Final draft of Religious Discrimination Bill released

PM, AG announce 11 changes to first draft, including allowing more religious bodies to make faith-based staff moves.

Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney says the respect given to faith charities in the revised draft "is an important model for the future harmony of Australian society".

By Stephen Cauchi

December 10 2019A second and final draft of the Federal Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill was released on Tuesday but it has failed to appease human rights and equality organisations, which have maintained their opposition to such proposed legislation.

However, Sydney Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davies – a critic of the original bill – has welcomed the new draft in his initial response.

The bill allows religious bodies, such as faith-based schools, to make staffing decisions to maintain “the religious ethos and culture of the organisation”.

The original draft bill was released on 29 August but came under fire from religious groups for not going far enough to protect Australians of faith.

The second draft of the bill, which was announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Attorney-General Christian Porter at a press conference in Sydney, has 11 changes compared to the original draft bill.

Under the changes:

  • Hospitals, aged care facilities, accommodation providers, and charities such as the St Vincent de Paul Society (“Vinnies”) will be added to the list of religious organisations able to make faith-based staffing decisions;
  • Religious camps and conference centres will be able to take faith into account when deciding whether to provide accommodation for a group;
  • Employer organisations will not be able to punish an employee for making a religious statement outside of work hours unless that statement has caused financial hardship. This rule also applies to qualifying bodies such as medical and legal boards;
  • Conscientious objection is protected. In a medical sense, however, such protection must only apply to a procedure and not an individual person; and
  • Associates of people of religion, such as spouses, are protected.

Mr Morrison said there had been 6000 submissions in response to the first draft.

“It’s about getting it right,” he said. “What I have noticed and been really encouraged by [is that] whether people are of a religious faith or not of a religious faith, there is a very strong view that religious faiths should be respected in this country, regardless of whether you hold one yourself.”

Human rights and equality organisations continue to oppose the bill altogether.

Among them is Equality Australia, which represents the interests of the LGBTIQ community.

“The revised Religious Discrimination Bill overrides discrimination protections for LGBTIQ people, women, racial minorities, people with disabilities and entrenches double standards that will divide our communities,” said Anna Brown, chief executive of Equality Australia.

“This revised Bill will immunise religious bigotry and entrench double standards which compromise patient health care, workplace inclusion and more.”

In contrast, Sydney's Archbishop Glenn Davies said he was “encouraged” by the bill.

“We appreciate the thorough way in which the government has approached this issue and takes seriously the deeply-held views of people of faith,” he said. 

“In particular, I am encouraged by a number of changes in the second exposure draft. The respect given to faith charities is an important model for the future harmony of Australian society. 

“Personal faith and the activities of religious communities touch so many areas of our lives.  As the Prime Minister has pointed out, we have laws preventing discrimination on race, sex, age or disabilities and faith should likewise be protected.  

“We look forward to providing further feedback on the updated bill.”

Public comment on the bill is open until 31 January 2020, with the Government expected to introduce the legislation to Parliament in the months afterwards.