Equality Australia concerned about Religious Freedom bill

Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown has voiced concerns about the latest draft of the government’s Religious Freedom Bill which was made public this afternoon.

Appearing on the ABC’s Afternoon Briefing Brown told host Patricia Karvelas that while some of the worst provisions included in earlier versions of the bill had been removed, there were still many areas of concern.

“It looks like, as we thought, some of the worst provisions in the bill have been scaled back, but some on the other hand some really terrible provisions remain. So we still have for instance the statement of beliefs clause which actually overrides existing protections for LGBTIW+ people, women, people with disabilities, and ironically – people of faith.” Brown said.

“It still doesn’t meet the test of our laws needing to protect us all equally.”

The latest iteration of the bill has removed some of the more controversial elements including medical practitioners being able to refuse certain treatments they disagreed with on religious grounds and the so-called ‘Folau clause’ that would have stopped businesses from employers from being able to regulate statements said by employees.

Brown said they was still concern about provisions which stopped qualifying bodies from taking action against members.

“That inhibits professional bodies from being able to regulate against professions in a way that ensures things like access to judgement free health care.” Brown said, noting that disciplinary tribunals would be limited in the action they could take.

Anna Brown said some of the sections of the bill looked like they were explicitly trying to override progress that was being made at a state level.

“It looks as though the government…is attempting to explicitly override progress being made in Victoria to confine the circumstances where discrimination is allowed by religious employers to situations where their religious is inherent or essential to the performance of their duties or their role.” Brown said.

When it came to the issue of LGBTIQ teachers being fired from religious based schools Brown said it was important to remember that this is allowed under the current federal sex discrimination laws, and even the expelling of students over their sexuality was legal.

“We have really broad carve outs in our Sex Discrimination Act, that aren’t being touched by this proposal. We of course would like to see change in this area and have been calling for change for a very long time now.

“What this bill does it to protect the ability of religious employers or religious service providers to discriminate on the basis of faith.” Brown said, highlighting the case of Victoria teacher Rachel Colvin who was forced out of her job because she was supportive of same-sex marriage.

Brown said the concern was not just for teachers and students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender – the bill would also continued discrimination of people who were allies of the queer community.

The bill which was first touted in the days following the announcement that the majority of Australians supported marriage equality has been described as essential to protect the growing discrimination of people who hold religious views, but Anna Brown says she thinks that belief is miscounted.

“I think the critique is very poorly founded, I think when you look across society, when you look at the mental health statistics, it sadly members of my community, its LGBTIQ+ young people and adults who are suffering shockingly high rates of suicide, self harm and depression, and these are the sorts of statistics that are driven in part by the kind of discrimination that is allowed in our laws. It’s that discrimination we need to tackle.” Brown said.

Brown said the latest bill from the Morrison government still contained disturbing provisions that overreach and override existing protections for LGBTIQA+ people, women and people with disabilities.

“I think the government’s gone too far with this one.” Anna Brown said.

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