on the grounds of:

(i) religious belief or activity; or

(ii) sexuality; and

(b) is in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.”

[xv] Sub-sections 38C(3)(c) and 49ZH(3)(c), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xvi] Footnote removed.

[xvii] Footnote removed.

[xviii] Footnote removed.

[xix] Footnote removed.

[xx] Footnote removed.

[xxi] Sub-sections 38C(3)(b) and 49ZO(3)(b), NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.

[xxii] Section 84, Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[xxiii] Section 35ZD, Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

[xxiv] Sub-section 34(4), South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

[xxv] The inclusion of ‘marital status’ rather than ‘marital or relationship status’ is also out-dated.

What’s Wrong With Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998?

 

This is part of a series of posts looking at Australia’s anti-discrimination laws and discussing how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. The articles on other jurisdictions can be found here.

 

In these posts, I have analysed Commonwealth, state and territory legislation with respect to three main issues:

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

This post will be the shortest of the nine, because in all three areas Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is either best practice, or close to best practice.

 

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Protected Attributes

 

Unlike some other schemes, Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 protects all parts of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community against discrimination.

 

Section 16 sets out the protected attributes of the Act, and they include sexual orientation (sub-section c), gender identity (ea) and intersex variations of sex characteristics (eb) [noting that Intersex Human Rights Australia’s position is that this last attribute should simply be ‘sex characteristics’ rather than intersex variations of sex characteristics, in line with the Yogyakarta Principles plus 10].

 

The definitions of these terms in section 3 are also inclusive:

sexual orientation includes-

(a) heterosexuality; and

(b) homosexuality; and

(c) bisexuality”

 

gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms of other gender-related characteristics of an individual including gender expression (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth, and may include being transgender or transsexual”

gender expression means any personal physical expression, appearance (whether by way of medical intervention or not), speech, mannerisms, behavioural patterns, names and personal references that manifest or express gender or gender identity”

 

sex characteristics means a person’s physical, hormonal or genetic features relating to sex, including genitalia and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, genes, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics”.

 

Overall, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 adopts close to best practice in terms of the protected attributes it includes, covering all LGBTI Tasmanians.

 

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Religious Exceptions

 

The Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is best practice when it comes to religious exceptions – in fact, Tasmania is better, far better, than any other Australian jurisdiction in this area.

 

There are three provisions outlining relevant religious exceptions in the Act:

 

Section 51 “Employment based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the observance or practice of a particular religion is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.

(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, principles or practices.”

 

Section 51A “Admission of person as student based on religion

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to admission of that other person as a student to an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion.

(2) Subsection (1) does not apply to a person who is enrolled as a student at the educational institution referred to in that subsection.

(3) Subsection (1) does not permit discrimination on any grounds referred to in section 16 other than those specified in that subsection.

(4) A person may, on a ground specified in subsection (1), discriminate against another person in relation to the admission of the other person as a student to an educational institution, if the educational institution’s policy for the admission of students demonstrates that the criteria for admission relates to the religious belief or affiliation, or religious activity, of the other person, the other person’s parents or the other person’s grandparents.”

 

Section 52. “Participation in religious observance

A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or religious activity in relation to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of a priest; or

(b) the training and education of any person seeking ordination or appointment as a priest; or

(c) the selection or appointment of a person to participate in any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act that-

(i) is carried out in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion; and

(ii) is necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of any person of that religion.”

 

At first glance these exceptions appear extensive in their application. However, the most important point to observe is that discrimination by religious bodies, including religious schools, is only allowed on the basis of the person being discriminated against’s religion – for example, a christian school offering preferential enrolment to students that are christian.

 

It specifically does not allow discrimination on the basis of other attributes, such as the person being discriminated against’s sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics.

 

In this way, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is clearly superior to other state and territory LGBTI discrimination laws, as well as the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (which not only provides a general religious exception allowing discrimination against LGBT people in a wide range of circumstances, but also a specific one with respect to religious schools that permits discrimination against LGBT students and teachers). It is therefore pleasing that the ACT Government embraced the Tasmanian approach in its recent reforms to protect LGBT students and teachers at religious schools – although it retains exceptions for health and other community services at this stage.

 

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

The anti-vilification protections afforded LGBTI Tasmanians under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are also strong. There are actually two provisions that prohibit vilification under the Act:

 

Section 17 “Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, insults or ridicules another person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16(e), (a), (b), (c), (d), (ea), (eb) and (k), (fa), (g), (h), (i) or (j) in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed…”

 

Section 19 “Inciting hatred

A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of-

(a) the race of the person or any member of the group; or

(b) any disability of the person or any member of the group; or

(c) the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or

(d) the religious belief or activity of the person or any member of the group; or

(e) the gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics of the person or any member of the group.”

 

The effect of these two provisions mean that LGBTI Tasmanians are protected both against conduct that offends, humiliates, insults or ridicules, as well as conduct that incites hatred, serious contempt or serious ridicule. This means Tasmania’s LGBTI anti-vilification provisions are the equal best in the country, alongside the ACT.

 

[Although it should be noted that, in its previous term, the Tasmanian Liberal Government attempted to undermine these anti-vilification protections. It sought to introduce amendments that would have permitted vilification for public acts done in good faith for ‘religious purposes’ (where “religious purpose includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief”). This would have inevitably resulted in increased vilification of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Tasmanians. Thankfully, while the Bill was passed by the Liberal-majority Legislative Assembly, it was rejected by the Independent-majority Legislative Council in August 2017.]

 

will-hodgman

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman sought to undermine LGBTI anti-vilification protections.

 

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Overall, it is clear that Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 is the best LGBTI anti-discrimination law in Australia. It has set the standard to which all other jurisdictions should aspire.

 

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

Submission re Tasmania’s Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Update 19 January 2017:

Unfortunately, the Tasmanian Government has pushed ahead with its flawed legislation to allow greater rights to vilify LGBTI people, and especially vilification by religious organisations.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 – full text here – was passed by the Legislative Assembly on 25 October 2016.

This includes an expansion of the ‘public purpose’ defence for vilification, to cover “a public act done in good faith for… religious purposes” where religious purpose is defined as “includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief.”

Disappointingly, the Legislative Council failed to refer the Bill to an inquiry, although the Government ran out of time for the Bill to be passed in 2016 – the Attorney-General, Vanessa Goodwin, stated that:

“Due to our heavy legislative agenda and given the proximity to the end of the parliamentary year, the Government does not intend to bring the bill on for debate until next year. This will allow further time for community debate and stakeholder feedback to MLCs on this important issue.”

With Tasmanian Parliament resuming on March 7, that means there’s now less than 7 weeks left to convince upper house MPs not to undermine what has been, until now, Australia’s best anti-discrimination scheme.

Original Post:

Department of Justice

Office of Strategic Legislation and Policy

GPO Box 825

Hobart TAS 7001

c/ legislation.development@justice.tas.gov.au

Friday 9 September 2016

To whom it may concern

Submission re Proposed Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission in relation to the Government’s proposed amendments to Tasmanian anti-vilification laws, which are included in the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2016 (‘the Bill’).

I make this submission as an advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) equality, and as someone who takes a keen interest in anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, both at the Commonwealth level, and in Australia’s states and territories.

My first comment in response to the proposed Bill is to observe that it appears to be a ‘solution’ in search of a problem.

As far as I can ascertain, there seem to be two main motivations for these reforms. The first is to satisfy the demands of the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL), who have repeatedly requested that state and territory LGBTI anti-vilification laws (where they exist) be suspended, or even abolished, in the lead-up to the potential national plebiscite on marriage equality.

The obvious response to such a demand is that, if their arguments against the equal treatment of LGBTI people under secular law require them to breach anti-vilification laws, perhaps they need better arguments rather than worse laws.

The second motivation appears to be a recent case, involving Mr Julian Porteous, following the distribution of the Don’t Mess with Marriage booklet by the Tasmanian Catholic Church that stated same-sex parents “mess with kids”, and that same-sex partners are not “whole people”. Possibly the most salient point to note is that the complaint was subject to attempted conciliation, which did not result in it being resolved, but then did not even proceed to the Tribunal.

I would argue that these two motivations – to allow the ACL to contravene vilification standards during any forthcoming plebiscite debate, and to respond to a single case that did not even make it to the Tribunal – are not sufficient justification to propose reforms that would ‘water down’ the anti-vilification protections that are currently offered to LGBTI Tasmanians.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what this Bill attempts to do. By replacing the wording of section 55, and expanding the exceptions to the vilification protections offered under sections 17(1) and 19 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (‘the Act’), the Bill would effectively allow greater vilification of people on the grounds of sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, gender identity and intersex (among other grounds).

In doing so, it would wind back hard-fought, and hard-won, protections introduced after the long-running decriminalisation campaign of the 1980s and 1990s. It is very hard to see, 18 years since its original passage, why there is a need to make anti-LGBTI hate speech easier in the contemporary environment.

I have two more-specific concerns about the proposed changes to section 55.

The first is to question why the exception, which would be expanded to include ‘public acts done reasonably and in good faith’ for a ‘religious’ purpose (where ‘religious purpose includes, but is not limited to, conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’), should apply with respect to section 19[i], which establishes the more serious offence of ‘inciting hatred’ (whereas sub-section 17(1)[ii] regulates ‘conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’).

It is difficult to comprehend why the Act should be amended to make lawful the incitement of ‘hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of’ people who are lesbian, gay or bisexual (noting that section 19 currently does not offer protection to transgender or intersex people) merely because it is done for a ‘religious purpose’.

According to advocate Rodney Croome “Worst of all is the Government’s decision to erode hate speech protections even more than people like Julian Porteous want. He has called for the law against denigrating statements to be watered down, but has said the law against the more severe crime of incitement to hatred [ie section 19] should be kept intact.”[iii]

It seems this particular ‘solution’ isn’t just in search of a problem, it is lacking beneficiaries too (although it is clear who the losers will be from such an amendment: lesbian, gay and bisexual Tasmanians).

My second concern is to question the limits of the proposed exception for vilification for ‘religious purposes’, with respect to both sections 17(1) and 19. In particular, and noting it will be challenging for the Tribunal, or courts more broadly, to determine when a public act for a ‘religious purpose’ is ‘done reasonably and in good faith’ or not, how far will religious individuals or groups be allowed to go in ‘proselytising’ a religious belief that itself incites hatred?

An example of such a belief would be for an extremist christian organisation to promote a ‘literal’ reading of Leviticus 20:13, which has been interpreted as “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them”[iv].

And, before it is suggested that this example is implausible, we should recall that it is only four years since a senior figure within the Salvation Army publicly defended this belief – that gay people should be put to death – live on radio[v].

Given this, how would the proposed amended law deal with a situation where, instead of distributing the booklet Don’t Mess with Marriage, a religious school sent children home with a pamphlet entitled Gay Men Should Die (or perhaps slightly more generously, Gay Men Should Die Unless they are Celibate) conveying the ‘religious belief’ that men who have same-sex sexual intercourse ‘shall surely be put to death’?

It is reasonably clear such a pamphlet would ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’, as well as likely inciting ‘hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule’ of, people on the basis of both sexual orientation and lawful sexual activity, and in doing so contravene both sections 17(1) and 19 of the Act.

But it is also possible the proposed new section 55 would ‘excuse’ these actions because it would be a public act done in ‘good faith for a religious purpose’, as it was ‘conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief’, no matter how offensive it is, to young people at a school operated by that organisation[vi].

I would argue that this would be an unacceptable outcome, and hope that the legislative sponsors of these amendments, and indeed anyone pushing for changes to Tasmania’s vilification laws, would agree.

It is particularly concerning that such an undesirable result could be achieved given we have seen above that there doesn’t actually appear to be any justification for the introduction of this Bill.

More generally, as someone from outside the State I would argue that the undermining of Tasmania’s anti-vilification regime, which is currently among the best, if not the best, law in the country, in this way would be a negative precedent for other jurisdictions.

This is especially important given only four states and territories currently have any anti-vilification protections for any sections of the LGBTI community (Tasmania, Queensland, NSW and the ACT). Nor do such laws exist federally. Even where they do exist, such as in NSW, they have significant flaws (for example, only protecting lesbians, gay men and some transgender people from vilification, and not protecting bisexuals or intersex people at all).

In my view, the Tasmanian Government should be concentrating on ensuring its anti-vilification laws are comprehensive (such as by amending section 19 to prohibit the incitement of hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of transgender and intersex people) and effective, instead of making it easier for people to vilify others because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Thank you again for the opportunity to make this submission and for taking it into consideration. Should you require clarification, or additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:

[i]19. Inciting hatred

A person, by a public act, must not incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or a group of persons on the ground of –

  • the race of the person or any member of the group; or
  • any disability of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the sexual orientation or lawful sexual activity of the person or any member of the group; or
  • the religious belief or affiliation or religious activity of the person or any ember of the group.”

[ii]17. Prohibition of certain conduct and sexual harassment

(1) A person must not engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules abother person on the basis of an attribute referred to in section 16(e), (a), (b), (c), (d), (ea), (eb) and (k), (f), (fa), (g), (h), (i) or (j) in circumstances in which a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances would have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed.”

NB This covers sexual orientation (16(c)), lawful sexual activity (d), gender identity (ea) and intersex (eb).

[iii] The Mercury, Talking Point: Green light being given to homophobia and any bigot with a bible’, 31 August 2016. http://www.themercury.com.au/news/opinion/talking-point-green-light-being-given-to-homophobia/news-story/00ffb213c903540b1febfdb94dbef243

[iv] Of course, such a position would overlook the inherent contradictions of adopting a ‘literal’ interpretation of some sections of the bible, while rejecting literal readings of others, a double standard which has been perfectly encapsulated by the now famous ‘Letter to Dr Laura’ (responding to a US radio host’s bible-based description of homosexuality as an ‘abomination’):

dear-dr-laura

[v] Huffington Post, Andrew Craibe, Salvation Army Official, Implies Gays Should be Put to Death in Interview, 26 June 2012. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/26/andrew-craibe-salvation-army-official-gays-put-to-death_n_1628135.html

Joy 94.9FM presenter Serena Ryan: According to the Salvation Army, [gay people] deserve death. How do you respond to that, as part of your doctrine?

Craibe: Well, that’s a part of our belief system.

Ryan: So we should die.

Craibe: You know, we have an alignment to the Scriptures, but that’s our belief.

[vi] The only question is whether the public act was ‘done reasonably’, although I would suggest there is a risk at least some Tribunal members or judges may view the promotion of any religious belief, no matter how offensive, to be reasonable provided that belief was sincerely held.