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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012

FORSYTH, Bishop Robert, Member, Campaign Committee, Freedom 4 Faith

PIETSCH, Mrs Chelsea, Executive Officer, Freedom 4 Faith


CHAIR: Welcome. We have your submission before us, which we have numbered 447. I am going to ask you to talk about your submission to us for a few minutes and then we will go to questions.

Bishop Forsyth : We are very thankful for the opportunity to appear before the Senate committee. Thank you very much for the time you have taken to read our submission and interact with us. We do not take that privilege lightly. We are a new body established to represent Christian churches and other faith based organisations on a single issue, religious freedom in Australia today. It is concerns about religious freedom that dominate our submission and some of the misgivings we have about aspects of the draft legislation. We have not really criticised; we have tried to provide suggestions to spell out some of the ways in which we believe the bill may be significantly improved.

Our concerns are under two broad headings. The first heading is the question of an expansion and range of the anti-discrimination law in the bill and its effect upon religious and other not-for-profit organisations, which may be unintentionally unhelpful. There are a number of things that it does expand. As you know, the attributes are larger. The threshold is lower—treating someone unfavourably, including, controversially, offending or insulting someone on the basis of a protected attribute. We also are concerned, as you know, that the reach is expanded to any person connected with any area of public life, which we believe is unhelpfully widely defined.

These three impacts, we believe, may lead to a deleterious effect upon freedom of speech and freedom of association. We fear it is an overreach of federal law into public, semi-private and casual life—sporting life and other things; that part of life which is neither fully intimately private, nor public in the strong sense of the word, in which a great deal of society has developed. We also believe it is in danger of imposing a significant burden upon religious and not-for-profit organisations in nuisance claims, defending claims and general regulatory burden at a time of increasing remarkable regulatory burdens happening at the moment. That is our first general concern.

The second concern is about how we talk about what I have commonly called exemptions. We continue to hold the view that, in a diverse society such as ours, it is important that genuine good faith and conscientious belief be protected and that institutions and communities be able to regulate their affairs in accordance with such beliefs and standards lawfully.

You will notice that we argue in our paper that putting the issue in terms of exemptions for religious institutions is not helpful. Rather, we think we should approach it in terms of a right to religious freedom: not simply an individual's right but also the rights of institutions and communities, which also needs to be protected positively and balanced against other rights. We think the present shape of the so-called exemption is misleading, for to many it looks as though religious organisations are seeking to somehow not have antidiscrimination law apply to them, or to justify what otherwise would be blatantly unlawful discrimination—that is not the case. We believe that these exemptions, as they are called, are necessary to give expression to other fundamental human rights such as freedom of religion, association and cultural minorities—for example, the kinds of rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. You will notice we have made some suggestions as to how that might more accurately express the purpose of the exemption in a more positive way. The same applies to other organisations—political parties, sporting clubs. There is a whole range in which the language 'exemption', though I see why it is there, is unhelpful educationally.

To summarise our complaint with the bill in one simple point, without being too simplistic, I fear it is misnamed in its draft form. It is called the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill. It is our belief that it is only the second part that is getting the main run—antidiscrimination—and that if it is going to be true to its name it needs a more adequate balancing of other human rights with proper antidiscrimination rights, like freedom of speech, cultural association and so forth. To sum up, as we say in our own submission, notwithstanding the positive elements of the bill and our support of the general process and the goals of the bill, we do not think it as yet strikes the appropriate balance between different human rights, and therefore may reduce social cohesion and unnecessarily seek to regulate areas of voluntary association and activity. That is why we have made proposals for various changes.

CHAIR: I have not ended the conversation with the committee yet, but I am keen to pursue along similar lines to those Senator Brandis was pursuing this morning—that is, the exemption for religious organisations, which at the moment are from employment and services. As one trained in a Catholic teacher's college and having taught in a Catholic primary school for a number of years I can vaguely understand but maybe not accept the exemption for employment. I understand that if you are running a Catholic college or an Anglican senior girls' school you would want people of that faith, predominantly, in front of the students you are teaching.

I want to leave that area alone. I am not inclined to think that there need to be changes there. But I want to ask now about not exempting religious organisations from the provision of services. We have seen a little wedge here in this legislation with aged care. What are your views about a total exemption in all services? That would predominantly mean schooling and education, essentially.

Bishop Forsyth : I was thinking about this. There are different kinds of services. The government of the state provides resources for religious institutions and other institutions by things like taxation relief. Then there is direct funding from political parties and schools because they want that kind of institution to be there. In those cases, I think those institutions need to have the freedom to become what they are. There is a general provision of services, like education, where you want a faith based player to be a player. They have to be able to be a player. So whatever is consistent with them maintaining their character is important. But where you are tendering for emergency relief for the Southern Highlands or something, the government, I suppose, could easily say, 'Here are the conditions; we want a tenderer who does this,' and the faith-based organisation, 'If it does conform to our doctrine tenets and is not going to offend religious sensibilities, we will take it; if we can't we will not.' As you know, it is not a general 'Do what you like'. It is not lawful for religious organisations to refuse services, other than where the exemption—discrimination, so-called—is that which conforms to our doctrine, and it is necessary to avoid injury to religious sensibilities. As to the implication that we can just simply cherry-pick: that we are free from the law here is not the case, and nor do we want to be. But we do believe that there are cases where, with some services of a controversial nature—and I will give you examples—

CHAIR: Well, let us talk about a Catholic school.

Bishop Forsyth : Do you mean the employment of teachers or about students?

CHAIR: You know: 'I am sorry, Mr and Mrs Smith, but we really cannot enrol your child in this school because they have not been baptised'—although we know that, these days, Catholic schools do take these children because—

Bishop Forsyth : Yes, I am not sure I like the policy—

CHAIR: in some areas their numbers are dropping—

Bishop Forsyth : but the question is, 'Have they freedom to do it?'

CHAIR: and any children are better than no children.

Mrs Pietsch : There is actually an interesting study that was produced on this by Carolyn Evans and Beth Gaze, where they looked at how many schools of a religious nature actually exclude children on that basis, and there are actually very few.

CHAIR: So let us get rid of the exemption for provision of services, then.

Bishop Forsyth : Well—

Mrs Pietsch : Can I shift from schools and talk about a different sort of service position?

CHAIR: Sure.

Mrs Pietsch : If we talk about provision of welfare for a particular organisation, naturally we all think that these services should be offered to anybody. I think we need to return to the question, 'What is the motivating factor of this organisation?' Many religious organisations are motivated by their faith to express good deeds and the love of their God to the community, and that is necessarily connected with a belief system and beliefs about a moral structure. So I think, on that basis, they need to be able to continue operating to uphold that key purpose because, without that, they are going to lose their motivation—their reason for being, if that makes any sense. Again, I think, in practice, not many people would turn away people from service provision, but we need to retain their right to uphold the integrity of that organisation.

Senator PRATT: Your submission says—and this example is in relation to aged-care:

The best way to ensure that everyone has access to such services is by ensuring a plurality of available aged care options, both faith-based and secular.

Can I put to you that, in this world where the government contracts out and makes packages available, there are vast areas of this continent where there is nothing available other than faith based aged care. Some of those institutions may have policies that are likely to discriminate; others do not, and they are happy to say, 'We don't want to discriminate.' But even if a religious organisation providing that aged care does not want to discriminate, they are unable to give their clients the reassurance that the antidiscrimination act would apply to them within their residence. So there are religious organisations who offer services who would like the reassurance of the law so that they can say to their clients, 'We meet our obligations under the antidiscrimination act.'

Bishop Forsyth : Could you just explain something? I am not a lawyer. When you say that the act does not apply, what do you mean? I do not understand.

Senator PRATT: That they are automatically granted a religious exemption whether they want one or not.

Bishop Forsyth : Under which section is that?

Mrs Pietsch : But they do not need to invoke that exemption.

Senator PRATT: They do not need to invoke that exemption, but how do their clients know?

Mrs Pietsch : Are you suggesting that they want to be able to give reassurance to their clients that they are open to all people?

Senator PRATT: Yes, and that in being open to all people part of that reassurance is that if an incident were to happen in one of their services where someone did discriminate, they would be able to say, reassuringly, 'You have access to anti-discrimination laws.'

Bishop Forsyth : I may be wrong here, but doesn't the freedom only apply to discrimination which is (1) engaged in in good faith: (2) conforms to the doctrine and beliefs and (3) is necessary to avoid injury to religious sensibilities? That still applies, doesn't it? In that case the law still applies—free for all, as I understand it.

Senator PRATT: Yes, because the Anti-Discrimination Act does not apply to organisations that have that exemption.

Mrs Pietsch : What is my response to that? Again, I would just re-emphasise that I think what happens in practice is very different from what the law might mandate.

Senator PRATT: Can I put to you the example of a transgender person who ends up in a faith-based hospital, who is referred there from the public system to the private system. They are denied treatment for their diagnosed gender identity disorder and denied access to their hormone treatment for the many months they are in hospital for treatment of a completely unrelated condition. That person currently does not have recourse under the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Mrs Pietsch : In all honesty, I do not actually see how that actually plays out.

Senator PRATT: That was the experience of someone I spoke to in hospital.

Mrs Pietsch : They do not have recourse to the medication that they need—

Senator PRATT: Because the hospital denied it to them based on the fact that, currently, within the act under the gender identity provisions: (1) that attribute is not currently protected and (2) because they are in a faith-based hospital, that hospital would have been exempt in any case. Frankly, it is exempt under the proposed laws before us.

Bishop Forsyth : Would that be because that hospital believed that whatever was happening was contrary to their doctrine and would offend their religious sensibilities?

Senator PRATT: That is correct, and that is despite the fact that this person was referred there through a government system and essentially had no choice but to end up in that hospital. There was none of the plurality of service that you speak of in your submission available to that person.

Mrs Pietsch : I can appreciate that that is a very difficult scenario. However, I also think it is a very difficult scenario when the government is dictating what a doctor or a nurse thinks about a particular procedure. If they genuinely have the belief that this is not for the benefit of the client, or their patient in this instance, then to make them offer a service that is contrary to their deeply held beliefs is very difficult. I feel for people who are in rural settings and where there are no other options. This is a clash that is occurring here.

Senator PRATT: A very profound clash.

Mrs Pietsch : But I do not think the answer is necessarily to say one right has to trump the other.

Senator PRATT: Except that you have a vulnerable person in hospital.

Mrs Pietsch : Of course.

Senator PRATT: They have no choice and you have a doctor who is exercising their ethical, their own moral judgement.

Mrs Pietsch : That is right.

Senator PRATT: But I ask you: who is the most vulnerable in that situation? I would say it is likely to be the patient.

Senator BRANDIS: That assumed vulnerability is the test, of course.

Mrs Pietsch : That is a very vulnerable position and I do feel for them.

Bishop Forsyth : If I could respond to that and also to Senator Crossin's remark about baptism in schools. I do not like the policy of baptism in schools nor the policy that you have just mentioned. It would not be the case if I had any say in it. Because of those kinds of cases—and I can make up others—I think the notion that therefore we should remove completely the right of an institution to say: 'If this is contrary to our doctrine and beliefs and offends our sensibilities we still must do it.' I acknowledge the problem; I am not happy with the problem. But the solution to say, 'Okay, therefore you can have no say, if it is genuinely in good faith'—and I do not mean trivial—I think that is not a helpful solution, if there are other deleterious effects, rather than just taking individual cases about which I am entirely sympathetic with you.

Senator PRATT: I put to you that that patient would not even have known that they were likely to be subject to discrimination, in all likelihood. I would really like to see the capacity for people to be able to opt out and not front up to a service that retains the right to discriminate against them, so that at the point at which they were transferred, for example, from the public hospital they would be able to say, 'I need to be transferred somewhere else.' They do not currently have that right because there is no transparency as to whether an institution is or is not going to retain the right to discriminate against them.

Bishop Forsyth : It is not a question of retain the right; it is whether on this particular case they want to discriminate on this particular matter. It is not a yes or no.

Senator PRATT: Except that someone needs to make that decision before they end up in that situation.

Bishop Forsyth : I see the point. I must say it is hard enough to get one's head around it, in preparation for this material, and in the press I have noticed a lot of trivialising of the debate. You are absolutely right, it is very unfair for someone to come into an institution and discover, after they are in there, that the rules are different than they assumed. I do agree on that.

Senator PRATT: Thank you.

Bishop Forsyth : I do not know how to solve it. I am not against transparency. And I think those of us in religious organisations need to be able to say, 'We're serious, this is genuine, this is not trivial.' At one level you are protecting our right to continue. There is a right to ask, 'Are we doing it properly?' I am happy with that—without the situation developing, though, where the courts or the state are now judging what is or is not true Catholic or Anglican doctrine. That's a mess you don't want to go down to!

Senator PRATT: Thank you.

Senator WRIGHT: I would like to follow up on that, on the example that the chair gave about the baptism and your response as well. In practice, that probably does not happen very often, but in the sense that actually is the nub of the problem. What we are talking about is a discretion, and potentially a very wide discretion because of the sensibilities. The question has to be: whose sensibilities? Is it an employee in the organisation who chooses, perhaps without particular authority, to act in an unfavourable way towards someone? And ultimately, potentially, the organisation will then defend their employee in terms of that service.

I will give you an example that was raised with me yesterday from someone who talked about a lesbian couple. One of the women was in a serious medical state in hospital, in a coma and seriously at risk. Her partner of 23 years in the country had been ringing to get information. She was actually down as next of kin and she was refused information because she was not a family member—the relationship was not recognised by the hospital. So that is another fairly horrifying and upsetting example. My understanding is that these sorts of examples and the way they impact on people's lives every day in Australia are not uncommon.

My concern is that having these general exceptions means that there is unpredictability and there is a great degree of discretion, which again, perhaps arbitrarily, affects people's lives when they interact with these services—leaving alone the fact that there are some situations where there will be no choice, where people will have to be subject to these services because there is nothing else available to them.

Mrs Pietsch : I understand, but I would think that those examples are quite rare. I agree that the situation you just described is a very awkward one and I wish it did not happen. However, it appears to me that the main issue that we would confront with this bill is the question of whether or not a, say, Seventh-day Adventist school can be set up to be a Seventh-day Adventist school. We talk so much about being a multicultural society with diversity, and these organisations are the very essence and heart of what it means to be a multicultural society. We can open up the policy so that it is available to all students, but effectively all our schools will then look exactly the same. I do not think we really want that.

I am part of the Lutheran Church. People might think we are unusual, but this is key to our central identity and dignity. The same goes for the Copts: we might think they have unusual practices, but if we were then to force them to open up their schools to all students they would not have a Coptic Church or a Coptic school. I think that would be to the detriment of Australia as a diverse nation. So we need to be really careful, I think, with these antidiscrimination laws, that we do not just elevate the principle of equality above all other rights but balance them. Yes, the principle of equality is fundamental and very important, but so is freedom of religion.

Senator WRIGHT: The principle of transparency that has been raised—if, for instance, you are suggesting that a school should have the ability to exclude any student, then it would need to be very clear. I do not know on what basis you say these things happen infrequently, because I do not know that you, with respect, would necessarily be aware of the people who are being discriminated against—

Mrs Pietsch : Sure.

Senator WRIGHT: whereas I guess, because of the people who are coming to me in relation to this inquiry, I am hearing about these things all the time. The difficulty would be perhaps where circumstances change. For instance, the parents of a child enrolled at a school may be together; but, if family separation occurs and perhaps one parent enters into a same-sex relationship subsequently—or if the school's policies change—suddenly that child's status in terms of their being welcome at the school might change. It would have an adverse effect on that child if the school were able to exercise this sort of discrimination. The difficulty is having transparency and being able to protect people from things that are occurring.

Bishop Forsyth : Senator, is your point about who decides that, or who is accountable for whether the action does conform to a doctrine, belief or tenet and is necessary to avoid injury to sensibilities? That is the criterion here, isn't it?

Senator WRIGHT: That is one of the questions, yes.

Bishop Forsyth : The case of the lesbian partner and an arbitrary decision would strike me as a failure, as not lawful on this criterion—

Senator WRIGHT: As a—

Bishop Forsyth : The one you mentioned about next of kin. I may be wrong, but I cannot imagine what injury to doctrine or belief there would be by letting somebody find out information in a hospital. That strikes me as an example of a breach—

Senator WRIGHT: I am hypothesising, but I would imagine that some religions would not recognise the legitimacy of that relationship as next of kin.

Bishop Forsyth : Telling someone how somebody in hospital is is not the same as endorsing their entire relationship.

Senator WRIGHT: No, but that's the question, isn't it? Why was that decision made and what would subsequently happen? What recourse does that person have if they wish to have that, if they wish to say they were being—

Senator RYAN: It is not much help in getting the information if you have a bigot on the other end of the phone. That is the problem.

Bishop Forsyth : Yes, that is right. I am not defending the bigotry.

Senator RYAN: Yes, I realise that. The law does not stop an idiot on the phone!

Bishop Forsyth : And I cannot see why they cannot complain and say, 'This is contrary to the law.'

CHAIR: Okay. We will go to Senator Brandis.

Senator BRANDIS: Thanks. Mrs Pietsch, before I go on, if I may indulge in an observation: I thought what you said before about the close identity between religious freedom and multiculturalism was absolutely brilliant. I have never heard expressed better. So I want to congratulate you on those sentiments.

Mrs Pietsch : Thank you.

Senator BRANDIS: I think they should be enshrined. It seems that multiculturalism is very, very popular among the Left until it comes to the question of religious freedom—

Mrs Pietsch : I am happy for—

Senator BRANDIS: and then all of a sudden it becomes unfashionable.

Mrs Pietsch : so long as people know what they are getting.

Senator BRANDIS: Bishop Forsyth, I want to go back to schools.

Bishop Forsyth : Please.

Senator BRANDIS: It seems to me that any religion has a fundamental right to protect two things: its doctrine and its practice or liturgy—what it teaches and the manner in which it prescribes that its adherents worship. I know you are an Anglican Bishop, but I myself am a Catholic, so let us talk about the Catholic Church. If a Catholic school were hiring a teacher and that teacher were to say, 'I think the mass is rubbish, I think transubstantiation is superstition—'

Bishop Forsyth : An Anglican, you mean, sir!

Senator BRANDIS: An Anglican! If that teacher said, 'Mass is rubbish, transubstantiation is superstition and I would say that in the classroom,' I do not think any rational or sane person would object to the Catholic school not hiring that man if he proposed to teach—

Bishop Forsyth : Yes, I agree.

Senator BRANDIS: something that was completely at variance with the fundamental tenets of that church's beliefs. That would not be discrimination, and it certainly would not violate any of the protected attributes in this case.

Bishop Forsyth : Any more than in your party, if someone professed a Marxist-Leninist doctrine. They may not last long in the Liberal Party under the same exemption.

Senator BRANDIS: Yes, indeed. My question is this: if it is uncontroversial, as I hope it is, that a church should not be obliged to employ in one of its schools somebody who would teach at variance from its liturgical or theological principles, why is that any different from a prospective teacher who would say, 'Well, I would propose to endorse homosexual activity in the classroom,' which would be to teach the students that what the church believes is a sin—rightly or wrongly—is not a sin and is in fact a perfectly acceptable behaviour? One might disagree with the church's teachings, but why is that any different from a decision not to employ somebody who would dispute the church's liturgical or theological teachings?

Bishop Forsyth : Your case is absolutely right. I am not here to defend any particular view on any behaviours, but if a religious community holds certain deeply-held views about what is right and wrong, and you want them to maintain their integrity, you cannot force them to hire people who disagree—whether rightly or wrongly—with that community's views. It is not for the government, it is not for me and it is not for the state to say, 'These are okay, but they are not'. Therefore, I do believe that other than what is consistent with good public order—I am not saying that it is an absolute right, we all know that—

Senator BRANDIS: And I do not—

Bishop Forsyth : But you are correct though, Senator.

Senator BRANDIS: Thank you. I do not myself see how it would be possible to say we had religious freedom in Australia if that right were violated. Of course, religious freedom is—apart from something that most people would say is a good thing—a constitutionally guaranteed right in Australia under section 116 of the Constitution.

Bishop Forsyth : If I may add: sometimes we have—and I put my tongue in my cheek—a too 'Protestant' view of religious freedom.

Senator BRANDIS: That is not a problem I have!

Bishop Forsyth : Perhaps not, Senator. What I mean is that we think of religion through the lens of personal faith and we say, 'You can believe what you like, we are not going to stop that'. But of course even in Protestant churches—and non-Christian religions, I might say—practice and community are not just add-ons. Religion is not just a private matter; it is to do with practices and community behaviours. If we have a too idealistic view that religious freedom is just freedom to think things and not freedom to practice things lawfully then I think we are in danger of destroying religious freedom and imposing, unwittingly, a very narrow Western view of religion.

Senator BRANDIS: Indeed, but it is not merely the freedom to practice either; it is also the freedom of the ministers of that religion—whatever religion it be—to teach its adherents—

Bishop Forsyth : That is what I meant.

Senator BRANDIS: what the principles of that religion are. And if they are to be free to teach the principles of that religion then surely in their teaching institutions they must be free to exclude from those institutions those who would teach against those principles.

Mrs Pietsch : That is right.

Bishop Forsyth : Of course, just as it would be the case in your own party. For it to work in our society, we have to provide oases on which you can do things which could not be done otherwise—in the clubs, religious institutions and political parties. Otherwise you are going to destroy the very good they are going to achieve, unless you provide that kind of oasis. That is what I think we are talking about.

Senator BRANDIS: I do not know if there is such an institution in Australia, but let us say for argument's sake that there was a suburb in one of the Australian capital cities where there was a high concentration of same-sex couples with adopted children, or children from previous relationships—so much so that they wanted to establish a school in which one of the social values being taught and encouraged within that school was the desirability of same-sex relationships. I would not think that the state had any business saying, 'You can't do that,' because that is a voluntary association which shares certain common values and which wants to educate its community in conformity with those lawful common values. I do not think that should be prohibited any more than a religion should be instructed that it must teach values other than the values of its faith.

Bishop Forsyth : I agree entirely, Senator.

Senator PRATT: I have a quick follow-up question to that. I think the discussion was quite useful, but we are talking here about ethoses that are very visible. When you enrol a child in a school or when you seek employment there, there is clearly a very visible ethos associated with that. I put to you that, when it comes to services that the government hands over to religious organisations, sometimes to contract, that that ethos is not necessarily visible to the consumer. Neither are they necessarily given the choice in terms of having access to the plurality that you talk about as being so important to our diverse society.

Bishop Forsyth : Wouldn't the answer there be that that is part of the conditions of the tender?

Senator PRATT: Yes, well that would be terrific, too. But currently they are not conditions of the tender.

Bishop Forsyth : The church or another body may say: 'I'm sorry; we conscientiously cannot provide abortions. We're not going to do it.'

Senator PRATT: But currently in religious organisations, having argued for the retention of exemptions, that covers the Baptist school but it also covers the Bridgeworks employment services, which were set up by the Sisters of Mercy. But any person walking through the door would never have known that.

Mrs Pietsch : But there are also lots of other employment services around.

Senator PRATT: Not necessarily.

Mrs Pietsch : Not necessarily, but that's—

Senator PRATT: No, I mean specifically not. You might be subject to it in terms of your capacity to continue to receive Centrelink services. Say your local job services provider refers you to an employment appointment at Bridgeworks Employment. You have no choice but to turn up to an organisation that is exempt from the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Bishop Forsyth : But it is not exempt from the act.

Senator PRATT: Yes it is.

Bishop Forsyth : No it is not. There are certain requirements under the act. It is not that the act does not apply; it says that a certain behaviour is not discriminatory in certain conditions. With respect, Senator, I do not think the language of 'exempt from the act' is right.

Senator PRATT: But you would be happy for the contracts given to such organisations, when it broadly comes to those kinds of tenders, to be part of a competitive tendering process—versus schools, where it is not a tender; once you have enrolled students you have access to that pool of funds. So you could probably distinguish and create a more transparent process for both scenarios.

Bishop Forsyth : I think it is not a question of changing this law, which we are happy with in general terms, but a better arrangement for the government. If they are going to hire Wesley Mission to do their employment, they might say, 'Here are the conditions; it's got to be this kind of a service.' And the organisation—Wesley Mission—can say: 'Yes, we can; this does not object to any of our doctrines. We agree to it; here are the terms.' Surely that is the way it is to be done.

Senator PRATT: I am glad to hear it. Thank you.

Bishop Forsyth : We are not claiming the right to be exempt from the anti-discrimination law. That is completely misunderstanding what we are saying. We believe a law should account for other rights, like the ICCPR, article 18—the right to freedom of religion, to practice it and to hold it.

Senator BRANDIS: You are saying that the law applies to you but you are the beneficiary of an exemption that the law itself provides for.

Bishop Forsyth : As, indeed, are social clubs and political parties and a whole range of things. The law does apply to us all. It is just that it applies in different ways to us. And in terms of implying that we have the right to just arbitrarily pick on people, I would regard it as unlawful, for example, for the Anglican church to withhold emergency relief services to someone on the basis of their sexual orientation. There is no doctrine in our church that holds that; in fact, to withhold such relief is contrary to our doctrines..

Senator PRATT: It might be a manifestation of the treatment people receive while they are being treated that is the problem.

Bishop Forsyth : So, it may happen, but it is indefensible, and it is not protected by this law.

Mrs Pietsch : If I may, I would just like to draw attention to a part of our submission where we actually question whether the language of exceptions is appropriate. It sort of flows on from what we were discussing. Obviously this is the standard form of protecting religious freedom in anti-discrimination legislation, but one of the proposals that we make is that that language of exceptions and exemptions is no longer appropriate, because there is so much hostility around it—people viewing exceptions as a political compromise.

So we have made some proposals to suggest that it should actually be built in to the definition of what constitutes discrimination. One of our key concerns with the bill is that, especially in its objects clause, it really does favour the right to nondiscrimination over and above other rights. That is particularly problematic when interpreting specific sections. We cannot help but feel that it would be interpreted in a way that is not favourable to religious freedom.

Bishop Forsyth : Perhaps I may add that this conversation has taught me something. But also, for the religious organisations themselves, the language of 'not exempt'—that you are outside the law—is very, very unhelpful, because we are not, and to say that we are might encourage the arbitrary and irresponsible behaviour we have heard about. We need to know also that where we differentiate on the basis of the requirements of our doctrine teaching an observance, that is exempt from penalty; that is all it is. Therefore, the language of 'outside the law' will foster the very problem you have raised, Senator.

CHAIR: I thank the both of you for your submission and for your ability to appear before the committee this morning.

Proceedings suspended from 11:31 to 11 : 50