‘Unprecedented and harmful’: Religious discrimination bill feedback made public

Advocates for the LGBTIQ community and other marginalised groups have slammed the federal government’s draft religious discrimination bills, newly released submissions reveal.

The government received almost 7,000 submissions from individuals and groups during the consultation period that ended on 31 January.

The proposed new laws would permit discrimination in the name of religion in contexts including healthcare, education, and employment.

A selection of the submissions have been published online, revealing support from some sectors of the community, including religious bodies such as the Seventh Day Adventist and Anglican Churches and the Australian Christian Lobby.

Some religious groups have called for more flexibility in the bill’s requirement for a person discriminating on religious belief to prove that it is in accordance with church teachings, while others have said it is already too broad.

The National Association of Catholic Families called for the removal of the clause against speech likely to “harass, vilify, or incite hatred” on the grounds that those terms are too vague.

Among many LGBTIQ groups opposing the bills, Equality Australia said in their submission that they feared “compromising access to healthcare” and “entrenching double standards in the law”.

The group called the religious discrimination bills “a complex, uncertain, and flawed piece of legislation”.

“Australians do not want our workplaces, schools, and services diminished by people who wish to take advantage of special protections in order to demean our lives or beliefs,” they wrote.

Advocacy group Trans Action Warrang wrote in their submission that the bills would introduce “unprecedented and harmful provisions which license discrimination against certain groups of people”.

They highlighted the risk of trans and gender diverse people being lawfully refused vital healthcare services.

Bodies representing other marginalised groups that would be impacted by the bills also made submissions to the government.

HIV organisations including the National Association of People With HIV Australia, National LGBTI Health Alliance, Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, Queensland Positive People, and ACON noted that the bills could harm people living with HIV and damage national efforts to reduce new transmissions.

Submissions from women’s groups raised further concerns that the bills would prevent access to crucial services and enable discrimination.

“The bill creates a double standard whereby religious views and practices are protected from discrimination, but discrimination against other groups on the grounds of religion is authorised, even in cases where a religious institution is providing publicly funded services,” wrote Women’s Health Victoria.

Groups representing people of minority faiths have also criticised the bills, with Sydney Queer Muslims saying lives could be put at risk from increased family violence.

The religious discrimination bills are expected to be introduced in parliament in the coming months.

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