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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1104

Mr WILKIE (Clark) (11:36): The introduction of federal religious freedom legislation puts at risk the rights and freedoms already enjoyed in Tasmania. This is because the existing Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act provides protection to a number of minority groups, including members of the LGBTI+ community and people with disability. The implementation of federal legislation runs the very real risk of overriding these protections and allowing discrimination and hate speech in the name of religious freedom.

To be clear, I support religious freedom if that means not discriminating against people of faith. But, regrettably, reform is being driven in part by people who feel that they are persecuted if they're prevented from persecuting others. In other words, I'm deeply concerned that federal reform will allow for discrimination and hate speech in the name of faith, allow discrimination in employment by faith based organisations or allow faith based schools to teach that marriage is only to be between a man and a woman despite same-sex marriage being lawful.

Tasmania is the only state that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and relationship status by faith-linked organisations including schools, hospitals and charities. It is one of the few states that prohibits all hate speech without a religious exception, and it has the strongest protections against discrimination for minority groups. Frankly, Tasmania has the most to lose if this religious freedom bill goes ahead.

The Attorney-General has said reform is not intended to replace state laws. However, there's simply no denying that Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Act will be undermined if a religious freedom bill is passed. That would trample over the Tasmanian parliament, which has twice upheld the state's hate speech laws, and Tasmania's Supreme Court, which has found those laws to be constitutionally sound.

Moreover, federal reform is likely to impact any person or group that falls outside the sphere of traditional religious precepts, including LGBTI+ people, people with disability, single parents, divorcees and people living in de facto relationships. It will create a direct conflict between state and federal laws, which could allow people complaining of religious discrimination to sidestep state laws and practices. This would be inappropriate and would show a blatant disregard of the laws of the states and territories.

That's not the end of it. Reform has the potential to go beyond just the impact on state and territory autonomy. For example, it could sanction religious practices such as genital mutilation and forced marriage. Yes, it seems ridiculous to believe that this could happen in Australia. But federal reform without appropriate limitations does have the potential to lead to substantial persecution of minority groups. Consequently, the federal government must exert the utmost vigilance if it is to ensure that all people, not just those exerting their religious views and beliefs, are protected from discrimination.

To that end, the government could legislate for a positive right while still maintaining state and territory laws by, for example, importing article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights into Australian law. Article 18(1) says:

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.

However, if the government does decide to pursue this road and import article 18 (1) , I must stress the importance of legislating the equivalent of article 18(3) , which states :

Freedom to manifest one ' s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

This limitation would ensure the protection of all rights whilst maintaining the autonomy of state and territory laws.

In wrapping up, Tasmania has effective antidiscrimination legislation that protects minority groups from persecution and discrimination. It also protects Tasmanians from discrimination and hate speech on the grounds of religious belief and practice. To implement federal legislation that cuts across this would be reckless, counterproductive and potentially dangerous. Remember, any reform at this time should not be about advocating for one group of Australians against another but rather about moving towards a more inclusive and accepting society that promotes equal rights for all, not special rights for some.