Motion: Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020

I'll be tabling this motion at our next Inner West Council meeting on Tuesday 4 August. It seeks for Council to make a submission into the inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020, which has been tabled to NSW Parliament by One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham.

THAT Council:

1. Note its support for fair and equal discrimination laws that unite, rather than divide, the community, and its recent endorsement of Equality Australia’s Freedom from Discrimination Statement;

2. Makes a submission to the Parliament of NSW Joint Select Committee on the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 that: 

a. Reflects the position noted in point (1);

b. Requests that unbalanced provisions in the Bill that threaten safe and inclusive workplaces, schools, universities, and services be removed; 

3. Circulates the draft submission to Councillors, Council’s LGBTIQ Working Group, and other local democracy groups as appropriate for feedback before it is finalised.

Background

The NSW Government has established an inquiry into the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 introduced by NSW One Nation leader Mark Latham MLC, and co-sponsored by Rev Fred Nile MLC and Rod Roberts MLC.

In the second reading speech for the Bill, Mr Latham said that: 

“The fastest growing form of discrimination in our society is against people of religious faith, especially Christians. We have all seen the high-profile cases of Israel Folau and Margaret Court, outstanding Australians treated like second-class citizens because they take a literal interpretation of the Bible...Every letter of the alphabet seemingly has a flag, a network, a special ceremony to affirm and celebrate its identity, except the letters C and H: Christians and heterosexuals.”

Much like the Federal Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill, the One Nation Bill in its current form elevates religious expression above other human rights, allowing people and institutions to use religion to exclude or hurt others (including other people of faith). It provides special protections to religious activities that may breach laws and harm others.

If it were to pass, these unbalanced provisions could adversely impact the rights of many Inner West residents - including LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disability, and people of faith. It also poses a significant risk to Council’s ability to operate as an inclusive, cohesive and trusted organisation, employer and service provider.

Equality Australia has identified five fundamental issues with the Bill as follows:

  • Religion overrides government rules. Faith-based organisations and commercial bodies which define themselves as religious will be able to challenge NSW government programs, policies, contracts and decisions which contradict their particular religion.
  • No consequences for conduct. It will be almost impossible for government and non-government employers, educators and professional and licencing bodies to foster inclusive cultures, or meet shareholder, customer or community expectations, when their employees or members use their religion privately to hurt others.
  • Double standards in employment, education and service delivery. Faith-based organisations will be able to discriminate on the grounds of religion in these areas, even when receiving public funding.
  • Religion above the law. It gives protection to religious activities which may be unlawful, such as religious activity that vilifies others or breaches civil obligations.
  • Religion above human rights. Freedom of religion will be prioritised above all other rights and freedoms when applying NSW’s anti-discrimination laws.

The One Nation Bill stands in clear conflict with Council’s support for fair and equal discrimination laws that unite, rather than divide, the community. It’s particularly dangerous during the time of COVID-19, when political focus and parliamentary resources should be on strengthening our connections in the name of mutual support. 

Submissions to the parliamentary inquiry are due by 21 August 2020. More detail about the inquiry and the proposed Bill can be found at https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/committees/listofcommittees/Pages/committee-details.aspx?pk=267 

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