I've submitted this motion to the Inner West Council meeting on Tuesday 21 April in relation to the Australian Government's draft Religious Discrimination Bill. I'm pleased to say it passed with near unanimous support, with only Clr Passas voting against.
1. Endorses Equality Australia’s Freedom from Discrimination Statement as listed in Attachment 1;
2. Supports fair and equal discrimination laws, such as a Human Rights Act, that unite, rather than divide the community noting that:
a) The current religious freedom debate scapegoats a range of people, particularly the LGBTQI community; and
b) The Government's religious freedom review has contributed to continuing a homophobic political climate.
3. Writes to the Prime Minister, Leader of Opposition, Attorney-General and Shadow Attorney-General to inform them that Inner West Council:
a. Endorses Equality Australia’s Freedom from Discrimination Statement;
b. Calls on the Federal Government to remove unbalanced provisions in the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill that threaten safe and inclusive workplaces, schools and services, and privilege individual religious beliefs over the rights of patients to high quality healthcare; and
c. Supports fair and equal discrimination laws that unite, rather than divide, the community.
The Commonwealth Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill (the Bill) risks impacting the rights of Inner West residents - including LGBTIQ+ people, women, people living with disability and people of faith - and may undermine Council’s capacity to operate as an inclusive and cohesive organisation.
The Bill ventures well beyond the standard approach to protecting individuals from unlawful discrimination. As the former High Court Justice, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, has stated:
“This is not a bill that protects Australians from discrimination on religious grounds. Instead, it actively facilitates intolerance and will work to divide rather than unite Australians…
“Anti-discrimination laws at a state and federal level protect people from discrimination based on their ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability or age...Alongside these laws, health and safety laws protect people from bullying in the workplace, which can often be the result of personal prejudice but expressed in racial or religious terms.
“The proposed religious discrimination law would override all these existing state and federal laws. It would strip Australians of many of the rights they currently enjoy and put the clock backwards.” [Source: SMH]
The Bill will have unacceptable impacts on employment, the provision of healthcare, and the protection of vulnerable groups. The Australian Medical Association has said it would harm patients’ rights to access healthcare, and risk patients foregoing medical care for fear of judgment by health care providers.
This would have a significant impact on people in our community.
There is also a significant risk that the final Bill could directly impact Council as an employer, as well as our contractors, suppliers, partners and service users.
Professor George Williams, Dean of Law at the University of New South Wales, has said the Bill “allows people to rely on their religious beliefs to make statements that humiliate or intimidate others in the workplace, in school, on public transport or in any setting”. [Source: The Australian]
This could make it difficult for Council to manage employee conduct inconsistent with our values of respect and integrity, and our community vision for the Inner West as “an inclusive, vibrant, caring and progressive community where everyone is welcome”. [Source: Inner West Community Strategic Plan]
For example, Equality Australia has stated the proposed laws may protect a boss or colleague who says to other employees at work:
- “Menstruating women are unclean”
- “Homosexuality is a sin”
- “Prayer can cure your disability”
- “Every child should have a mother and a father who are married”
- “God made only men and women”
- “People who don’t believe in Jesus can’t get into Heaven”.
The Bill could also create conflicts with Council’s Code of Conduct, which prohibits harassment and discrimination.
Council has a clear obligation to oppose the Bill in its present form to protect our residents and Council staff from its discriminatory impacts.
Attachment 1: Equality Australia Freedom from Discrimination Statement
Every Australian deserves protection from discrimination, no matter who they are, what they believe, or whom they love.
No belief (religious or not) should overwhelm the right of a person to live, study, work, and access healthcare with dignity. It’s important that people of faith are protected from discrimination, but parts of the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill are not like other pieces of anti-discrimination legislation. No one should have a licence to discriminate against others, whether they claim to be motivated by their religion or not. The draft law overrides long standing federal and state anti-discrimination laws and privileges religious views over the rights and interests of other Australians. Our organisations are made up of their best assets, people. We want to ensure that staff feel safe in their workplaces, regardless of their faith, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
Our laws must reflect our values as Australians - of fairness and equal opportunity for all. But a law that winds back hard-fought protections for LGBTIQ+ people, women, people with disability, and others is not the way.
The proposed Religious Discrimination Bill threatens safe and inclusive workplaces, schools and services, and privilege individual religious beliefs over the rights of patients.
We support fair and equal discrimination laws that unite, rather than divide, the community.