Australia

New religious freedom bill will 'immunise bigotry', LGBTQI+ advocates warn

Scott Morrison sings during an Easter Sunday service at his Horizon Church at Sutherland in Sydney, Sunday, April 21, 2019 Source: AAP

The federal government’s second attempt at drafting religious freedom legislation has been criticised by LGBTQI+ advocates.

LGBTQI+ rights advocates have warned the federal government’s redrawn religious freedom bill could “immunise bigotry”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter announced the new draft laws on Tuesday after the government’s initial proposal was roundly condemned by religious, business and community groups.

"This is a bill for all Australians," Mr Morrison said.

Mr Porter said the revisions were part of “a truly balanced and iterative process”.

But Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said the new bill would entrench double standards.

“I’m extremely concerned these changes make negative aspects of the first bill even worse,” she said.

“We can see a double standard being entrenched, in the sense that harmful religious views will have even more licence to intimidate people and will immunise bigotry.”

Ms Brown said while there has been “some improvement” in the area of health care, she worried the revised legislation “privileges religious institutions over every day Australians”.

“This is a bill that will divide Australians, rather than united us over the values of quality and fairness,” she said.

Attorney-General Christian Porter and Prime Minister Scott Morrison speak on religious freedom and gay students on Wednesday.
Attorney-General Christian Porter and Prime Minister Scott Morrison
AAP

Public Interest Advocacy Centre CEO Jonathon Hunyor said the bill could threaten people’s human rights.

“The latest bill does not address the serious concerns of groups across the community who stand to have their rights eroded,” he said.

“This bill will not help build a more inclusive and tolerant Australia.”

Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Janet Rice said the new draft represented “a Trojan horse for hate”.

What changes have been made?

Mr Porter said there were 11 major changes in the bill’s second draft, which came after submissions from “all sides” of the debate.

Most notably, the new bill narrows provisions for conscientious objection - the refusal to perform a legal role or responsibility because of personal beliefs - for health practitioners.

Conscientious objection will only apply to nurses, midwives, doctors, psychologists and pharmacists, where previously it applied to a much broader group of medical professionals.

It would not give health workers or aged care homes the right to discriminate against patients or residents based on gender or any other characteristic.

Any objection must be to a procedure, not a person, according to government notes.

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown.
Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown.
AAP

The new draft also aims to ensure charities such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, as well as religious hospitals and nursing homes, can hire staff based on their faith.

The so-called "Folau clause" remains, but has been narrowed.

The clause stops companies with revenue above $50 million from limiting an employee's ability to express their religious views outside work, such as on social media.

Additionally, religious camps and conference centres will be able to take faith into account when they provide accommodation to people.

The term “vilify”, which had no definition in the government’s first draft, has been defined as the “incitement of hatred or violence”.

Public submissions are open until 31 January 2020, with the government expected to introduce the draft legislation to parliament early next year.

Additional reporting by AAP

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