Thursday, 03 October 2019 18:00

Federal Religious Discrimination Bill fails to strike a fair balance

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has today provided a submission to the Commonwealth Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill exposure draft, noting the Bill in its current form does not balance rights against each other adequately and is likely to have a number of harmful unintended consequences.

 Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said all people should be able to enjoy their right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief – however, the expression of those rights should not harm others. 

"Every day, the Commission hears about discrimination and vilification targeted at members of the Victorian community, including religious groups. All people in Australia should be protected from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs, which is why we welcome the Commonwealth Government proposal to protect religious belief in federal anti-discrimination law.

"But religious expression needs to be balanced against other rights, such as the right to be free from discrimination. This Bill does not get the balance right. By privileging religious expression, the rights of other people are diminished," Commissioner Hilton said.

In its submission, the Commission identifies five key clauses that should be removed from the Bill to prevent harm to people at work, in accessing health services and in the broader community.

The Bill is likely to have an impact on some of the most vulnerable people in our community, including women, people with disabilities and LGBTIQ people. For example:

  • an unmarried woman could be told she is ‘sinful and dirty’ after a doctor conscientiously objects to providing a prescription for the contraceptive pill
  • employers could find it difficult to enforce a conduct rule preventing staff making homophobic social media posts about colleagues, such as 'homosexuality is an abomination in the eyes of God'
  • a young trans person could be refused a prescription for hormone replacement treatment and provided no follow-up referral if their doctor conscientiously objected, believing that ‘God made men and women’.

Read our summary of key concerns with the exposure draft of the Bill 

Read our full submission

For interview requests or further information:
Peter Davies, Strategic Communications Adviser
Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission
Mobile 0447 526 642  |  Phone 03 9032 3482  |  Email peter.davies@veohrc.vic.gov.au

 

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