RLC Submission: Religious Freedom Reforms – second exposure draft
RLC first made submissions to the Religious Freedom Bills (the Bills) consultation on 2 October 2019, detailing a number of our concerns. On 31 January 2020, we made further submissions on the second exposure draft of the Bills.
While RLC supports the introduction of protections for individuals from religious discrimination and acknowledges improvements to the Bills in the second exposure drafts, it is RLC’s view that, overall, the Bills remain deeply flawed. The Bills continue to favour religious bodies, health practitioners and individuals who make offensive, insulting, humiliating or intimidating public statements in accordance with their religious views, at the expense of protections for individuals from all types of discrimination. Some of the protections given to religious bodies have been expanded at even further expense to individual protections, ignoring important community concerns raised in the submissions on the first exposure drafts.
Health practitioner conscientious objection
Under the Bill, it will be lawful for a health practitioner to conscientiously object to providing a health service because of a religious belief or activity held by the practitioner unless to do so would cause an unjustifiable adverse impact on the health service or the health of the patient. Changes were made to the Bills so that a health practitioner will not be able to refuse to provide a health service to a particular kind of person, however the amendments as currently drafted do not reflect this intention. It is likely that fundamental health services will be harder to access for particular patient groups.
The Bills will allow certain religious charities running hospitals, aged care facilities and providing accommodation to make staffing decisions based on the applicant’s faith.
RLC's submission addresses the issues arising from the changes to the Bills as reflected in the second exposure drafts. Our submission raises serious concerns with the amended Bills and makes 14 recommendations, including:
- The definition of religious body should be limited to bodies established for religious purposes that operate places of worship, conduct religious services and ceremonies and provide religious education and instruction.
- Religious bodies should be required to demonstrate that conduct ‘is in accordance with’ or ‘conforms to’ the doctrine, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a religion, in the same way that is required with other discrimination legislation.
- The ability of religious bodies other than places of religious worship to ‘preference’, or hire into employment or admit a student into a school, persons of the same religion should be removed.
- The health practitioner ‘conscientious objector’ protections provisions in the Bill should be removed.