Building on reports in 2005 and 2011, Private Lives3 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):
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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):
‘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:
‘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.’
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.
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]
‘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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
[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.’
[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:
Submission re: Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020
Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on the draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020.
I do so as a long-term advocate for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and as someone with particular expertise in anti-discrimination legislation, including comparative analysis of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections across Australia.[i]
First, I welcome the intention of the draft legislation, which is to narrow the scope of the excessive and extreme religious exceptions currently found in section 50 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA). These exceptions allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTI South Australians in a wide range of everyday situations, causing direct and significant harm to a vulnerable population.
Second, I particularly welcome proposed section 50(1)(c)(ix), which would have the effect of protecting LGBTI students in religious schools against discrimination on the basis of who they are. This protection is long overdue, with change in South Australia made necessary because of the failure of the Morrison Government to deliver on his October 2018 promise to prohibit such discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).[ii]
However, while passage of this legislation would represent an improvement in terms of the rights of LGBTI South Australians to participate in public life without fear of discrimination, I would like to highlight three major problems with the Bill as drafted:
The scope of areas where LGBTI people will be protected – or not
The draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 effectively creates a ‘carve-out’ from the general religious exception found in section 50(c)[iii] of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) so that it does not apply in relation to certain areas of public life.
This approach appears to be based on section 37(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), which provides that the general religious exception in section 37(1) of that Act does not allow aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people accessing those services (although, disappointingly, it continues to allow religious aged care services to discriminate against LGBT employees).
It is encouraging that the draft South Australian Bill extends this carve-out to a wider range of areas of public life, including:
Health care and disability support
Public housing, and
Foster care placement.
In another welcome development, the carve-out also applies to employees in these areas (other than in relation to educational institutions, an issue which is discussed further below).
However, the carve-out approach has inherent limitations. In particular, the boundary between areas of public life where LGBTI people will be protected, and those where they will not, may appear arbitrary and difficult to justify.
For example, while proposed sections 50(1)(c)(ix) and 50(1)(c)(x) mean that religious pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools will not be able to discriminate against LGBTI students, the absence of a similar carve-out for tertiary education means that religious universities will nevertheless still be able to discriminate against LGBTI students.
In an environment when many university-age students are exploring and ultimately affirming their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, I do not believe it is acceptable to allow religious universities to discriminate against those students simply because of who they are (and especially where religious universities use public funds to do so).
In a similar way, while it is pleasing that emergency accommodation services operated by religious organisations will not be able to turn away LGBTI people in need of their assistance, it seems arbitrary that other essential service providers (such as food services or other forms of welfare support)[iv] will be able to reject people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.[v]
Finally, proposed section 50(1)(c)(i) would ensure that religious foster care agencies will not be able to discriminate against LGBTI people (including employees, potential foster carers and children being placed). However, the absence of a similar provision in relation to adoption agencies presumably means that religious organisations providing that particular service will be able to discriminate in this way.
This double-standard – where rainbow families are ‘good enough’ to be foster carers, but can still be rejected as adoptive parents just because of who they are – cannot be justified.
Therefore, if the carve-out approach is retained, in my view it should at a minimum be extended to include tertiary education, broader welfare services and adoption agencies.
Recommendation 1: If the ‘carve-out’ approach in section 50(1)(c) of the draft Bill is retained, the following areas of public life should be added:
Welfare services generally, and
2. The ongoing ability of religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status
I have framed the above recommendation in a qualified manner because I believe the ‘carve-out’ approach is itself problematic. That is because, in any area of public life that is not listed in section 50(1)(c), religious organisations will continue to be permitted to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status, including in terms of who they employ and who they provide their services to.
This will obviously have a negative impact on LGBTI South Australians by restricting their ability to participate in public life without fear of discrimination. And it falls well below the best practice approach to religious exceptions, which has been adopted in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas), and in a more limited way the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).[vi]
The Tasmanian ‘gold standard’ allows religious organisations to discriminate – but only on the basis of religious belief or activity, and not on other grounds, such as sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics.
For example, section 51 allows religious organisations to discriminate in employment in the following way:
(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the teaching, observance or practice of a particular religious is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.
(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices.
Section 51A then allows discrimination on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to enrolment at religious educational institutions (although not after the point of admission), while section 52 allows discrimination by religious organisations on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to ‘participation in religious observance’.[vii]
From my perspective, this is a fairer way in which to allow religious organisations to prioritise people from their own faith, while not infringing upon the rights of others – including LGBTI people – to live their lives free from discrimination.
I strongly urge the South Australian Government to improve the proposed Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 by moving to a model where religious organisations are only allowed to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity, and not in relation to other protected attributes, including gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status.
Recommendation 2: The South Australian Government should consider adopting the Tasmanian best practice approach to religious exceptions, allowing religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of religious belief and activity, but not in relation to other protected attributes including gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status.
3. The ongoing ability of religious schools and universities to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff
The final, and arguably most important, problem with the Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 is something it does not do – it does not remove the ability of religious education institutions (including schools and universities) to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff (which is currently permitted under section 34(3) of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA)).
In my view, this exception is unacceptable, for several reasons.
First, it is unfair on LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff. They may be the best qualified person for a job, but they can be denied employment (or, where they already work for a religious school or university, fired), on the basis of something which has no connection to their ability to perform the role. This is especially egregious given the large amounts of public funding provided to these institutions.
Second, it is unfair to students generally – who are denied being taught by the best possible teacher or lecturer for their class.
Third, it is unfair on LGBTI students in particular. Not only are they denied positive role models, they are also enrolled in an educational institution which has adopted a hostile attitude towards LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff, something which will inevitably influence the broader culture of the school or university.
Fourth, I do not believe the supposed ‘safeguard’ contained in sections 34(3)(b), (c) and (d) – which requires educational institutions wishing to rely on this exception to have a written policy stating its (discriminatory) position, that is provided to employees and potential employees, and on request to students, their families and members of the public – is sufficient.[viii]
Transparency doesn’t make prejudice any less real, or any more acceptable. LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff members can still be denied employment simply because of their gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex status – attributes which have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to perform the role.
Further, and even more damagingly, LGBTI students at these institutions who are aware of such policies will be acutely aware their presence there is only ‘tolerated’ because the institution is legally prohibited from discriminating against them (in other words, they would discriminate against these students if they could). They will know that they will never be truly accepted for who they are.
This last reason alone justifies removal of the exception for religious educational institutions in section 34(3) of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) and instead prohibit all religious schools and universities from discriminating against LGBTI employees.
Recommendation 3: The exception allowing religious education institutions to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff in section 34(3) of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) must be repealed, with these institutions prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status.
In conclusion, I should reiterate that, despite the problems identified above, the draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 would, if passed in its current form, still significantly improve the rights of LGBTI people in South Australia to go about their lives free from discrimination.
In particular, I welcome the commitment of the South Australian Government to protect LGBTI students at religious schools against discrimination. This is much needed, and would have an immediate and appreciable benefit for vulnerable students across the state.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe the proposed legislation can be substantially strengthened, including by extending the scope of areas in which LGBTI people are protected to include tertiary education, welfare services and adoption agencies – or, even better, to adopt the best practice Tasmanian approach to religious exceptions (as discussed earlier).
Above all, I strongly encourage the South Australian Government to remove the ability of religious educational institutions to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff members, so that these places can become welcoming and inclusive places for all people seeking to learn, or impart knowledge, irrespective of their gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex status.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of this submission. Please contact me at the details provided should you wish to clarify any of the above, or for further information.
[iii] ‘This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to- any other practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms with the precepts of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.’
[iv] In many cases, these services will be using local, state and/or Commonwealth funding to do so. In nearly all cases, they will be relying on tax exemptions supporting them to carry out this work.
[v] Intersex status is the protected attribute currently included in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA). However, I support the replacement of intersex status with ‘sex characteristics’, as called for by Intersex Human Rights Australia, as well as intersex advocates in the March 2017 Darlington Statement.
[vi] The ACT has adopted the Tasmanian approach in relation to religious schools (only allowing discrimination on the basis of religious conviction, and not on the ground of sexuality, gender identity or sex characteristics), but not for other religious organisations.
[vii] Noting that section 52(d) of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) is quite generous: ‘A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to- (d) any other act that- (i) is carried out in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion; and (ii) is necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of any person of that religion.’
[viii] Even if, in some circumstances, it may be useful in applying external pressure on religious educational institutions whose employment practices fall short of community standards.
Today marks three years since Scott Morrison first stated ‘We do not think that children should be discriminated against’, before going on to promise to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination before the end of 2018.
Three years later, and not only has the Prime Minister failed to take any steps to implement this promise, but the prospect of the Morrison Liberal/National Government doing anything about it seems more distant than ever.
The losers from Scott Morrison’s broken promise are the generation of students, going to school right now, being discriminated against right now, being harmed right now, because he said one thing to try to win the Wentworth by-election, and then did nothing afterwards – presumably because he doesn’t really care about LGBT kids, and he never really did.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
‘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.
It is clear from the history of this issue that the PM is not going to take action just because it is the right thing to do. He will only make this change if we put enough pressure on him. On that basis, it’s up to all of us to tell Morrison that:
It’s time to honour your October 2018 promise to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination on the basis of who they are
It’s time to help LGBT kids thrive no matter which school they attend, and
It’s time to stop delaying this much-needed reform and just get it done already.
There are a variety of ways you can let him know your thoughts:
Mail: The Hon Scott Morrison MP Prime Minister Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600
Telephone (Parliament House Office): (02) 6277 7700
Most importantly, don’t forget to add a personal explanation of why this issue is important to you. Thanks!
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.
If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus
Submission re Aged Care Worker Regulation Scheme – Consultation Paper
Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on this important topic. In this submission, I will respond to the information presented in the Consultation Paper, while highlighting a fundamental issue that is not addressed in its 56 pages.
Specifically, in discussing existing screening of aged care workers, as well as options for increased screening and/or registration, the Consultation Paper fails to mention a de facto form of screening which already takes place – the lawful exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees by some government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations.
This discrimination is permitted because of the religious exceptions included in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).
While sub-section 37(2)(a) provides that government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations are not able to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people accessing their services, sub-section 37(2)(b) allows those same organisations to fire, or refuse to hire, LGBT employees simply because of who they are.
Such workplace discrimination is unacceptable in principle. But it is also unacceptable in the context of issues confronting the aged care sector, as articulated in the Consultation Paper.
For example, one of the three problems highlighted on pages 7 and 8, under the heading ‘What are the limitations of the existing approach?’ is the following:
Concern that some critical workers (such as personal care workers) may not have adequate qualifications or skills, English proficiency and/or access to continuous professional development (CPD) to support the delivery of safe and high-quality consumer-centred care
-As noted above, PCWs comprise approximately 70 per cent of the aged care workforce. Over the coming years, there will be an increasing demand for PCWs with industry estimates suggesting that an additional 980,000 workers will need to be recruited to perform roles such as those of PCWs.
In a system with concerns about workforce skills, and a looming shortage of personal care workers (as identified in the quote above), it makes absolutely zero sense to allow a significant proportion of aged care services to legally discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
This discrimination has a range of negative consequences, both for the individual aged care service, as well as for the system as a whole.
For individual services, by limiting the pool of applicants to cisgender, heterosexual people, it is inevitable that in some circumstances better qualified applicants will be rejected because of personal attributes that have no connection to their ability to perform the role.
In other words, where services only hire the best cisgender, heterosexual person for the job, rather than the best person full stop, the overall quality of care provided will be adversely affected, to the detriment of people accessing that service.
However, the systemic outcomes of such discrimination are even worse.
LGBT people considering a career in aged care may decide against entering the industry entirely if they are aware that a substantial proportion of aged care services can refuse to hire them solely on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Further, LGBT people who are already in the industry and experience discrimination because of who they are may be more likely to exit the industry prematurely rather than risk being confronted by additional mistreatment.
In this way, the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees both limits the number of people considering working in aged care in the first place, and accelerates current employees leaving – at the exact same time the Consultation Paper suggests there is a growing demand for more aged care workers.
Sub-section 37(2)(b) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is therefore a structural barrier to an expanded, and better-qualified, aged care workforce, and one that must be removed as a matter of priority.
This view is reinforced by examining the ‘Objectives of an aged care worker screening or registration scheme’, as outlined on pages 13 and 14 of the Consultation Paper.
All six of these objectives are compromised by the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees.
Improve the quality and safety of aged care and enhance protections for consumers
As seen in the above discussion, allowing individual aged care services to hire the best cisgender, heterosexual person for the job, rather than the best person overall irrespective of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, inevitably means that centre is not able to provide the best possible care to consumers.
This problem is amplified for LGBT employees who are currently employed in government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations and who must constantly worry about the potential of being discriminated against by current, or future, service operators. Every extra second employees spend hiding who they are for fear of mistreatment is one less second they are able to devote to providing the best possible care to consumers.
Avoid unnecessary barriers to workforce entry and facilitate the attraction and retention of aged care workers
Allowing discrimination against current and potential employees simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seems to be the definition of unnecessary.
Promote consumer-directed care
This is an often-overlooked problem created by the current inconsistent approach adopted in sub-section 37(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act: while LGBT people accessing government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations have the right to be out, employees of the same services do not.
The absence of ‘out’ LGBT employees – and the (understandable) reluctance of LGBT workers to disclose their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the workplace, even to LGBT residents – actually heightens the isolation LGBT residents may feel, at a time when they are already facing increased loneliness.
Avoid duplicative regulatory requirements for providers and workers operating across sectors
It is inconsistent to determine that an employee is capable to provide aged care services in one government-funded facility, but not another, simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The role is essentially the same. The qualifications for performing it should be, too.
Protect the rights of workers
This is perhaps the most obvious of the objectives – a person’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity is irrelevant to their ability to perform the role of an aged care worker. It is unnecessary, and above all unjustified, discrimination to allow these workers to be fired, or refused to be hired, just because of who they are.
Minimise the cost to workers, providers, consumers and governments
Encouraging more people to train to be aged care workers, but then allowing them to be discriminated against because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, is inherently wasteful.
It is a waste of the individual’s time, and in many cases, money (both spending to obtain the necessary qualifications, and lost income because of discrimination). It is wasteful for governments, who subsidise their training and must train even more people to replace those who may be lost to the industry because of discrimination. And it is wasteful for consumers, who miss out on the best possible care because of an irrelevant attribute.
Based on all of these arguments, and while I acknowledge the Consultation Paper’s arguments in favour of enhanced screening and/or registration requirements for aged care workers, I submit that the first step to improve the quality of the aged care workforce should be to remove an existing, unnecessary and harmful de facto screening process.
That is to remove the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against employees and potential employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
This would obviously have a positive outcome for LGBT aged care workers, including making their retention in the overall industry more likely.
Above all, it would improve the quality of aged care provided in Australia – and that would meet the objectives of any aged care worker regulation scheme.
Recommendation: That sub-section 37(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) be amended to remove the ability of government-funded aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees and potential employees.
Thank you in advance for considering this submission. Please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided if you require additional information.
Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians, Senator the Hon Richard Colbeck
On Tuesday morning, Australian news sites and social media feeds alike trumpeted the US Supreme Court decision to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees against discrimination.
As with too many issues of social justice, however, it seems our ability to see discrimination clearly is much better from across the vast Pacific Ocean than it is at home.
I wonder how many of those who shared that welcome news are aware the Fair Work Act here does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex employees against adverse action and unlawful termination?
That’s because the relevant provisions of our industrial law (sections 351 and 772 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth)) cover ‘race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin’ – but not gender identity or sex characteristics (intersex status).
The consequence of this exclusion is that trans, gender diverse and intersex employees who are subjected to abuse at work, or even dismissed, on the basis of who they are cannot make a complaint to the Fair Work Commission.
This lack of protection is particularly harmful given these are populations that already experience low rates of employment.
A recent survey by Equality Australia found that, while the proportion of LGBTIQ+ people aged 25 to 64 years who were unemployed or looking for work increased from 6% pre COVID-19 to 10.8% post COVID-19, for trans and gender diverse people specifically it rose from an already-high 10.5% to a shocking 15.2% now.
That’s almost 1-in-6 trans and gender diverse adults unemployed today, with the potential to go much, much higher in coming months.
And it’s true that gender identity and intersex status are covered in the SDA – but this ignores the fact complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission can take much longer to conciliate, and enforcing them may require action in the Federal Court or Federal Circuit Court, at the risk of significant costs orders against the complainant.
In contrast, arbitration by the Fair Work Commission can be much quicker, and it is generally a ‘no-costs’ jurisdiction.
That’s exactly why sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family responsibilities and pregnancy are covered under *both* the SDA and Fair Work Act, allowing parties to choose an expedited, low-cost resolution if it suits their circumstances.
Women, and even lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, discriminated against in the workplace can exercise that choice. As can employees discriminated against on the basis of race, disability and age, who are all protected by their respective federal discrimination Acts, as well having access to the Fair Work Commission.
That choice is denied to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. Trans, gender diverse and intersex employees are confronted by the possibility of longer wait times, and potentially higher costs, to address the same type of dispute.
Of course, a lot has happened in the two years since Minister Laundy refused to fix this problem. The economic crisis brought on by coronavirus means that the Government, business and unions are now involved in consultations on how to reform the industrial relations regime to get people back to work.
This is an ideal opportunity for Prime Minister Morrison, and Attorney-General Porter – who is also the Minister for Industrial Relations – to help trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians into employment, and to protect them against possible mistreatment once there.
This is obviously not the only employment-related discrimination provision that needs updating (hello LGBT teachers in religious schools outside Tasmania and the ACT, LGBT employees in religious aged care homes and other service delivery organisations outside Tasmania, bisexual employees in the NSW public service, and non-binary and intersex employees in the NSW, Victorian, Queensland, WA and NT public services, too – see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws).
Indeed, Australia’s LGBTI anti-discrimination regime could perhaps be described as a ‘patchwork’ – except it is still missing far too many patches and for too many of us it simply doesn’t work.
But it is possibly the problem that is most easily fixed. It would only take a couple of quick legislative stitches to ensure trans, gender diverse and intersex people finally enjoy the cover of the Fair Work Act.
As indicated above, the Morrison Government is currently engaged in consultation with business and unions about its coronavirus-related industrial relations reforms. Which means now is the perfect time to ask for the Fair Work Act 2009(Cth) to be amended to cover gender identity and sex characteristics (intersex status). Why not start with the AG himself:
The Hon Christian Porter MP
Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations
It has been brought to my attention that there is a possibility the Fair Work Commission would interpret ‘sex’ to include gender identity and potentially intersex status, based on this information on their website.
However, this interpretation is open to legal challenge, and may be overturned in the Federal Court. I remain of the view the only way to put workplace protection for trans, gender diverse and intersex people beyond doubt would be to add gender identity and sex characteristics to the Fair Work Act.
The US Supreme Court decision highlights the lack of Fair Work Act coverage of trans, gender diverse and intersex employees in Australia.
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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:
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.’
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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).
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:
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]
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.
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[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.
[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?
The Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade is on tonight, and I am looking forward to attending the festivities in Taylor Square.
Although it will likely be in less noteworthy company than last year when, through an unlikely combination of circumstances, I ended up watching most of the parade standing next to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
Always the activist, and never one to waste an opportunity, I did manage to ask her an LGBTI rights question during the event. The question I chose:
Are you aware that NSW is the only jurisdiction in Australia that does not protect bisexuals against discrimination?
The Premier answered that ‘no, she wasn’t aware of that’ (or words to that effect) before turning back to talk to her companions.
In her defence, she would not have been alone in not knowing about this bizarre, and unacceptable, loophole in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (although she definitely cannot claim ignorance now).
It is a gap that has existed from the time discrimination on the basis of homosexuality was prohibited in late 1982 (a full 18 months before male homosexuality was even decriminalised in this state).
And one that wasn’t fixed when a definition of ‘homosexual’ was inserted in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act in 1994: ‘homosexual means male or female homosexual’.
This is the definition that remains to this day. Which quite clearly excludes people whose sexual orientation is towards people of the same sex and people of different sexes. [Interestingly, it also prevents heterosexual people from enjoying protection under the Act].
As I stated in my question to Ms Berejiklian, NSW is alone in having such a narrow definition.
The Commonwealth prohibits discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, with a definition that clearly covers lesbian, gay, bisexual and heterosexual people.
Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania all also prohibit discrimination on the basis of ‘sexual orientation’, while Queensland the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory cover ‘sexuality’ [for more, see A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws].
What does NSW’s exclusion of bisexuals mean in a practical sense?
Well, on the positive side, because bisexuals are still protected under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act, discrimination against them in NSW remains prohibited in most (although not all) circumstances.
However, there are limits to this coverage – limits that do not apply to lesbians and gay men.
For example, section 13 of the Sex Discrimination Act provides that protections against discrimination in employment under that Act ‘do not apply in relation to employment by an instrumentality of a State.’
Instrumentalities are independent government agencies or corporations. In effect, bisexual employees of independent NSW Government agencies are not protected against discrimination during their employment.[i] Ironically, this means bisexual employees of Anti-Discrimination NSW itself are potentially not protected.
Another practical effect of the exclusion of bisexuals from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 is that they are not covered by civil prohibitions on vilification, unlike their gay and lesbian counterparts.
For example, section 49ZT of the Act defines homosexual vilification as ‘to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person of group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person of members of the group.’
Because there is also no prohibition against anti-LGBTI vilification at Commonwealth level, this means bisexual people cannot make a civil complaint of vilification in any circumstance.
Confusingly, bisexual people are protected by the 2018 amendments to the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW), with section 93Z(1)(c) criminalising:
‘a public act [that] intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards another person or a group of persons on [the ground of] the sexual orientation of the other person or one or more of the members of the group.’
Sexual orientation is then broadly defined in section 93Z(5) as:
‘a person’s sexual orientation towards:
(a) persons of the same sex, or
(b) persons of a different sex, or
(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.’
Which is obviously welcome, but invites the logical question that, if the NSW Government was willing to include ‘sexual orientation’ in the Crimes Act, why hasn’t it also updated the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act along the same, inclusive, lines?
The third practical effect of the general exclusion of bisexuals from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is that it limits their options in terms of where to lodge complaints and/or file lawsuits.
Whereas lesbians and gay men discriminated against in NSW have the ability to complain to either Anti-Discrimination NSW or the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) – and therefore of pursuing legal action in either the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) or multiple courts – bisexuals can only complain to the AHRC and can only file in court.
This has implications in terms of the timelines for lodging complaints, the allocation of costs and the potential award of damages.
Each of these practical effects should be sufficient in and of itself to convince the NSW Government to update the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and replace ‘homosexuality’ with ‘sexual orientation’.
But, as with most anti-discrimination laws, the symbolic effect is just as important. After all, what does it say about the place of bisexuals in our own community, and society more widely, that they continue to be excluded from the primary legislation in this state which is designed to ensure all people are treated equally?
Unfortunately, it is not just bisexuals who are excluded in this way either.
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 also excludes non-binary people, because the definition of transgender in section 38A only covers someone who ‘identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex’.
Similarly, the Act also fails to provide discrimination protections to intersex people, because it does not include a protected attribute of either ‘sex characteristics’ (the terminology preferred by Intersex Human Rights Australia) or ‘intersex status’ (the protected attribute in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984).
Although, unlike for bisexuality, NSW is far from alone in these deficiencies:
NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory all fail to protect non-binary people, and
Those same jurisdictions (NSW, Victoria, Queensland, WA and the NT) also exclude intersex people from their discrimination frameworks.
There is a long, long way to go before Australian anti-discrimination laws adequately and appropriately protect LGBTI Australians against discrimination.
The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 arguably has the longest journey ahead.[ii] Let’s hope Premier Berejiklian hears that message loud and clear at tonight’s Mardi Gras – and every parade until this exclusionary and out-dated law is fixed.
This article is part of a series. Find other ‘Did You Know?’ posts here.
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[i] To complicate matters, bisexual employees of NSW Government agencies are protected against unlawful termination, because section 772 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) applies. However, the adverse action protections in section 351 of that Act (which prohibit mistreatment during employment) don’t apply because they must also be prohibited by an equivalent Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination law – which is not the case here.
The Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department has issued a consultation paper titled: ‘Cooperative Workplaces – How can Australia capture productivity improvements from more harmonious workplace relations’.
Submissions are due by Friday 28 February 2020. The following is mine:
Cooperative workplaces must be trans and intersex inclusive workplaces
Thank you for the opportunity to provide this submission in response to the Cooperative Workplaces consultation paper.
I do so as a long-term advocate on behalf of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
In this submission I will focus on the following questions posed in the paper:
2. To what extent do employees benefit from cooperative workplaces?
7. How does the Australian industrial relations system support and encourage cooperative workplaces?
10. What has been the experience with techniques and practices to foster cooperative workplaces including, but not limited to: …
e) Fair treatment policies and procedures.
From my perspective, the benefits of cooperative workplaces flow from all employees being treated fairly and with respect, and where all employees are protected against discrimination on the basis of who they are.
If employees are able to bring their full selves to work, without having to hide who they are or fear mistreatment and other forms of abuse, they are likely to be happier, healthier and consequently work better.
Unfortunately, this is not the situation for all employees in Australian workplaces today. That’s at least in part because some groups, including trans and gender diverse, and intersex, employees do not enjoy the same rights as other employees.
Specifically, while gender identity and intersex status are protected attributes under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), they are not included in equivalent protections in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
For example, the adverse action provisions in sub-section 351(1) cover:
Physical or mental disability
Family or carer’s responsibilities
National extraction, and
Note that this long list does not protect trans, gender diverse or intersex people.
The same list of attributes, with the same exclusions, is found in sub-section 772(1)(f), which protects employees against unlawful termination. Meaning that the Fair Work Act does not protect trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians from mistreatment or unfair dismissal based on who they are.
There are other exclusions too:
Section 153 provides that discriminatory terms must not be included in modern awards. The list of relevant attributes includes sexual orientation, but excludes gender identity and sex characteristics;
Section 195 includes a similar prohibition on discriminatory terms in enterprise agreements, and once again omits trans, gender diverse and intersex people;
Sub-section 578(c) provides that the Fair Work Commission must perform its functions taking into account ‘the need to respect and value the diversity of the work force by helping to prevent and eliminate discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, age, physical or mental disability, marital status, family or carer’s responsibilities, pregnancy, religion, political opinion, national extraction or social origin.’
There is literally no requirement for the Fair Work Commission to help prevent or eliminate transphobic and intersexphobic workplace discrimination.
This leaves trans, gender diverse and intersex employees at a distinct disadvantage compared to other groups, including lesbian, gay and bisexual employees.
Indeed, even a certain infamous footballer was potentially covered against unfair dismissal on the basis of religious belief, whereas one of the main groups that he directed his offensive statements against – transgender Australians – is not.
I wrote to the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, and the former Minister for Jobs and Innovation, Senator Michaelia Cash, raising this issue in May 2018, calling on them to amend the Fair Work Act to include gender identity and sex characteristics (being the terminology preferred by intersex advocate organisations including Intersex Human Rights Australia) as protected attributes.
I received a response to that letter from the then Minister for Small and Family Business, the Workplace and Deregulation, Craig Laundy, in July of that year, rejecting this call.
While he stated that ‘The Australian Government believes that discrimination in the workplace is unacceptable and all employees have the right to be free from discrimination at work”, he pointed to the SDA protections as being sufficient:
“The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 is the principal legislation providing protection against discrimination or harassment on the basis of sex and/or gender. It also covers discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The Sex Discrimination Act explicitly covers discrimination on the basis of gender identity and intersex status.”
Which, to be blunt, entirely misses the point.
First, other groups protected by the Fair Work Act, including those based on race, sex, age, disability and even sexual orientation, are covered by both that Act and an equivalent Commonwealth anti-discrimination law. If it is good enough for them, it is good enough for trans, gender diverse and intersex Australians.
Second, being included in the Fair Work Act gives people who are mistreated in the workplace, or unfairly dismissed, additional options in terms of making complaints, with potential implications for timing, jurisdiction, costs and compensation. Excluding gender identity and sex characteristics from one puts trans, gender diverse and intersex employees in an inferior legal position.
Third, there is a symbolic effect from the exclusion of gender identity and sex characteristics from the Fair Work Act, with many employers possibly viewing anti-trans and anti-intersex workplace discrimination as being less important than other types of workplace mistreatment.
Perhaps that is an inevitable outcome when the Government itself, as recently as 2018, was saying the same thing – loudly and clearly – by failing to address this obvious inconsistency, even after it was brought to their attention.
With a new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, a new Attorney-General and Minister for Industrial Relations – both portfolios held by Christian Porter – as well as an apparent interest in ‘cooperative workplaces’, I believe it is essential for the Government to take action on this issue as a matter of urgency.
The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) should be amended to include gender identity as a protected attribute, with a definition based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984:
‘Gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.’
The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) should be amended to include sex characteristics as a protected attribute, with a definition settled after consultation with Intersex Human Rights Australia and other intersex individuals and organisations, and based on the definition in the Yogyakarta Principles + 10:
‘understanding sex characteristics as each person’s physical features relating to sex, including genital and other sexual and reproductive anatomy, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary physical features emerging from puberty.’
If these recommendations are implemented, then trans, gender diverse and intersex employees around the country stand to benefit from being able to work with less fear from workplace mistreatment and abuse.
In doing so, the Australian industrial relations system will better support and encourage cooperative and harmonious workplaces where people are able to bring their full selves to work (if they so wish).
And all workplaces will be encouraged to adopt improved fair treatment policies and procedures, that don’t exclude trans, gender diverse and intersex employees, and don’t treat prohibitions on transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination as somehow less important than prohibitions relating to other protected attributes, including sexual orientation.
Overall, Australia would benefit from a significant minority of happier, healthier and yes more productive employees.
Thank you for taking this submission into consideration. Please contact me at the details provided should you require additional information.
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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.
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.
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 , 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:
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.
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:
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.
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).
You can also access a range of materials from Equality Australia here, including a submission-writing toolkit.
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.
Attorney-General Christian Porter, author of the ‘Bad Faith’ Religious Discrimination Bill.
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[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.