On Tuesday, January 28, 2020 Drummond Street Services wrote a submission regarding the second exposure drafts of a package of legislation on religious freedom released by the government for consultation on 10 December 2019:
- Religious Discrimination Bill 2019
- Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019
- Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill 2019
We stated then that we were deeply concerned about these proposed reforms. In particular, we referred to the impact these reforms would have on our clients, their families, children, carers and loved ones who we provide support to every day, as well as our own workforce and the broader community.
We are now nearing the end of 2021 and the draft bill is still up for debate and is expected to be debated in the lead up to the yet to be announced Federal election.
Whilst the discourse concerning this current draft suggests it has been ‘weakened’, it continues to include measures that make it lawful to discriminate people based on religious beliefs. These statements of belief allow for individuals to make discriminatory claims that are currently exempt from anti-discrimination and equal opportunity laws.
We have seen clear examples of this, such as footballer Israel Folau who publicly expressed over social media that “homosexuals, adulterers, atheists and other “sinners” would go to hell”, or where people have been sacked from the job based on nothing else, but their identity or sexuality. Where is the ‘fair go’ or ‘fair play’ in this?
Despite the assertions that no LGBTIQ+ person will not lose their jobs, the bill does give licence to religious institutions to sack staff or refrain from hiring staff who are LGBTIQ+, or a myriad of other reasons, if it is claimed as due to religious beliefs.
We call out that this bill remains outrageously discriminatory and call on government members to oppose it outright. We know that the debate itself is damaging for many within LGBTIQA+ communities. The experiences of the shaming and divisive debates during the marriage equality postal plebiscite have not been forgotten. Revisiting this issue, particularly when some of the very same Members of Parliament express their concerns regarding community mental health rates due to the pandemic, now see nothing wrong with sanctioning discriminatory speech and behaviours. This bill does nothing to address the shockingly high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide for many in our LGBTIQ communities, particularly our young people.
Furthermore, religious institutions advocating for their rights to be ‘shielded’ from the anti-discrimination laws, would be better placed if they spent more effort in repairing their reputations and practices from their own long histories of harm and institutional abuse, rather than continuing to exclude and judge people based on who they love. They could also apply their advocacy and public funding to accord with their Social Justice credentials and actively call out discrimination, campaign for human rights and support those who continue to be marginalised, including from LGBTIQ+ communities.
If this bill becomes law, the outcomes will disproportionally affect those in our community.
Freedom and protection from discrimination have been hard won. This is not the time for bystanders, it is time for action.
“To make harmful, discriminatory comments under the guise of religious freedom is not only unlawful but will further harm communities that are disproportionally impacted by systemic oppression. Enabling discrimination by codifying it in law has been a long-standing form of patriarchal colonial oppression in Australia. It is time that we stand against this and ensure that our hard-won protections continue to be upheld by law and by the wider community.”
Paula Fernandez Arias, PhD
General Manager queerspace
For further information please contact Paula Fernandez Arias on 03 9663 6733.