Tasmanian response to religious discrimination legislation criticised

Tasmanian LGBTI equality advocates say they are disappointed the state government has not condemned the federal government’s proposed override of the state’s gold standard Anti-Discrimination Act.

Last month, Federal Attorney-General, Christian Porter, sought submissions on his draft Religious Discrimination Bill which overrides the Tasmanian Act by allowing humiliating and intimidating conduct in the name of religion. However, the State Government refused to give a position on the issue.

Equality Tasmania spokesperson, Charlie Burton, said it was disappointing the Tasmanian government was not actively working to preserve the state’s laws.

“The State Government should be standing up for those vulnerable minorities whose legal protections are threatened.”

“It should also be defending the right of Tasmanians to make our own gold-standard human rights laws without Canberra dragging us backwards.”

Burton urged the Government to reconsider its public position and condemn the override.

Tasmania is considered to have the strongest anti-discrimination laws in Australia because their legislation specifically prohibits conduct that offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules on the basis of attributes including age, sex, race and disability. Other states do not explicitly list all of the behaviours.

Concern about the proposed federal anti-discrimination laws overriding the state laws has not just been voiced in the LGBTIQ community, there has been widespread condemnation of the proposal for many sectors.

Tasmania’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Leanne McLean, told the ABC that overriding the state’s laws could pave the way for a person to legally tell a child with a disability they were suffering divine punishment if they were being bullied. McLean also warned a service provider might be able to legally reject a plea for help from a young unmarried mother on the basis she was “living in sin and not worthy of support”.

Tasmanian’s Attorney General Elise Archer has not released the state’s submission to the legislative review and her public comments have rights advocates worried that she is supporting the watering down of the laws. Archer said she has discussed the legislation with federal counterpart Christian Porter, but has revealed little about what the state’s position is.

“Importantly, we believe any law must strike the right balance between providing protection from discrimination and unlawful conduct, while still allowing for the responsible expression of beliefs, public debate and discussion on important issues.” Archer told the media, the Attorney General however would not state if she believed the proposal for Canberra had “struck the right balance”.

OIP Staff