LGBTIQ Law Reform Priorities for 2021

ANU Gender Identity + Sexuality Law Moot Webinar Presentation

In October 2020, I was invited to be a judge for the round robin stage of the inaugural ANU Gender Identity + Sexuality Law Moot. In the lead-up to the moot itself, I participated in a webinar for participants about the state of LGBTIQ law reform in Australia, including being asked to address the following two questions:

What are, in your view, the most significant issues that need legal reform with respect to LGBTIQ rights and inclusion? and

How can we ensure that workplaces are inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds but in particular for the LGBTIQ community?

While the panel ultimately adopted a more ‘free-wheeling’ approach to its discussion, I prepared the below, more detailed responses to these questions. Now that, at the end of a busy year, I’ve finally had the chance to tidy them up, I thought they might be worth sharing. I’m also keen to hear other people’s views, including on what you think the most significant issues that need legal reform are today – please leave your comments below.

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Question 1. What are, in your view, the most significant issues that need legal reform with respect to LGBTIQ rights and inclusion?

Despite what many people might assume – and what far too many members of our political and media classes seem to believe following the recognition of LGBTI marriage in 2017 – there remain a large number of outstanding legal reforms necessary for LGBTIQ rights and inclusion in 2020 [and I guess we can say 2021 now, too]. The following are my top three:

  1. Ending coercive medical interventions on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics

Intersex people, and especially children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics, currently experience the worst human rights abuses of any group within the Australian LGBTIQ community.

Intersex people are born with physical sex characteristics that do not neatly fit medical norms for female or male bodies. Infants, children, adolescents and adults born with intersex variations risk or suffer forced and coercive medical interventions, designed to make their bodies more typically female or male. These interventions are not medically necessary, but instead rely on social or cultural rationales.[i]

The consequences of early and unnecessary deferrable interventions can include pain, trauma, shame, loss of sexual function and sensation, urinary incontinence and urgency, a need for ongoing medical treatment or repeat surgeries, experiences of violation and sexual assault, reinforcement of incorrect sex assignment and loss of choice.

These coercive medical interventions breach a large number of human rights principles, including the right to bodily integrity. They also adversely impact on rights to liberty, security, non-discrimination, privacy and freedom from torture, experimentation and harmful practices.

Unfortunately, coercive medical interventions on intersex people, and especially children born with intersex variations, have not been legally prohibited in any Australian jurisdiction. 

Instead, they are self-governed by clinical guidelines which support coercive interventions despite a lack of supporting medical evidence. And they are enabled by a legal system, including family law, which have permitted coercive interventions on the basis of (often poorly-informed) parental consent. The most infamous decision was the 2016 Family Court decision of Re: Carla, although it was merely one of a long line to contravene the human rights of intersex children.

In terms of law reform, there has been disappointingly little progress in this area. This month (October 2020) marks seven years since a bipartisan Senate Committee recommended new guidelines be developed that ‘should favour deferral of normalising treatment until the person can give fully informed consent, and seek to minimise surgical intervention on infants undertaken for primarily psychosocial reasons’ (among other recommendations).[ii]

Unfortunately, the Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison Governments have effectively done nothing to implement even these modest proposals.

More encouragingly, in June 2020 the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute released the final report of its inquiry into the legal recognition of sex and gender. It made a number of recommendations about intersex law reform, including:

Recommendation 7

The Criminal Code should be reformed to criminalise non-consensual medical interventions in the following terms:

178F Unnecessary medical intervention to change the sex characteristics of children.

(1) Any person who performs a surgical, hormonal or other medical intervention to alter or modify the sex characteristics of a child is guilty of a crime, unless:

(a) it is performed to address a clear danger to the life or health of the child and it cannot be deferred until the child is able to give informed consent; or

(b) it takes place with the informed consent of the child.

(2) Nothing in this Section is intended to apply to interventions involving a consenting transgender child seeking treatment to delay puberty or secondary sexual differentiation.

Charge: Performing unnecessary medical intervention to change the sex characteristics of a non-consenting child.

Recommendation 8 of that report also recommended that:

‘intersex people should be able to pursue claims for compensation for personal trespass and breach of professional duty against doctors where medical interventions to alter intersex variations of sex characteristics have resulted in physical or mental harm, irrespective of any parental consent to the intervention at the time it was performed.’

The Tasmanian Government is now considering these recommendations, meaning it is possible it will become the first Australian jurisdiction to criminalise coercive medical interventions on children born with intersex variations.

Before moving on, I should note the Australian Human Rights Commission has also been undertaking a long-running project on these issues.[iii] I understand it is (finally) nearing completion, and my personal hope is it recommends all Australian jurisdictions criminalise these human rights abuses.

2. Trans and gender diverse birth certificate reform

Trans and gender diverse people should have access to birth certificates, and other identity documentation, based solely on self-identification, and without medical approval (because gender identity is exactly that, identity, and not a ‘medical’ issue). Currently only one Australian jurisdiction has completely achieved this model: Tasmania, following its historic 2019 birth certificate reforms.

Victoria is a close second, also following changes in 2019, which removed the involvement of medical gatekeepers, although unfortunately it does not fully realise self-identification, because applications must be accompanied by a statement from someone who has known the applicant for at least 12 months and ‘supports’ the application.

Three other jurisdictions – South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory – have removed requirements for surgery or other physically invasive treatments. However, they still adopt a medical model, because they require engagement with psychologists or counsellors prior to approval. Ultimately, these laws will need to be updated.

However, the largest problems are in the other three states. NSW and Queensland still require surgery in order to access new identity documents, which is completely inappropriate not just because it unnecessarily medicalises gender identity, but also because not all trans and gender diverse people want surgery (or can afford it).[iv]

Western Australia’s legislation also requires surgery, although thanks to a favourable High Court decision, this has been interpreted to ‘only’ require some forms of physical treatment (such as hormone therapy).

Nevertheless, all three states – NSW, Queensland and Western Australia – must urgently amend their births, deaths and marriages laws to support self-identification for their trans and gender diverse residents [for more on this topic, see Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates].

3. LGBTIQ refugees in Papua New Guinea and Nauru

One LGBTIQ human rights abuse that is not technically in Australia, but is perpetrated by Australia, is the detention, processing and resettlement of LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum in countries that criminalise them.

In particular, there remain LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum who are trapped in Papua New Guinea – because the Australia Government put them there – a country which retains a maximum penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment for male same-sex activity.

And, even though Nauru decriminalised homosexuality in 2016, that does not necessarily translate into it being a safe environment for the LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum which the Australian Government imprisoned there.

Of course, for anyone interested in international human rights law, all offshore detention, processing and resettlement is abhorrent, and should be ended for all refugees irrespective of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics (or other attributes).

However, we must not overlook the fact Australia’s immigration framework has a particularly awful impact on people fleeing persecution on the basis of being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer. They should be brought to Australia immediately.[v]

Anti-Discrimination Reform

While there is no individual LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform issue which is as important as the above three topics, I would argue that addressing our inadequate, incomplete and inconsistent LGBTI anti-discrimination and vilification framework overall must also be a high priority. Specifically, the majority of Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws should be updated across three main areas:

Ensuring everyone is protected against discrimination. Most state and territory laws currently exclude at least some parts of our community. The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is the worst – it doesn’t even protect bisexuals.[vi] While NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory don’t cover people with non-binary gender identities – and the same jurisdictions exclude intersex people as well.

Repealing the special privileges enjoyed by religious organisations. Loopholes allow faith bodies to discriminate against LGBT people, in employment and against people accessing services, even when they are delivering public services using public funding. Nearly all Australian anti-discrimination laws, including the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), need to be reformed – although the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 provides a template for how this can be done, by permitting religious organisations to preference people from their own faith (in limited circumstances), while not allowing discrimination on the basis of other attributes like sexual orientation or gender identity.[vii]

Obviously, the religious exceptions which have received the most public debate, at least in the past few years, are those allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff. Positively, four jurisdictions (Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and Northern Territory) have already legislated to cover LGBT students, although only two (Tasmania and the ACT) fully protect LGBT teachers and other staff. On the negative side, Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old, and there’s little chance he will act on it for several years to come either.

Introducing prohibitions on anti-LGBTI vilification. There is currently no prohibition on anti-LGBTI vilification under Commonwealth law. Although they are by no means alone – currently Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification. Of those that do (NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT), only Tasmania and the ACT protect all sections of the LGBTI community. Given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are just as damaging, and harmful, as racism, I firmly believe anti-LGBTI vilification should be prohibited on the same basis as racial vilification (equivalent to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)). 

[For more on the overall state of LGBTI anti-discrimination and vilification law, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.]

Other LGBTIQ Law Reform Issues

There are a range of other LGBTIQ law reform issues which still need to be addressed, including:

  • Sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (sometimes called ex-gay or ex-trans therapy) should be outlawed across Australia. The Queensland Government recently introduced the first ban on these practices – although disappointingly it only applied in health care settings, and not in the religious environments where most anti-gay and anti-trans conversion practices occur. The ACT Government followed shortly thereafter, and their legislation has been welcomed by survivor groups because it covers both health care and religious settings. I understand that there are also moves to outlaw these practices in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia – although sadly not in my adopted home state of NSW [NB Since the webinar, Victoria has introduced their own Bill to ban conversion practices, which appears to be stronger than both Queensland and the ACT, while the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute has released an Issues Paper on ‘Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Conversion Practices’, with submissions due 7 January 2021].
  • South Australia still needs to abolish the gay panic defence (or homosexual advance defence). Thankfully, after much prompting, the South Australian Government has finally released draft legislation that does just that, for public consultation. Hopefully it is finally removed from the statute books later this year or in early 2021. [NB South Australian Parliament passed legislation finally abolishing the gay panic defence on 1 December 2020].
  • Expungement regimes – which allow for historical convictions for same-sex sexual activity to be expunged from a person’s criminal record – should also be strengthened. In particular, there is a serious limitation in the Queensland scheme, which does not allow gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men who were convicted as a result of the unequal age of consent for anal intercourse between 1991 and 2016 to have their records expunged,[viii] and
  • The Marriage Act 1961 (Cth) needs to be amended to remove the unjustified special privileges that were introduced for existing civil celebrants, and religious organisations, as part of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Act 2017. Note that I usually do not refer to that legislation as providing ‘marriage equality’ as a result of these exceptions, because they mean LGBTI couples marrying now can be discriminated against in ways that divorced people remarrying before 2017 could not. We can get married, but it is still not equal.[ix]

Protecting Existing Rights

Some people take the quote ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’ a little too literally, and consequently fail to appreciate LGBTIQ rights can go backwards. Something which has happened multiple times in the past decade, including the Newman LNP Government in Queensland winding back civil partnership laws passed by the Bligh Labor Government.

In the area of anti-discrimination, we should also remember the Baillieu Coalition Government in Victoria undid the introduction of a modest ‘inherent requirements’ test for religious exceptions passed by the Brumby Labor Government in 2010 – before they had even commenced. While the Hodgman Liberal Government tried multiple times to undermine vilification protections for LGBTI Tasmanians (and other groups) as long as that vilification was religiously-motivated (although thankfully those efforts failed).

There are currently three major efforts to undermine LGBTIQ rights:

The Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, of which we have seen two Exposure Drafts and was due to be introduced in March 2020 but has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. This legislation would:

  • Make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ LGBTI Australians
  • Make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to provide services to LGBTI patients
  • Make it easier for religious organisations to discriminate against others
  • Make it more difficult for big business to promote diversity and inclusion
  • Create a Religious Freedom Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission (when we still don’t have a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics)
  • Entrench unjustified religious exceptions in the Marriage Act 1961 (Cth), and
  • Explicitly protect charities advocating against LGBTI relationship recognition in the Charities Act 2013 (Cth), despite it being completely unnecessary.

[For more, see The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked.] 

The Mark Latham/One Nation Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 in NSW, which, similar to the Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill, seeks to privilege the rights of religious individuals and organisations over the rights of others, including the right of LGBTI people in NSW to be protected against discrimination [since the webinar, I had this opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald, outlining just one of the many serious problems created by the NSW ‘Religious Freedoms’ Bill], and

The Mark Latham/One Nation Education Legislation Amendment (Parental Rights) Bill 2020, also in NSW. This legislation does (at least) three awful things:

  • Prohibiting the teaching of ‘gender fluidity’ – where teaching includes anything to do with a school (including counselling) by anyone connected to a school (including volunteers), and ‘gender fluidity’ means acknowledging that gender identity can be different to biological sex at birth. In effect, it will mean erasing trans and gender diverse students, as well as teachers, in schools across NSW
  • Introducing a UK section 28-style law against ‘promotion’ of ideological views about sexuality and gender identity – which, just like section 28 did there, will impose a silence on LGBT students struggling with invisibility at the most vulnerable point in their lives, and
  • Enacting an erroneous and stigmatising definition of intersex in NSW law for the first time (‘disorders of sexual differentiation’).

[For more, see I Stand with Trans Kids, and Against Mark Latham.]

Of course, ordinarily, we wouldn’t be too concerned about legislation being proposed by fringe extremists in the NSW Legislative Council. However, the NSW Government and Opposition have both supported both One Nation Bills being referred to Committee for inquiry – with the anti-trans kids inquiry chaired by Mark Latham himself. Which means we must resist the laws themselves, as well as fighting against toxic debate surrounding them which has the potential to harm vulnerable younger members of our community, and especially trans and gender diverse kids.

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Question 2. How can we ensure that workplaces are inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds but in particular for the LGBTIQ community?

My answer to this will (thankfully) be significantly shorter than for the previous question, in part because we’ve already discussed some of the reforms that are needed, especially in terms of anti-discrimination law reform, such as repealing the special privileges that allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees.

This includes amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to protect LGBT teachers in religious schools, as well as reforms in the other jurisdictions where LGBT school staff are not fully protected (all states and territories bar Tasmania and the ACT).[x]

It also means ensuring LGBT employees in Government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations are protected (where people accessing these services are currently covered under the SDA, but staff in those same facilities are not). There are several reasons for this, including because it is unfair on employees:

‘People should be hired, not hired or even fired, on the basis of how well they are able to provide care and support to the people accessing aged care services, not who they are attracted to or how they identify.’[xi]

It is also unfair on people accessing these services, who ‘have the right to expect the highest possible standard of care. That is not provided when an aged care service refuses to employ highly-qualified people simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.’[xii]

The same reasons also apply in terms of fighting against the Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, especially in the era of coronavirus. That’s because the 2nd Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill allows hospitals to hire the most religious, not the most qualified: 

‘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.’

Likewise, the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill allows aged care facilities to hire the most religious, not the most qualified. As I wrote earlier this year: ‘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’.

[Both quotes taken from my March 2020 article Coronavirus and the Religious Discrimination Bill which I think holds up pretty well, 9 months later, as a strong argument against the RDB when the Morrison Government inevitably brings it back it in the first half of 2021.] 

But repealing religious exceptions is not the only law reform needed to make workplaces inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds, and in particular for the LGBTIQ community.

One specific reform that should be introduced as a matter of priority are amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) to ensure it treats trans, gender diverse and intersex employees exactly the same as lesbian, gay and bisexual ones.

Currently, the adverse action protections in section 351(1), and unlawful termination protections in section 772(1)(f), of that Act cover sexual orientation, but do not explicitly include gender identity or sex characteristics.[xiii]

Unfortunately, despite this issue being raised repeatedly with the Turnbull and Morrison Governments, they do not appear to be in any hurry to remedy this omission.

A broader structural reform to anti-discrimination law is ensuring it is able to deal with real-life people, who are complex and have multi-faceted characteristics (covering race, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and more attributes besides).

Often, it is impossible for people to know whether they have been discriminated against because of a particular protected attribute, or a combination of attributes. Any definition of discrimination must be able to deal with this complexity, and uncertainty. In my perspective, one of the best approaches is found in section 8 of the ACT Discrimination Act 1991:

‘Meaning of discrimination

(1) For this Act, discrimination occurs when a person discriminates either directly, or indirectly, or both, against someone else.

(2) For this section, a person directly discriminates against someone else if the person treats, or proposes to treat, another person unfavourably because the other person has 1 or more protected attributes.

(3) For this section, a person indirectly discriminates against someone else if the person imposes, or proposes to impose, a condition or requirement that has, or is likely to have, the effect of disadvantaging the other person because the other person has 1 or more protected attributes.’

One final point that should be mentioned, if we are genuine about making workplaces inclusive and safe for people from all backgrounds, is that there is a gap in terms of anti-discrimination protections around religious belief, and lack of belief.

It is unacceptable that the Commonwealth, NSW and South Australian anti-discrimination regimes do not protect people of faith, and no faith, against discrimination – this is something that should be addressed.

But it must not be addressed in the way proposed by the Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill, or the Mark Latham/One Nation Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 in NSW. Because they are just as unacceptable.

People of faith, and no faith, should be protected against discrimination on exactly the same terms as everyone else, including to the same standard as sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.

People of faith, and especially faith-run organisations, must not be given new special privileges to discriminate against others, including people of minority faiths or no faith, as well as women, LGBTIQ people, single parents, divorced people and people in de facto relationships, people with disability and plenty more.

Doing this one simple thing – protecting everyone against discrimination, equally – would help create an Australia where all people are accepted for who they are. And it would be a great leap forward for LGBTIQ people of faith too, many of whom experience discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation/gender identity/sex characteristics and faith.

Footnotes:


[i] The information in this, and following, paragraph(s) is summarised from the website of Intersex Human Rights Australia. Please check them out here.

[ii] I made a submission to this inquiry way back in July 2013.

[iii] Please see my Submission to AHRC Consultation re Medical Interventions on People Born with Variations of Sex Characteristics.

[iv] This issue – financial barriers to trans healthcare – is something we don’t discuss enough. For more, see: Trans out-of-pocket medical costs.

[v] For more, see: Australia’s (Mis)Treatment of LGBTI Refugees.

[vi] For more, see: Did You Know? The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act Doesn’t Protect Bisexuals Against Discrimination.

[vii] For more, see: What’s Wrong With Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act 1998? 

[viii] An issue I raised in my Submission re Queensland Criminal Law (Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement) Bill 2017

[ix] For more, see: No, We Don’t Have Marriage Equality Yet.

[x] For more, see: Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers

[xi] From my Submission to [the] Royal Commission into Aged Care.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] For more, see: Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

Private Lives. Public Discrimination. Political Exacerbation.

In November, La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) released ‘Private Lives 3: The Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQ People in Australia’. 

Building on reports in 2005 and 2011, Private Lives is Australia’s largest national survey of the health and wellbeing of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) people.

Covering a diversity of topics, from households and relationships, to housing and homelessness, general health and wellbeing, mental health and wellbeing, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use, and intimate partner and family violence (among others), it makes for both fascinating reading and invaluable research. I strongly encourage you to download and read it.

However, as someone with a particular interest in all things LGBTIQ discrimination, it is their section on ‘Discrimination, harassment and feelings of acceptance’ I will focus on today.

The Private Lives 3 findings in this area are, frankly, disturbing.

Asked, ‘to what extent do you feel accepted in the following situations?’, just 60.7% of LGBTIQ Australians answered ‘a lot’ or ‘always’ in relation to work.

That figure dropped to 55.3% in educational institutions, and 43.4% when accessing a health or support service.

Only 30.5% of LGBTIQ people said they felt accepted a lot or always in public (eg in the street/park), and a perhaps unsurprising but still shockingly low figure of 10.5% at religious or faith-based events or services.

It is also unsurprising that cisgender members of the LGBTIQ community reported higher rates of acceptance than trans and non-binary people.

For example, while 68.5% of cisgender men and 61% of cisgender women felt accepted a lot or always at work, this fell to 50% for trans women, 48.8% for trans men and just 43% for non-binary people.[i]

There was a similar divergence in terms of acceptance by sexual orientation, with gay and, to a lesser extent, lesbian respondents reporting higher rates than bisexual, pansexual, queer and asexual people.

For example, while 69.6% of gay and 63.8% of lesbian people said they felt accepted at work always or a lot, just 53.6% of bisexual, 54.5% of pansexual, 54.5% or queer and 47.4% of asexual people said the same thing.[ii]

The responses to the question ‘In the past 12 months, to what extent do you feel you have been treated unfairly because of your sexual orientation or gender identity?’ are just as disturbing (if not more). As the authors (Hill, Bourne, McNair, Carman and Lyons) observe on page 40:

‘Almost six in ten participants reported that they had been treated unfairly to some degree (either a little, somewhat, a lot or always) because of their sexual orientation in the past 12 months, with 4.5% reporting a lot or always. Over three quarters (77.5%) of trans and gender diverse participants reported that they had been treated unfairly to some degree because of their gender identity in the past 12 months, with 19.8% reporting a lot or always.’

Even more shocking are the high reported rates of experiences of vilification – and worse – based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In the previous 12 months:[iii]

  • 34.6% of respondents reported experiencing verbal abuse (including hateful or obscene phone calls) due to their sexual orientation or gender identity
  • 23.6% experienced harassment such as being spat at and offensive gestures
  • 22.1% received written threats of abuse via emails or social media
  • 14.6% experienced threats of physical violence, physical attack or assault without a weapon
  • 11.8% experienced sexual assault
  • 11.4% received written threats of abuse in other ways
  • 10% experienced refusal of service
  • 9.9% experienced refusal of employment or being denied promotion
  • 5.3% received written threats of abuse via graffiti, and
  • 3.9% experienced physical attack or assault with a weapon (knife, bottle, stones).

‘Overall, trans and gender diverse participants reported higher levels of harassment and abuse than cisgender participants. For example, a greater proportion of trans women (51.6%), non-binary participants (49.4%) and trans men (45%) reported verbal abuse in the past 12 months due to their sexual orientation or gender identity compared to 28.7% of cisgender women and 32.7% of cisgender men.’

This is nothing short of an epidemic of discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence against LGBTQ Australians on the basis of their sexual orientation and, especially, gender identity. And it is getting worse, not better.

For example, reported rates of verbal abuse increased from 25.5% in Private Lives 2 (released in 2011) to 34.6% in Private Lives 3; harassment such as being spat at and offensive gestures rose from 15.5% in PL2 to 23.6% in PL3; physical attack or assault with a weapon doubled, from 1.8% to 3.9%; and sexual assault quadrupled, from 2.9% to 11.8%.

Let me think, what happened in the period between Private Lives 2, and the survey period for Private Lives 3 (from 24 July to 1 October 2019), which could have caused greater homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in the Australian community?

It seems undeniable that the Coalition Government’s proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage, and actual postal survey – and the toxic public debate surrounding both – has directly contributed to increased anti-LGBTQ prejudice.

Nor should we underestimate the negative impact of the ‘religious freedom’ movement which they deliberately unleashed, with the Religious Freedom Review in 2018, and the Morrison Government’s First Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill which was released right in the middle of the Private Lives 3 survey period, in August 2019.

What should happen from here?

The Private Lives 3 survey results show us the scale of the problem: appalling rates of discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence against LGBTQ Australians on the basis of their sexual orientation and, especially, gender identity. And we have a pretty good idea about who is to blame (at least for making the situation much, much worse than it already was). But what is the solution?

I would argue the following three actions would be a good place to start (although I’m sure readers of this blog could offer other useful suggestions, via the comments section below):

  1. Improve LGBTI anti-discrimination laws

The introduction of Commonwealth anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTI community, through the historic Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013, was an important step, although by no means the end of the journey.

As I have written previously, these laws need to be strengthened, including by:

  • Updating ‘intersex status’ to ‘sex characteristics’
  • Protecting LGBT students, teachers and other staff in religious schools against discrimination
  • Limiting overly-generous religious exceptions that permit discrimination against LGBT people across many areas of public life, and
  • Appointing a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Discrimination in employment, especially against trans and gender diverse employees as identified in Private Lives 3, also needs to be addressed by explicitly including gender identity and sex characteristics in adverse action and unlawful termination provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth). 

2. Introduce LGBTI anti-vilification protections

One of the long-standing, missing pieces of LGBTI law reform, at least at Commonwealth level, is protection against anti-LGBTI vilification. The high rates of hate-speech reported through Private Lives 3 has merely confirmed the urgency of addressing this gap.

As I hav consistently advocated over many years,[iv] given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia can be just as harmful as racism, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) should be amended to prohibit anti-LGBTI vilification on an equivalent basis to the prohibition of racial vilification in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

3. Publicly-fund programs against homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia

Being an advocate for LGBTI law reform, it is easy to forget that changing the law can only ever be one part of the solution – and often only a small part at that.

To address the ongoing, high levels of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in employment, healthcare, education and other areas of public life identified in Private Lives 3, we need well-funded, publicly-funded campaigns explicitly targeting homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

We also need our elected representatives to lead by example, by calling out prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, and making sure anti-LGBTIQ comments are never acceptable in public debate.

What is actually happening?

Unfortunately, when we examine what is being done in relation to the three actions described above, the answer is not much. In fact, worse than just political inaction, the Coalition Government seems intent on exacerbating these problems rather than solving them.

For example, the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill – which Attorney-General Christian Porter recently confirmed remained part of the Government’s legislative agenda – would make it easier for religious individuals and organisations to discriminate against LGBTIQ Australians, including by refusing to provide healthcare services that benefit members of our communities (for more, see The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked).

That same legislation also calculatingly, and explicitly, undermines state and territory anti-vilification laws (where they exist), by making it easier for people to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ LGBTI people as long as those comments are motivated by faith. This includes over-riding the ‘best practice’ Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas).

As for culture change, then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull first ‘gutted’ then abolished entirely the national, evidence-based program targeting bullying against LGBT kids in schools (Safe Schools).

Meanwhile, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison has publicly attacked school counsellors who support trans and gender diverse children, deriding them as ‘gender whisperers’ in a now-infamous tweet. And he has taken more concrete action to remove trans-inclusive toilet door signs in the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, than he has to implement his 2018 promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination (for more, see ‘Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old).

The findings of Private Lives 3 reveal a bushfire of bigotry is burning in the Australian community – but far-too-often our elected representatives are the ones who are fanning the flames.

Of course, it isn’t just the Commonwealth Government who should be taking action to address discrimination, harassment, vilification and violence against LGBTQ Australians. Our state and territory governments, too, need to step up, including by modernising their own anti-discrimination laws.[v] The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), and Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA) in particular have fallen far, far below community standards.

Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory also need to introduce their own LGBTI anti-vilification laws (in addition to the Commonwealth), while it is probably fair to say all Governments could be doing more to combat homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia in their respective jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, I would argue that the sheer size of the challenge which confronts us, as so disturbingly revealed in the ‘Discrimination, harassment and feelings of acceptance’ pages of Private Lives 3, demonstrates a national approach is desperately needed.

That obviously means stopping those things which would simply make the problem worse – including by abandoning any Religious Discrimination Bill that would undermine the rights of LGBTIQ Australians. But it also requires positive steps to make things better.

We’ll find out in 2021 whether the Commonwealth Government, and Parliament more broadly, is willing to do that which is necessary – or allow anti-LGBTIQ prejudice to rage on.

Footnotes:


[i] The rates of acceptance at health services were even lower, showing a significant drop-off for cisgender women. Specially, while 55.5% of cisgender men felt accepted ‘a lot/always’, this fell to 42.4% for cisgender women, 46.5% for trans women, 30.1% for trans men and just one in five non-binary people (21.5%).

[ii] The rates of acceptance at health services were even lower. Only gay respondents felt accepted ‘a lot/always’ more often than not (54.8%), compared to just 40.1% of lesbian, 43.8% bisexual, 37.3% pansexual, 26.7% queer and 33.3% asexual respondents. 

[iii] Check out the full list on page 40 of the Private Lives 3 Report.

[iv] See also: ‘Did You Know? Most Australian Jurisdictions Don’t Prohibit Anti-LGBTI Vilification‘.

[v] For a comprehensive discussion of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections around the country, see: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws

Submission re 2020 ALP National Platform – Consultation Draft

30 November 2020

ALP National Policy Forum

Lodged online: https://www.alp.org.au/platform-consultation-draft/

To members of the ALP National Policy Forum

Submission re 2020 ALP National Platform – Consultation Draft

I am writing to provide my individual feedback on the 2020 ALP National Platform, as released for public consultation.

I do so as a long-term advocate for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community, and as someone who was responsible for providing wording on multiple policy issues which were included in the 2015 National Platform (many of which were retained in the 2018 National Platform, although most have subsequently been excluded from the current version).

I acknowledge the intent of the Consultation Draft: ‘A Platform of this kind would be much more significant and carry much more weight. But it also needed to be much shorter’ [emphasis added]. This is reflected in the abbreviated document released this year: at 96 pages, it is just over one-third the length of the 2018 version (which was 268 pages, plus the Party’s constitution).

However, Labor’s LGBTIQ policy commitments have been reduced by much more than this ratio. Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to say that the LGBTIQ content of the 2018 National Platform has been gutted in the 2020 Consultation Draft.

At a simplistic level, this can be seen in the decline in usage of the term LGBTIQ itself: from 45 times in the 2018 National Platform, to just six times in the 2020 consultation draft. This is a massively disproportionate reduction.

But this decline is much more than just the use of fewer words. This reduction represents large, and substantive, cuts to the ALP’s policy commitments to achieving LGBTIQ equality. The LGBTIQ community should be alert and alarmed about the potential for the Labor Party to walk away from its previous policies to improve the lives of LGBTIQ Australians.

In this submission, I will start by focusing on four particular, and particularly-important, issues (three where previous commitments have been abolished entirely, and one where the proposed commitments are seriously inadequate) before providing comments on the specific chapters of the Consultation Draft, as well as the statements in detail.

  1. Ending Coercive Medical Interventions on Intersex Children

In my view, the most egregious human rights abuses against LGBTIQ people in Australia are the ongoing coercive medical interventions, including surgical and hormonal interventions, to alter the sex characteristics of children born with intersex variations.[i]

For this reason, the inclusion of this commitment, on para 75 on page 144 of the 2018 National Platform, was welcome:

‘Parents of intersex children can be pressured to hormonally or surgically intervene on their children if they don’t receive medically correct advice, information or support about how to parent an intersex child. Labor will ensure deferral of non-necessary medical intervention on infants and children with intersex variations until such time as the person concerned can give their informed consent is supported. Labor commits to promote and support a human rights-based patient consent model for accessing lifetime medical treatments and procedures. Labor will prohibit modifications to sex characteristics undertaken for social rationales without informed consent and ensure intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex assignment treatment is respected.’

Conversely, the removal of this policy, and the total absence of any equivalent commitment to preventing involuntary medical treatments on intersex kids in the 2020 Consultation Draft, are deeply worrying.

I strongly urge the National Policy Forum, and ALP generally, to recommit to ending these abhorrent and harmful practices, by including the following statement (as proposed by leading intersex advocate Morgan Carpenter):

Recommendation 1.

‘Labor will recognise the bodily integrity of intersex persons, prohibiting modifications to the sex characteristics of people with innate variations of sex characteristics performed for social or cultural reasons, and ensuring respect for intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex ‘normalisation’ treatment. Labor commits to supporting the development and implementation with community participation of human rights-affirming oversight and standards of care, including for accessing lifetime medical treatments and procedures.’

2. Removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare

Another significant issue for Australia’s LGBTIQ community where the 2020 Consultation Draft represents a backwards step compared to the 2018 National Platform is removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare. Paragraph 74 on page 144 of the 2018 document previously provided that:

‘Labor acknowledges the right of all Australians, including transgender and gender diverse people, to live their gender identity. For many, this includes accessing specialist health services and for some people can involve gender affirming medical technologies. Costs should not be a barrier to accessing these services. Labor commits to removing, wherever possible, barriers to accessing these services and consulting with experts in government. This should materialise in a focus on creating fair, equal and affordable access to medical care and treatments relevant to trans and gender diverse Australians.’

Once again, there is no equivalent commitment in the 2020 Consultation Draft. Instead of axing this policy, I believe the Labor Party should be strengthening its commitment, by including a modified version of the above paragraph:

Recommendation 2.

‘Labor supports the rights of trans and gender diverse people to live their gender identity. For many, this includes accessing specialist health services and for some people can involve gender affirming treatment, including surgery. Costs should not be a barrier to accessing these services. Labor commits to overcoming these barriers by removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare.’[ii]

3. Restate commitment to ending the HIV epidemic

Perhaps the most surprising omission in the 2020 Consultation Draft is the complete exclusion of any and all references to HIV, likely for the first time in decades. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, it seems strange to remove commitments to addressing the HIV epidemic, especially when lessons from our best practice approach to HIV are valuable in responding to COVID-19 – and, above all, when the HIV epidemic is ongoing.

I note that paragraphs 103 and 104 on page 150 of the 2018 National Platform included the following:

‘Labor has a proud record in HIV policy. Bipartisan national leadership in partnership with affected communities and other organisations, clinicians and researchers has prevented a generalised epidemic.

‘HIV notifications, however, remain too high. Labor is especially concerned that HIV notifications have steadily increased among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and are now double the rate of other Australians. Notwithstanding these challenges, Australia has an unprecedented opportunity to end HIV transmission. Labor commits to the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, which provides the global framework for action on HIV, including through the UNAIDS Fast-Track 95-95-95 targets to end the HIV epidemic. Labor’s commitment to making HIV history will include restoring the capacity that the Liberals have cut from HIV peak organisations; funding new efforts to promote HIV prevention, testing, and treatment in ‘hidden populations’; and ensuring affordable access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) via the PBS.’

Recommendation 3.

The National Policy Forum should restate the ALP’s commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, and consult with the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA), and leading HIV advocates and experts, on what specific policy proposals are required to achieve this in the 2020s.

4. Improving LGBTI anti-discrimination protections

One area where the ALP’s commitments have not been completely removed (although some have nevertheless been excised) – but where the 2020 Consultation Draft remains highly deficient – is the issue of LGBTI anti-discrimination law reform.

Paragraph 30(b) on page 53 includes the following, general and very high-level statement: ‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians to develop policy to… strengthen laws and expand programs against discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and queer status.’

While obviously welcome, the lack of specificity in this paragraph means it is unclear what position a future Labor Government would take on a range of important measures that fall within this over-arching statement, including:

  • Protecting LGBT students, teachers and other staff against discrimination by religious schools, colleges and universities
  • Protecting LGBT employees and people accessing services in relation to other religious organisations delivering public services like healthcare, housing and accommodation, and other welfare services (including removing the ability of religious aged care services to discriminate against LGBT employees)
  • Updating terminology in anti-discrimination legislation, including replacing the protected attribute of intersex status with ‘sex characteristics’, as advocated by Intersex Human Rights Australia and in the March 2017 Darlington Statement
  • Introducing prohibitions on vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, on an equivalent basis to existing racial vilification prohibitions in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (with the necessity of this reform highlighted by the homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia whipped up by the Liberal/National Government’s unnecessary, wasteful and harmful 2017 same-sex marriage postal survey),[iii] and
  • Appointing an LGBTIQ Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission (noting that paragraph 90 on pages 213-214 of the 2018 National Platform included a commitment that: ‘Labor will… [e]stablish under the Australian Human Rights [Commission] Act 1986 a new Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status issues, to work across government and the private sector to reduce discrimination’).[iv]

Another LGBTI discrimination-related issues which is not addressed in the 2020 Consultation Draft is the fact neither gender identity nor sex characteristics are explicitly included as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), leaving trans, gender diverse and intersex employees with uncertain workplace rights, including unclear protections against adverse action and unlawful termination.[v]

Perhaps most concerningly, at least in the short term, the 2020 Consultation Draft does not express a position on the Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, legislation that would significantly undermine the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians to engage in public life without fear of discrimination.

I strongly urge the National Policy Forum to take a stand on this issue, and in particular to commit to only supporting anti-discrimination laws covering religious belief and activity where they do not undermine the rights of others, including women, LGBTIQ people, people with disability, single parents, divorced people and even people of minority faiths.[vi]

Recommendation 4.

‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians to develop policy to strengthen laws and expand programs against discrimination, harassment and vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and queer status, including by:

Amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 (Cth) and related laws to:

  • Protect LGBT students, teachers and other staff against discrimination by religious schools, colleges and universities
  • Protect LGBT employees and people accessing services against discrimination by religious organisations delivering public services including healthcare, housing and accommodation and other welfare services (including removing the ability of religious aged care services to discriminate against LGBT employees)
  • Update the protected attribute of intersex status to sex characteristics
  • Introduce vilification protections on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics, and
  • Appoint a Commissioner for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics within the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Amending the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), to explicitly include gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes, including for the purposes of adverse action and unlawful termination provisions.

Only supporting the introduction of Commonwealth anti-discrimination legislation covering religious belief and activity where it does not undermine the rights of women, LGBTIQ people, people with disability, single parents, divorced people, people of minority faiths and others to live their lives free from discrimination.

**********

I will now provide specific comments in relation to the individual Chapters of the Consultation Draft (where relevant), as well as the Statements in Detail.

Chapter 1: Building Australia’s Prosperity

No comments.

Chapter 2: Developing Our People

On page 22, at paragraph 8, the sentence ‘Labor will continue to support policies that aim to remove remaining barriers, including those based on gender, age, race, ethnicity, sexuality or disability status’, should be amended to also include gender identity and sex characteristics.

On page 23, at paragraph 19, I note this would be an appropriate place to include the commitment to explicitly protect gender identity and sex characteristics in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) (as outlined as part of recommendation 4, above).

I also suggest the National Policy Forum include a commitment here that the ALP will work with trans and gender diverse communities to introduce workplace entitlements to paid transition leave, to help support increased participation by trans and gender diverse Australians in the workforce.

On page 29, at paragraph 63, I note the detailed commitments around the national curriculum no longer include the following policy from page 150, paragraph 109 of the 2018 National Platform:

‘Labor will ensure sex education includes all sexualities and gender identities. Labor will ensure the sex education curriculum is kept up-to-date and reviewed regularly by both non-government organisations and experts working in LGBTI health.’

I urge the National Policy Forum to reinstate a commitment to ensuring the national curriculum, including the health and physical education curriculum, is inclusive of LGBTI students and has content relevant to their needs.

Chapter 3: Climate Change, Energy and the Environment

No comments.

Chapter 4: A Strong and Healthy Society

On page 42, after paragraph 21, I note this would be an appropriate place to include a restated commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, and associated policy proposals as agreed with AFAO, NAPWHA and others (as detailed at Recommendation 3, above).

Chapter 4 would also be an appropriate location for a strengthened policy to remove out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare (as outlined at Recommendation 2).

Finally, I note the 2018 National Platform included a commitment to ‘develop a national LGBTIQ health plan, to [among other things] address the particular health needs of LGBTIQ people, working in partnership with these communities and LGBTI health bodies.’

I believe the National Policy Forum should reinstate this commitment, given ongoing health issues across the LGBTIQ community, including in relation to mental health. 

Chapter 5: An Equal and Inclusive Nation

I note the section ‘Equal rights for LGBTIQ Australians’ would be an appropriate place for the contents of Recommendation 4 described above to be included (and in particular replacing paragraph 30(b) on page 53).

I further note the LGBTIQ health-related commitments in paragraph 30(c) are not a substitute for a national LGBTIQ health plan (mentioned in relation to the previous chapter), while policies to support national intersex-led organisations in paragraph 30(d) do not obviate the need for specific policies to end involuntary medical interventions on intersex children (as called for in Recommendation 1 of this submission).

In terms of paragraph 30(e), and its commitments in relation to trans and gender diverse identity documentation, I note major problems still exist at state and territory level, and especially in NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.[vii]

The National Policy Forum should be urging Labor Governments in Queensland and Western Australia to urgently amend their respective births, deaths and marriages laws to allow trans and gender diverse people to update their identity documents on the basis of self-identification, without the need for surgery or other medical approval or ‘gate-keeping’.

Similarly, the NSW Labor Opposition should be encouraged to support equivalent reforms there – and, if the NSW Liberal/National Government does not progress these changes, for Labor to introduce them in the first 100 days of any incoming administration.

I have two particular concerns about paragraph 31 on page 53, which currently reads:

 ‘Labor will ensure schools are welcoming and supportive environments for all students and teachers, regardless of their gender identity and sexuality. We will support programs that promote understanding, tolerance and respect for every student.’

First, this commitment could be strengthened to provide absolute certainty that it applies to all schools: government, private and/or religious.

Second, the commitment in the second sentence is a significantly watered-down version of the position in the 2018 National Platform (paragraph 60 on page 119):

‘Schools must be safe environments for students to learn and for teachers to teach – including same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students and teachers. Labor will continue working with teachers, students and schools to stop bullying and discrimination, ensuring a safe place for LGBTI students to learn by properly resourcing inclusion and anti-bullying programs and resources for teachers. Labor will continue to support national programs to address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and anti-intersex prejudice in schools. This includes ensuring gender diverse students are able to express the gender they identify with.’

I believe the 2020 version, and its absence of specific support for targeted programs addressing homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia, underestimates the prevalence of such discrimination, and the harms that continue to be caused to LGBTI students.

Recommendation 5.

Paragraph 31 on page 53 be replaced with the following:

‘Labor will ensure all schools are welcoming and supportive environments for all students, teachers and other staff, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics. We will support programs that promote understanding, acceptance and respect for every student, including programs to specifically address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.’

In my view, paragraph 32 on page 54, is also deeply flawed, this time for three reasons. First, as survivors have consistently advocated, bans on ‘reparative’ or conversion practices must be exactly that – aimed at practices, rather than the much more limited, and potentially only health-related, ‘therapies’.

Second, it must capture both sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices (rather than just ‘gay conversion’).

Third, I am concerned that the wording ‘will work with advocates to ensure people are not coerced into undergoing such therapies’ potentially misses the point – it is not just ‘coercion’ that is the problem, it is the practice itself. Policies in this area should be aimed at banning sexual orientation and gender identity-change practices broadly, not just ‘coercion’ into undergoing these practices.

Recommendation 6.

The National Policy Forum consult with survivors of conversion practices in relation to the commitments in paragraph 32 on page 54, and in particular to ensure that:

-It applies to conversion practices (and not just therapies)

-It includes both sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, and

-It bans the practices themselves, rather than preventing ‘coercion’ into undergoing such practices.

I am also concerned at the wording on paragraph 33 on page 54, which is an abbreviated form of the commitment at paragraph 105 on page 233 of the 2018 National Platform. In particular, in my view the abbreviation has omitted the more important part of that policy, namely:

‘Labor will work first with our Pacific neighbours, our Indo-Pacific region and the nations of the Commonwealth to encourage the repeal of discriminatory laws, especially criminal laws against homosexual sexual conduct and most urgently against such laws where they impose the death penalty, and will encourage steps to implement the actions required by the Yogyakarta Principles. Labor will work strategically to support and assist both local and international civil society organisations in promoting LGBTIQ human rights.’

I encourage the National Policy Forum to amend the abbreviated commitment in the Consultation Draft to capture these elements, and especially supporting the push for decriminalisation in the Pacific, Indo-Pacific and Commonwealth.

My final comment in relation to the section ‘Equal rights for LGBTIQ Australians’ on pages 53 and 54 is to highlight that it does not include support for any formal mechanisms to consult with, and represent the interests of, LGBTIQ communities. For example, the National Policy Forum should consider expressing support for both:

  • A Commonwealth Minister for Equality, and
  • An LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Committee, including sub-committees in relation to health, education, justice and other portfolios as required.

I have a further, important comment to make about the section ‘Freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ on page 55 of the 2020 Consultation Draft.

Specifically, paragraph 41 states:

‘Labor believes in and supports the right of all Australians to manifest their religion or beliefs, and the right of religious organisations to act in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of their faith. Such rights should be protected by law. Labor recognises that the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief, or not to have or adopt a religion or belief, is absolute.’

While elements of this commitment are appropriate, the way in which it is worded is dangerous. In particular, the right to manifest religion or beliefs must always be limited by the need to protect the fundamental human rights of others, including the right to be protected against discrimination.

As the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights itself notes, at Article 18.3:

‘Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.’

This vital nuance is currently missing from paragraph 41. In its absence, people of faith and especially religious organisations would be given a blank cheque to discriminate against others, including LGBTIQ Australians.

Recommendation 7.

Paragraph 41 on page 55 be redrafted such that the right to manifest religion or beliefs is limited by the need to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, including the right to participate in public life free from discrimination.

Chapter 6: Strengthening Australian Democracy

No comments.

Chapter 7: Australia’s Place in the World

On page 68, at paragraph 41, I suggest the inclusion of an additional dot point, to the effect that ‘Labor will ensure Australian international development addresses… the empowerment of people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics.’

Statements in Detail

On page 82, under the hearing ‘Public sector industrial relations’, where it says ‘Labor will… [l]ead by example on addressing the ill effects of family and domestic violence by introducing public-sector wide standards of paid leave and other supporting entitlements for workers who are affected by family and domestic violence’, I suggest the inclusion of the following:

‘Labor will lead by example on addressing the disadvantage and exclusion experienced by trans and gender diverse people in the workforce by supporting public-sector wide entitlements to paid transition leave.’

Finally, I express my strong personal support for the retention of explicit commitments in the Statements in Detail in relation to LGBTIQ refugees and people seeking asylum. This includes paragraph 24 on page 93:

‘Labor will ensure asylum seekers who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer will be assessed by officers who have expertise and empathy with anti-discrimination principles and human rights law. Officers, translators and interpreters at all levels of the assessment process will have specific lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer cultural awareness training to ensure the discrimination asylum seekers face in their country of origin or transit are not replicated.’

And paragraph 13 on page 95:

‘Labor will not detain, process or resettle lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex refugees or asylum seekers in countries which have criminal laws against any of these communities as it makes these places unsafe environments for all of them.’

**********

In conclusion, I acknowledge even this detailed submission is unable to substantively address all of the many LGBTIQ policy commitments that were included in the 2018 National Platform, but which have subsequently been excluded from the 2020 Consultation Draft.

Some of these now-omitted policies covered:

  • Providing LGBTIQ-inclusive aged care (paragraph 34 on page 110)[viii]
  • Addressing LGBTIQ housing and homelessness issues (paragraphs 166-167 on page 171,[ix] and paragraph 90, on page 214)
  • Ensuring LGBTIQ statistics are collected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (paragraph 85 on page 213)[x]
  • Establishing a National Gender Centre ‘to provide support and advocacy for transgender Australians, which could have an education and training role to promote awareness about transgender issues to the wider public’ (paragraph 88 at page 213), and
  • Supporting programs to make sport inclusive for LGBTIQ participants (page 195).

To some extent, it is perhaps inevitable that, by choosing to reduce the length of the Platform from 268 pages to 96, the Australian Labor Party’s 2020 Consultation Draft would include fewer detailed commitments in support of LGBTIQ equality and human rights.

What is not inevitable, however, is that these commitments should be cut in such a disproportionate way, as I have demonstrated through this submission. Or that it now excludes important policies around ending coercive medical interventions on intersex children, removing out-of-pocket costs for trans and gender diverse healthcare, restating a commitment to ending the HIV epidemic, or making much-needed improvements to Commonwealth LGBTI anti-discrimination laws.

I strongly urge the National Policy Forum to consider amending the draft Platform to strengthen the Party’s policy commitments in these four areas, and in other ways suggested in my comments on specific chapters and the statements in detail.

Nevertheless, irrespective of what happens in the redrafting process, or at the National Conference in early 2021, it seems highly likely that the Platform adopted next year will be the first in at least a decade, and perhaps the first in a generation, to include fewer commitments in support of LGBTIQ equality and human rights than its predecessor.

In which case, the onus will be on the Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese, Shadow Ministry and Federal Parliamentary Labor Party generally to work with the LGBTIQ community in the lead-up to the next election to make detailed policy commitments outside of the Platform so that urgent community needs are still addressed.

Thank you in advance for taking these comments into consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese is highly likely to release the first ALP National Platform in a generation which contains fewer commitments in support of LGBTIQ equality and human rights than its predecessor.

Footnotes:


[i] For background on this issue, please see my Submission to AHRC Consultation re Medical Interventions on People Born with Variations of Sex Characteristics.

[ii] For more, see Trans Out-of-pocket Medical Costs

[iii] Noting that the 2018 National Platform included a commitment to provide effective sanctions against anti-LGBTIQ hate-speech (at paragraph 137, on page 218):

‘When prejudice against LGBTIQ people contributes to harassment by the written or spoken word, such harassment causes actual harm, not simply mere offence, to people who have suffered discrimination and prejudice, and causes particular harm to young same-sex attracted, gender-questioning or intersex people. Labor considers such harmful harassment is an unacceptable abuse of the responsibilities that come with freedom of speech and must be subject to effective sanctions. Labor will ensure that anti-discrimination law provides such effective sanctions.’

[iv] For more on these proposed reforms, see:

What’s Wrong With the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984? and

5 Years of Commonwealth LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Law Reforms. 5 Suggestions for Reform.

[v] For more, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

[vi] For more, see The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked

[vii] For more, see Did You Know? Trans People in NSW and Queensland Still Require Surgery to Update Their Birth Certificates

[viii] ‘As they age, LGBTIQ deserve care and support that reflects their diversity. Labor will ensure policies in relation to ageing take into account the needs of people with different sexual orientations, gender identities and sex characteristics by building on Labor’s previous LGBTIQ Ageing and Aged Care Strategy.’

[ix] ‘There is a significant connection between homelessness and people being subjected to discrimination and harassment for being same-sex attracted or transgender and specifically understands the discrimination and exclusion affecting transgender people seeking to access support. Accordingly, Labor will work with affected communities to enhance housing support for LGBTIQ Australians.’

‘Labor acknowledges that young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are at significantly higher risk of homelessness, and commits to support dedicated services aimed at addressing this issue.’

[x] An especially significant omission given the decision of the current Liberal/National Government to not include LGBTI questions as part of the 2021 Census. For more on this topic see Census 2021 – Count Me In.

Finally, the 2020 ALP National Platform – Consultation Draft:

And, for comparison, the 2018 ALP National Platform:

Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old

Two years ago today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students in religious schools against discrimination. He stated, unequivocally: ‘We do not think that children should be discriminated against.’ 

This promise was made following the leaking of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review’s recommendations, which sought to clarify but not repeal the existing ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT kids just because of who they are, and the significant public backlash it received from people who did not realise these schools already enjoyed this extraordinary special privilege under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984.

Morrison further committed to introducing amendments to prevent religious schools mistreating LGBT students in this way before the end of 2018, saying: ‘I believe this view is shared across the Parliament and we should use the next fortnight to ensure this matter is addressed.’ 

Scott Morrison has reneged on his promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination. Brazenly. Deliberately. And without any apparent consideration of the serious harms his broken promise will cause to a generation of LGBT kids.

Morrison’s Government never even bothered to introduce a Bill into Parliament to attempt to implement his commitment, let alone tried to have it passed.

When the Greens, with the Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018, and then Labor, with the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018, both sought to do so themselves, the Liberal/National Government referred these Bills to Senate inquiries rather than debating them.

Even after those inquiries, which took place in late 2018 and over the summer of 2018/19 respectively, handed down their reports, the Morrison Government failed to support those proposals and still did not propose a Bill of their own. Instead, they stalled and effectively counted down the clock until the 2019 Federal election. 

On the very last day before the writs were issued for that election, Attorney-General Christian Porter referred the issue of ‘religious exceptions’ generally to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) for a detailed, 12-month review. 

After the Morrison Government was re-elected on 18 May 2019, they returned to power with even less sense of urgency to give effect to his promise from October 2018. Instead, they gave priority to preparing two Exposure Drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bill, in late 2019 and early 2020, legislation that would

  • Make it easier to make comments that ‘offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule’ minorities, including LGBTI people
  • Make it easier for health practitioners to refuse to provide services that benefit minorities, including LGBTI people
  • Make it easier for religious organisations to discriminate against others, and
  • Make it more difficult for big business to promote diversity and inclusion, including for LGBTI people.

On the other hand, they first delayed the ALRC’s reporting timeline until December 2020. And then, on 2 March 2020, the Attorney-General amended the ALRC’s reporting deadline to be ‘12 months from the date the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed by Parliament.’ 

That change alone is enough to guarantee Morrison’s promise – which, let’s remember, was to protect LGBT students before the end of 2018 – will not happen this term.

First, the Religious Discrimination Bill may not pass (and, in its current form, it most definitely should not). Second, even if it passes, it will not happen until the first half of 2021 at the earliest. At a minimum, that makes the ALRC’s new reporting deadline the first half of 2022, which is when the next federal election is due (by May 2022, although there is increasing speculation it will instead be held in late 2021).

Even after the ALRC ultimately delivers its report, it usually takes a Government at least six months to prepare a formal response, and six months again to introduce legislation based on its response. 

Which means, even if the Government still feels bound by Morrison’s original promise from October 2018, even if the Liberal/National Government is re-elected, even if Morrison remains Prime Minister, even if the ALRC recommends how to implement his commitment, even if the Government accepts the ALRC recommendation, even if the Government prepares and introduces legislation to make this change and even if Parliament passes it, that legislation will not happen until 2023, and will likely not take effect until 2024.

A student in Year 7 when Scott Morrison first promised to urgently protect LGBT kids in religious schools against discrimination will finish Year 12 before his Government gives effect to it – if they ever do.

This isn’t just any ordinary broken promise either. In raising hopes that some of the most vulnerable members of our community might finally be legally protected, and then comprehensively dashing them, Morrison has broken hearts, while leaving a trail of broken lives in his wake.

That’s because anti-discrimination exceptions allowing religious schools to mistreat LGBT students just because of who they are inflict serious, real-life harm on those kids.

Religious schools can harm LGBT kids through the hateful things they say to them. And they can harm LGBT kids by not saying anything positive at all, leaving children who are struggling to figure out who they are to suffer, alone, in the all-enveloping silence of the closet.

Religious schools can harm LGBT kids by expelling them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But, generally, they don’t need to – the threat alone is enough. Where a student does bravely decide to come out despite that school’s prejudiced views, the school can ‘encourage parents to find a more suitable environment for their child’ (and what parent would force a school to expel their child in such circumstances?).

Religious schools can harm LGBT kids in myriad ways that fall short of expulsion too, from special rules targeting same-sex attraction, and erasing gender diversity.

Above all, religious schools can harm LGBT kids by creating a toxic environment, where those students know they will not receive safety and protection if they need it – something other kids figure out all too quickly, and take advantage of with impunity. 

I know the above from bitter personal experience – barely surviving five years at a religious boarding school in Brisbane in the early 1990s.

When they weren’t saying hateful things about my sexual orientation (like the pastor who suggested that, for kids struggling with ‘confusion’, killing themselves was not the worst possible outcome), they said nothing at all, leaving a dangerous void in which homophobia can, and did, flourish.

Their explicit rules against same-sex attraction didn’t need to be enforced either – all students knew being ‘out and proud’ simply wasn’t an option. Worst of all, the school’s anti-LGBT stance meant other boarders were free to ‘police’ any students who displayed even the subtlest signs of difference: I was subjected to both verbal, and at times physical, abuse.

The most depressing part of all is the realisation that, in many parts of Australia, little has changed in the past 25 years. While, thankfully, Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and Northern Territory have all legislated to remove the special privileges allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT kids, other jurisdictions have not. 

In 2020, it is appalling and infuriating that religious schools in NSW, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia can still legally mistreat LGBT students simply because of who they are. 

And they still do, too. As Oliver Griffith wrote, in 2018, about his own, more-recent experiences at a religious school (in an article called Growing up gay in a Christian school had lasting effects on my life’):

‘Growing up gay in an environment like this is a challenge because you are faced with your realisation of your own identity and at the same time are taught by people you trust that you are a deviant, a danger to society, and otherwise should be shunned from the community… the open criticism of homosexuality meant that I was always aware that revealing who I was to the people around me could result in being ostracised from my friends and the teachers I had learnt to respect. Despite becoming aware of my sexuality at the age of 14, I never revealed this publicly until I was in my 20s.’

My, and Oliver’s, stories of survival are by no means unique. And, of course, there are the countless stories we will never get to hear, because those students took their own lives as a direct consequence of the homophobia, biphobia and transphobia of religious schools, all legally supported by our Commonwealth Government.

The serious harms caused by the special exceptions provided to religious schools is backed up by the evidence. As expert in this area, Dr Tiffany Jones, wrote in the conclusion of their submission to the 2018 Senate inquiry titled ‘The Wrong of ‘Discrimination Rights’:

The data outlined in this submission adds to the author’s past submissions on [Sex Discrimination Act] Drafts citing evidence showing that the majority of LGBT students who attended religious schools rated them as homophobic spaces and that many LGBT students in religious schools suffered attempts to be ‘converted to heterosexuality’ or were forced out of their schools (eg in 2012). This submission shows new evidence that this trend continues in Australian religious schools, especially for people on the trans-spectrum. This is despite the fact that conversion attempts are widely and strongly denounced by peak psychology bodies.

Past submissions from the author showed there are significantly fewer policy-based protections for LGBT students in religious schools, which is highly problematic as policy protections are associated with decreased risks of experiencing homophobic and transphobic violence and decreased risks of self-harm and suicide rates for the group. However, the 2018 data shows that anti-LGBT conversion approaches contribute to harm the wellbeing of not only LGBT students, but most people attending those schools – who are significantly more likely to consider self-harm and suicide, and attempt self-harm and suicide.

The 2018 data show ‘gay’ is still the top insult in Australian schools. Trans-spectrum people suffer from more staff targeting just attending school as legally enforced. If our nation requires youth to attend school, and insists on funding religious schools, then those schools must be safe. The small portion of extremist conservative religious schools of Australia (not all religious schools, but those taking advantage of the SDA’s exemptions which effectively endorse anti-LGBT approaches) provide an educational environment lacking in basic social competencies for entering a modern diverse Australia and following its laws outside of the unrealistic ‘bubble’ of these schools. We need to ensure safety and better citizenship education at these schools. Not only for LGBTs, but for all students experiencing the wellbeing and educational deficits of discrimination on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. [emphasis in original]

Dr Jones is correct – if we compel students to attend school, then we must ensure that all school environments are safe for all students, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids.

Currently, they are not. Religious schools are legally allowed to harm LGBT students, by what they say, and what they don’t say. By what they do (in enforcing anti-LGBT policies and rules), and what they don’t need to (because of the threat hanging over the heads of LGBT kids). And most of all, religious schools are legally permitted to harm LGBT students by creating toxic cultures in which homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and violence can thrive.

Two years ago today, Prime Minister Scott Morrison promised to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination. He has done nothing in the two years since to give effect to this commitment.

While Scott Morrison might be able to walk away from his words, he cannot walk away from his responsibility for the serious harm being inflicted, needlessly, on another generation of LGBT kids because of his inaction. Harm that will still be felt by too many long after his time as Prime Minister comes to an end.

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For LGBTI people, if this post has raised issues for you, please contact QLife on 1800 184 527, or via webchat: https://qlife.org.au/ or contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.

Scott Morrison’s broken promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination turns two years old today (11 October 2020).

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

Discrimination Under the Cover of Corona

Coronavirus. SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19. Whatever you call it, it has been the biggest single story of this century (so far). Challenging health systems, governments, economies and communities – its dominance of the news cycle has overshadowed all other issues.

Of course, that does not mean those other challenges have gone away – especially climate change. Indeed, many existing problems have been exacerbated by, or exacerbated the negative impact of, coronavirus, including wealth inequality. Discrimination has sadly also been turbo-charged by the virus, with many disturbing examples of anti-Chinese and anti-Asian racism reported during the past few months.

But, as an LGBTI advocate, it is another type of mistreatment I want to focus on here: discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. While less prominent to date in comparison to racism, I am concerned about a potential outbreak of anti-LGBT discrimination under the cover of corona, in at least three ways:

  1. Discrimination in employment

Even with the Government’s temporary JobKeeper program, Australia’s unemployment numbers are expected to at least double between March and June 2020. We could see more than 1,000,000 people permanently lose their jobs in this period alone (not to mention many more who will have their hours, or pay – or often both – reduced).

While in many workplaces, the entire staff will be terminated, elsewhere employers will keep on some employees while dismissing others. With this process happening across so many businesses, small and large, and across so many sectors, simultaneously, it is inevitable some will (ab)use this opportunity to sack people for illegitimate reasons, including bosses firing LGBT workers simply because of who they are.

Even where homophobia, biphobia and transphobia are not ‘explicit’ in this way, some employers may take irrelevant factors into consideration in making their decisions – such as whether the employee has a partner, whether that partner is also employed, and whether they have children to support. Such discrimination, on the basis of marital or relationship status, or family responsibilities, is likely to disproportionately harm LGBT employees.[i]

For a variety of reasons, we will likely never know the full extent of anti-LGBT discrimination in employment during this crisis – although it should be noted the Sydney Morning Herald is already reporting that:

‘The number of workers raising issues with unfair dismissals has surged because of the coronavirus shutdown, with 65 per cent more employees bringing cases to the national industrial tribunal last month [April] than the same time last year.’ 

  1. Discrimination in service delivery

One serious problem highlighted by the coronavirus crisis has been the ‘hollowing out’ of governments, at all levels, and corresponding outsourcing of what should be public services to the private sector.

In particular, a disturbingly high proportion of essential social services in Australia are now delivered by religious organisations, despite usually using public monies. This includes housing and emergency accommodation, community support, food and even healthcare.

At a time when many Australians will be accessing these services for the first time, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people will have the additional worry of whether such faith bodies will refuse to serve them, or treat them differently to cisgender heterosexual people in the same circumstances.

This is not to suggest that all or even most of these religious organisations will engage in homophobic, biphobic or transphobic discrimination – but some of these services inevitably will, to the detriment of LGBT Australians when they are at their most vulnerable.

  1. Anti-LGBT vilification

The third potential outbreak which concerns me is anti-LGBT vilification. That is, attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals – and the LGBT community more broadly – claiming that we are somehow responsible for promulgating the coronavirus, or deserving of infection because of our supposed ‘sinful lifestyles’.

This is not a hypothetical fear, either. At the start of April, Melbourne Jewish radio station J-AIR broadcast the following homophobic and transphobic comments from a Rabbi Kessin:

‘And basically he’s [god’s] 98% finished, that’s how close we are to redemption. Therefore god wants to do is bring the redemption. However, there are certain problems that must be addressed by god in order for the redemption to actually happen. And what we begin to see is that the pandemic is an exact designer drug, if you want to use that expression, that will remove these problems.

Ah, in other words, the plague itself is a vehicle, is an instrument, to accelerate the messianic process by removing these major problems. What are they? You see. So therefore what we see is the following.

The first major problem is that man has corrupted his nature. There is a tremendous amount of, ah, what’s called immorality in the world today. It’s widespread. There’s, in Hebrew it’s called “prichus”. We want, we could say it’s also in the form of homosexuality, and gays and so on and so forth, where all of a sudden the gender differentiation is, is tremendously blurred. So that is an incredible corruption of man’s nature.’

There are, obviously, strong echoes of the homophobic vilification endured by the gay and HIV-positive community as part of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. And we learnt from that experience that more bigots will emerge in the months ahead claiming that coronavirus is ‘divine punishment’ of the LGBT community for having the temerity to exist.

These three risks – anti-LGBT discrimination in employment, and service delivery, and anti-LGBT vilification – demonstrate the importance of robust anti-discrimination and vilification protections. Unfortunately, they also reveal serious weaknesses in Australia’s existing anti-discrimination and vilification framework, in at least four ways:

  1. Onus on complainants

Australia’s anti-discrimination laws are primarily complaint-based, which means responsibility falls on the victims of discrimination to pursue justice against their discriminator(s).

This is a problem at the best of times. That includes because of the usual significant power imbalances involved: between employee and employer; member and group; individual accessing services and service delivery organisation; customer and business; and more.

The burden of making a discrimination complaint should also not be underestimated, including the cost in both time and resources (such as obtaining legal advice, which can be costly), as well as the impact on mental health through stress. It is no surprise that many people who experience discrimination ultimately choose not to lodge a complaint.

And of course the coronavirus crisis means now is far from the best of times. Power imbalances are exacerbated, financial and other stresses already heightened. Even where LGBT Australians experience unequivocal discrimination, the problems of a complaint-based system mean they may not exercise their legal rights but instead focus on more immediate concerns (like where they are going to live, and how they will pay for food, electricity and other essentials).

Now more than ever our anti-discrimination laws should be improved by making it easier for organisations, such as trade unions, to make representative complaints on behalf of vulnerable individuals, as well as strengthening the powers of bodies like the Australian Human Rights Commission and its state and territory equivalents to investigate instances of discrimination even in the absence of individual complainants.

  1. Difficult to prove

Even where a victim of discrimination does choose to lodge a formal complaint, it can sometimes be difficult to prove, at least to the required legal standard.

This will not come as a surprise to most LGBT Australians – or indeed to members of other minority groups in the community. Almost all of us will have experienced multiple instances of mistreatment, where you know without a doubt that your sexual orientation, or gender identity, or sex, or race, or disability, or combination of these, is the motivation – while also knowing it would difficult to establish without an explicit admission by the perpetrator.

The coronavirus crisis, and the associated economic crisis, will only worsen this problem, with employers able to say they abandoned usual procedures because of the scale and speed of the challenge they were facing (and the potential they are given the benefit of the doubt in many circumstances, too). This doesn’t mean there was no discrimination – but it could make already high barriers even harder to overcome for the victims.

  1. Religious exceptions

Regular readers of this blog would be well aware of this major flaw in Australians LGBT anti-discrimination laws. Specifically, under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth), and the anti-discrimination laws of most state and territories (other than Tasmania’s best practice Anti-Discrimination Act 1998), it is entirely lawful for religious organisations to discriminate against employees, and people accessing services, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[ii]

This means that it is legal for a faith-based homeless service in Sydney to deny shelter to someone because they are lesbian, or for a religious-run welfare service in Melbourne to reject a client because they are trans. It also means these organisations can refuse to hire, or even fire, employees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity – which is especially concerning when these bodies may be given more public funding to address the challenges of the next 12 to 18 months, making them one of the few places actually hiring.

In order for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians to enjoy the same employment opportunities, and receive the same level of support, as everyone else, religious exceptions to anti-discrimination laws must be repealed.

  1. Gaps in vilification protections

The fourth serious weakness in our current legislative framework is the fact that only a minority of jurisdictions protect LGBT people against vilification. The biggest gap is obviously at Commonwealth level, where there remains no sexual orientation or gender identity equivalent of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

But there is also no anti-LGBT vilification coverage in Victoria[iii] (meaning the earlier comments on a Melbourne Jewish radio station were likely lawful), or in Western Australia, South Australia or the Northern Territory.

Even where vilification protections exist, their coverage is sometimes incomplete. For example, civil prohibitions on vilification in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 only protect lesbians and gay men, and binary transgender people.[iv] Bisexuals, non-binary and intersex people need not apply (or complain).

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These four problems, with Australia’s LGBTI anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws, are obviously major. But they do not mean all such legal claims will be unsuccessful – merely that people should be aware of the potential pitfalls along the complaints journey that awaits them.

I should also be clear that this isn’t legal advice, either – after all, I am not currently a practising lawyer. However, if you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex and do experience discrimination or vilification, and are considering your options, there are places where you can seek advice. These include:

The Inner-City Legal Centre in Sydney

The LGBTIQ Legal Service in Melbourne

The LGBTI Legal Service in Brisbane

The HIV/AIDS Legal Centre in Sydney

Or you could contact the local Community Legal Centre in your area. A searchable map is located on the Community Legal Centres Australia website.

Alternatively, you could try the Legal Aid services in your respective state or territory.

The above organisations may assist you in determining whether you wish to make a complaint – and where. They may also be able to provide you with legal representation if you do complain.

Nevertheless, it is not compulsory to obtain advice, or be represented, in order to make an anti-discrimination, or anti-vilification, claim. You could instead decide to go directly to the relevant human rights body. These include:

The Australian Human Rights Commission for discrimination complaints, including employment discrimination [remembering that there are no LGBTI vilification protections under Commonwealth law]

The Fair Work Commission if the complaint relates to employment discrimination only [noting that only lesbian, gay and bisexual people can apply – because the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) does not cover gender identity or intersex status/sex characteristics][v]

Anti-Discrimination NSW

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission

The Queensland Human Rights Commission

The WA Equal Opportunity Commission

The SA Equal Opportunity Commission

Equal Opportunity Tasmania

The ACT Human Rights Commission

The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission

A lot has been written in recent months about the coronavirus ‘not discriminating’. That SARS-CoV-2 is the ‘great leveller’. That in response to COVID-19 we are now all supposedly playing on the same team (namely ‘Team Australia’).

Of course, that simplistic slogan simply isn’t true. Just like life before the ‘rona, the rich will have fewer adverse outcomes than the poor. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will continue to experience extremely high rates of disadvantage.

Racial minorities, especially Chinese-Australians and other people from Asian backgrounds, will endure even greater levels of racism than before the pandemic. Prime Minister Scott Morrison is fond of telling Australians to ‘get out from under the doona’. He needs to also pay attention to the increased racist abuse which has sadly – but entirely predictably – emerged from under the covers.

As we have seen, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Australians, as another vulnerable group, are at risk, too – of increased discrimination in employment, in service delivery, and through vilification.

If that happens to you, there may be legal remedies available, including under Commonwealth, state and territory discrimination laws, or the Fair Work Act. As discussed earlier, there may also be good reasons why you ultimately choose not to make a complaint under any of these processes.

But one reason homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bigots shouldn’t be allowed to get away with anti-LGBT discrimination or vilification is that you simply weren’t aware of the options available.

Christian Porter

Commonwealth Attorney-General should spend more time fixing problems with our existing anti-discrimination laws, and less time trying to introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill that would only exacerbate them.

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] Acknowledging of course that traditionally, and unfortunately still today, the most likely targets of discrimination on the basis marital or relationship status, or family responsibilities, are women.

[ii] For more on this subject, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[iii] Although there is currently a Victoria Parliament inquiry considering expansion of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) to cover sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. See my submission to that inquiry here.

[iv] Although the criminal offence of publicly threatening or inciting violence, added to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) in 2018, does cover all of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. For more on the problems of LGBTI anti-discrimination law in NSW, see What’s Wrong With the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977?

[v] For more, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

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.

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.

 

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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.

The ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill Must Be Blocked

Update 10 December 2020:

The Morrison Government’s Second Exposure Draft Religious Discrimination Bill was released one year ago today (on Human Rights Day, which was particularly ironic given its contents trample on the rights of women, LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people and people in de facto relationships, and people with disability, among many others).

Following public consultation during January and February, it was expected the final version of the Bill would be introduced in Commonwealth Parliament by Attorney-General Christian Porter in March 2020.

Of course, COVID-19 had other plans – who knew all it took to stop this awful law was the worst global pandemic in a century? Although, in reality, their proposed legislation was only ever placed on pause – and there is increasing evidence PM Morrison and AG Porter plan to introduce their Religious Discrimination Bill in early 2021.

On Sunday 6 December, the Guardian Australia reported that:

The attorney general, Christian Porter, said in a statement: “The government will revisit its legislative program as the situation develops, and bring the religious discrimination bill forward at an appropriate time.”

This was followed by a story in Monday 7 December’s Australian, stating that:

Australia’s faith leaders are urging Scott Morrison to put the implementation of a Religious Discrimination Act at the top of his political agenda next year, warning their congregations would hold the Prime Minister to his election pledge once COVID-19 passes…

Catholic, Anglican and Muslim leaders told The Australian work on a Religious Discrimination Act must begin as early as February when federal parliament returned from its summer break.

It is clear that religious fundamentalists both within and without the Government want to push ahead with this deeply-flawed legislation come hell or high water, the rights of other Australians be damned.

There is a very real risk the final Bill will be introduced in the first half of 2021, perhaps as soon as when Commonwealth Parliament resumes on February 2nd. Scott Morrison is fond of (over-)using the word ‘comeback’ at the moment – but reviving the Religious Discrimination Bill is one comeback that most definitely should not happen.

The Religious Discrimination Bill must be resisted, in the strongest possible way, for all of the reasons outlined below in my original post about the Second Exposure Draft. To allow it to pass would mean undermining the rights of many, many Australians to live our lives free from discrimination.

Original Post:

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.

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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.

The Internal Contradiction of the Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill

On Saturday 30 November, Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that his Government would not meet its commitment to introduce the Religious Discrimination Bill into Parliament before the end of the year.

 

Instead, he announced they would be releasing ‘a revised and further exposure draft of the RDA Bill to reflect the Government’s response to the consultation to date and provide further opportunity for engagement.’ [i]

 

On an optimistic reading, this means there is more opportunity for the Government to listen to all of the criticisms of this legislation, from women, LGBTI people, legal organisations and the Australian Human Rights Commission, that the Religious Discrimination Bill requires substantial amendment because it authorises discrimination against large sections of the Australian community.

 

Unfortunately, based on all evidence to date, we have more reason to be pessimistic, and instead fear that the Government will only listen to religious fundamentalists demanding even more special privileges to discriminate.

 

The only change to the Bill which Attorney-General Christian Porter highlighted at the National Press Club on 20 November[ii] was an amendment to ensure that ‘religious hospitals and aged-care providers will be given protections equivalent to those given to other religious bodies, in relation to employment of staff’ (in other words, allowing them to discriminate).

 

There have been no indications of positive changes to the Bill, to reduce its adverse impact on women, LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people, people in de facto relationships, people with disability and others. Nor was there any reason to be hopeful in the Prime Minister’s media release confirming the delay.

 

However, what I really want to highlight here is the inconsistency of two of Morrison’s statements in that release.

 

Specifically, he criticises Labor for ‘a lack of genuine commitment … to the principle that Australians who hold sincere religious beliefs in this country deserve the same legal protections that are rightly provided in other areas such as gender and race.’

 

But then later the Prime Minister also says ‘Our Government will continue to proceed on the basis of good faith with a view to having a balanced and common sense Bill that protects the important religious freedoms that Australians can sadly no longer take for granted.’

 

Except these two concepts – a Religious Discrimination Bill, and religious freedom laws – are very, very different things.

 

Had Morrison actually delivered the former, legislation that simply protects people of faith, and no faith, against discrimination on the same basis as gender, race and other attributes, then not only would Labor have likely welcomed it, but so too would the majority of Australians, including LGBTI people. After all, we know what discrimination is like, and don’t want other people to experience it.

 

Instead, his Government has produced a ‘Religious Discrimination Bill’ in name, but a religious freedom law in substance. The most problematic elements of the Exposure Draft – re statements of belief, large employer codes of conduct, conscientious objections by health practitioners and the general ‘religious exception’ in clause 10[iii] – all purport to protect ‘religious freedom’ rather than the right to non-discrimination.

 

Obviously, a lot has been written about the serious flaws of these provisions (including by the author), and particularly about the discrimination they permit against other groups.

 

Perhaps one consequence that hasn’t received as much attention is that they actually make this legislation not just inconsistent in its objectives, but internally contradictory as well.

 

That’s because these same provisions also allow discrimination against people on the basis of their religious beliefs, or lack of belief – making it a Religious Discrimination Bill that perversely encourages religious discrimination.

 

For example, the protections for ‘statements of belief’ in clause 41 – which effectively render them exempt from all Commonwealth, state and territory discrimination laws – don’t just apply to comments that discriminate against women, LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people, people in de facto relationships and people with disability.

 

Clause 41 also protects statements of belief that discriminate on the basis of religion. This includes, for example, saying the followers of other religions are ‘unclean heathens destined for eternal damnation’. Just like sexist, homophobic, transphobic and ableist statements, these derogatory comments will be protected irrespective of where they occur, including in the workplace, in education, in health, and in the provision of goods and services.

 

In the same way, clauses 8(3) and (4) won’t just protect a certain footballer telling gay and trans people they are going to hell – it will protect any religious employee who, outside ordinary work hours, tells people from other religions they’re going to hell, too.

 

The conscientious objection provisions, in clauses 8(5) and (6), are an even bigger threat. As well as allowing health practitioners, from GPs and pharmacists through to optometrists, physiotherapists and even podiatrists, to refuse to serve women, or LGBTI people, they could potentially be (ab)used by a health practitioner to refuse to serve Jewish people, or Muslims, or people from other minority faiths.

 

But the biggest threat of all – especially to minority religions – is found in clause 10. It allows religious schools and universities, charities and ‘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)’,[iv] to discriminate on the basis of religious belief.

 

This clause therefore permits discrimination against teachers and students, as well as the employees of – and even people accessing – charities and community services. And, as we have already seen, Attorney-General Porter plans to expand this clause even further to allow religious hospitals and aged care services to discriminate in relation to employment (at the very least).

 

Technically, clause 10 protects all religious organisations equally – they will each be able to discriminate in terms of who they employ (or refuse to employ), and provide services to (and who they exclude).

 

Practically, this clause will primarily benefit the largest religious organisations – including the Catholic and Sydney Anglican[v] churches and related education, health and community services organisations – at the expense of everyone else.

 

With the massive outsourcing of public services to these bodies over the past two to three decades, they now receive billions and billions of dollars each and every year, and will be explicitly permitted to use that public funding to discriminate.

 

Not just in relation to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (which is sadly already allowed under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), and which the Morrison Government steadfastly refuses to change), but also in relation to religious belief, or lack of belief.

 

That means a professor being denied a job because they are Jewish.

 

A doctor refused employment at a hospital because they are Muslim.

 

A school student expelled because they are atheist.

 

A homeless person missing out a bed in a shelter because they are Hindu.

 

A charity worker rejected for promotion because they are Buddhist.

 

An aged care employee losing shifts because they are agnostic.

 

All these scenarios could be legal under the Religious Discrimination Bill, as long as it was a religious organisation doing the discriminating. And they would be using taxpayers’ money – your money, my money, our money – to do so.

 

This outcome – entrenching the power and privilege of the major churches, namely the Catholics and Sydney Anglicans, over and above the rest of us – is the inevitable consequence of the internal contradiction of this legislation.

 

The Morrison Government has chosen to undermine what could and should have been a standard Religious Discrimination Bill – one that would have prohibited most, if not all, of the scenarios described above – with provisions that instead promote ‘religious freedom’.

 

With their decision to release a second Exposure Draft for public consultation, the Government now has the opportunity to make a better, and more informed, choice, and to prepare legislation that reduces religious discrimination rather than increasing it.

 

Unfortunately, I can’t seem to suspend my disbelief that they will choose the right option. Based on everything leading to this point, I have no faith the Government’s ‘revised and further exposure draft’ Bill will be any less of a threat to women, LGBTI people, single parents, divorced people, people in de facto relationships and people with disability.

 

But we must not forget it is also a threat to minority religions, to Jewish people, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, atheists and agnostic people alike. They too will be subjected to discriminatory statements of belief, and potentially denied access to health care, just because of who they are. And they will be refused employment, and discriminated against in education, health, aged care and community services, all by ‘mainstream’ religious organisations using public monies to do so.

 

Hopefully, they – as well as the many decent Catholic and Anglican people of good faith who oppose new special rights to discriminate – will join us in demanding genuine religious anti-discrimination laws, to replace Morrison’s badly botched Bill.

 

 

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By choosing to include expansive ‘religious freedom’ provisions, Scott Morrison has undermined the ability of the Religious Discrimination Bill to actually prohibit religious discrimination.

 

Footnotes:

[i] Media Release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Government will Protect Religious Freedoms by Getting Law Right, 30 November 2019.

[ii] Transcript, Attorney-General Christian Porter, Address to National Press Club, 20 November 2019.

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

[iv] Clause 10(2)(c).

[v] Noting Anglicare Victoria have joined other religious bodies, including Vincent Care Victoria and Uniting Vic.Tas, in criticising the special rights to discriminate contained in the Bill. ‘Religious discrimination bill: Faith-based groups and equality advocates welcome delay’, Guardian Australia, 1 December 2019.