Religious Discrimination bill could face High Court challenge from states

The federal government’s new Religious Discrimination laws could face a High Court challenge from states whose existing laws would be overwritten.

When the Prime Minister introduced the latest iteration of the legislation into parliament this morning he highlighted that the current state laws in South Australia and New South Wales did not have adequate provisions to protect people of faith from discrimination. He also argued that some existing and proposed state laws went too far.

“The bill protects the fundamental right for religious schools to hire religious staff to maintain their religious ethos in accordance with a publicly available policy. This protection will be able to override state or territory laws which seek to interfere with that right.” the Prime Minister said.

Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws have often be referred to as the ‘gold standard’ in Australian law, but would be would back if the federal legislation comes into effect. The Victorian parliament is also currently considering legislation that would only allow religious bodies to discriminate in hiring if religious belief was integral to the position.

Victoria Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes has indicated a High Court challenge to the federal legislation might be an option.

On Wednesday Symes said it was still unclear what the federal government’s intention was, and she was awaiting more legal advice, but she wouldn’t rule out the potential challenge.

“If there are any attempts to water down the Victorian laws, which aim to protect people in organisations from being discriminated against based on their sexuality, their marital status, etc, then I will be very firmly opposed to any measures that do that.” Symes told The Age.

Equality Tasmania calls on Gutwein government to stand up for Tasmania’s laws

Tasmanian LGBTIQ+ equality advocates have called on the State Government to follow the Victorian Government’s lead and seriously consider a High Court challenge to any override of Tasmanian gold-standard anti-discrimination protections by the federal Religious Discrimination Bill.

Equality Tasmania spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said Tasmaian’s Premier Peter Gutwein also needed to speak up.

“We call on The Tasmanian Government to follow Victoria’s lead and look at the possibility of a High Court challenge, should the Federal Bill become law and weaken Tasmanian discrimination protections that have been in place for decades.”

“Premier Gutwein has already said he does not want to see the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act weakened and we are asking him to put that commitment into effect by taking every means possible including a High Court challenge.”

“Tasmania has more to lose than any other state so we should be leading the charge to the High Court.”

Croome said Tasmania would feel the biggest impact if the federal government’s legislation was passed.

“The Religious Discrimination Bill will have a disproportionate impact on Tasmania because we have the nation’s best anti-discrimination protections.”

“It will take away existing Tasmanian protections for humiliating and other demeaning behaviour, existing protections for LGBTIQ+ and unmarried staff working in faith-based organisations, and existing protections for LGBTIQ+ students in faith-based schools.”

“The Federal Bill stomps on Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act and spits in the face of the more inclusive Tasmania that Act has fostered.”

Graeme Watson

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