Tasmanian groups express concern over Religious Discrimination laws

The Parliamentary Joint Committee of Human Rights has continued holding hearings on the proposed Religious Discrimination laws with a range of Tasmanian groups expressing their deep concerns over the legislation.

The committee is on its third day of hearings and spent an hour today listening to the concerns of Disability Voices Australia, Women’s Health Tasmania, Unions Tasmania, Equality Tasmania and the Multi-Cultural Council of Tasmania.

The committee is looking at the Religious Anti-Discrimination laws put forward by Attorney-General Michaelia Cash. It’s the third version of the legislation the government has developed. Tasmanian groups have expressed concern over the laws as they will override Tasmania’s existing state laws.

The representatives all said they shared the concerns outlined by the state’s Attorney-General Elise Archer. Archer submitted the federal bill appeared “to effectively invalidate the operation of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act”, including the provision banning speech that offends, insults or humiliates a person based on a protected attribute.

The Attorney-General said that if the federal law was introduced a person would only need to claim that their statement was a protected statement of belief and the state’s anti-discrimination tribunal would be forced to decline to hear the matter. The onus of proving that a statement breached the legislation’s threshold of being malicious, intimidating or threatening would lie with the complainant.

Speaking to the committee today Rodney Croome from Equality Tasmania said the state’s current laws had worked effectively for 23 years and suggestions they would be overridden by the federal government was causing fear for LGBTIQA+ teachers.

“We’re concerned about the way that Religious Discrimination bill will potentially override existing protections in Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act.” Croome said.

One group of people Croome highlighted who were concerned about the changes were LGBTIQA+ teachers working in Christian based schools, as they would likely have less protections if the new federal laws are passed.

“Those protections have been in place for 23 years, there are staff in faith-based schools for instance who are LGBTIQ+, who have been out in the workplace, who if this laws passes, if this federal bill passes, may well find they are walking down the corridor with a big target on their head, becasue suddenly it will be okay to discriminate against them in a way that it hasn’t been for over a generation.” Croome said.

Croome said research had shown that under the current Tasmanian anti-discrimination laws teachers felt much more secure in their jobs and Tasmanian school’s had a much better culture now than they had in the past.

Graeme Watson


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