The Federal Government released a second draft of its proposed religious discrimination bill over the summer, following widespread criticism from faith leaders, advocacy groups, peak industrial bodies and legal experts. Public submissions on the second draft closed in January, with the bill still yet to be introduced to Federal Parliament.
Attorney-General Christian Porter’s 11 marked changes to the second draft of the bill were intended to overhaul and address the many concerns raised in the first round of submissions. However, it has done little by way of rebalancing the scales.
The union takes a strong stand
The IEUA, the federal organisation of the IEU representing more than 75,000 members, has met with relevant parties, including the leader of the opposition, and made submissions to the Attorney-General’s office in December last year expressing deep concern with the bill in its current form. The IEUA argued that the draft law is flawed, unnecessary and an affront to people of faith working in faith-based workplaces.
We support legislation adding religion as a protected attribute to federal anti-discrimination legislation. Such legislation is necessary to prevent discrimination and is consistent with the promotion of individual freedom, equality and fairness. It also assists Australia in meeting its long-held international obligations, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), namely, to enact legislation that both gives effect to and enforces rights recognised by the Covenant.
At its core, and as outlined in a submission by the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group (ADLEG), the bill is flawed as it “privileges and prioritises religious belief and activity over other protected attributes, and overrides existing protections for women, LGBTQIA+ people, and other impacted groups. In doing so, it grants positive rights to individuals to harm others through ‘sword’-like provisions”. This is distinct from the ‘shield-like’ protections that apply to all other anti-discrimination legislation for protected attributes such as race, sex, disability and age.
IEUA calls for consistent approach
Our submission also strongly supports the ACTU’s submission on behalf of affiliate unions, particularly as they address the need for a comprehensive and consistent approach to anti-discrimination legislation. We agree with the ACTU that:
“It does not make sense to introduce new protections against discrimination on the grounds of religion without first reviewing the adequacy and effectiveness of existing protections.”