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Concerns over proposed religious discrimination law

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Media Release Human Rights Law Centre | For immediate release: Friday 30 August 2019

Concerns over proposed religious discrimination law

The Morrison Government’s proposed Religious Discrimination Bill fails to strike a fair balance between freedom of religion and the rights of other people, the Human Rights Law Centre has warned.

While the majority of the bill is similar to existing federal anti-discrimination laws, Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, expressed concern about unorthodox provisions inserted in what should be a positive reform.

“Australia needs stronger protections from discrimination for people of faith, but the current bill introduces unjustified carve-outs for people to express discriminatory views and to override state and territory protections which ensure fair treatment, particularly for women accessing abortion services,” said Mr de Kretser.

The Bill has provisions that would make it unlawful in some states and territories for health services to enforce government and professional codes of conduct that require doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion to refer their patients to another health service.

Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre and expert on reproductive health rights, also criticised the provisions.

“The bill will undermine women’s reproductive health. In some jurisdictions, like South Australia and Western Australia, it will allow doctors to abandon their patients. The bill unjustifiably prioritises a doctor’s personal religious beliefs over the right of women to access the healthcare they need.

“In NSW, the bill is likely to override a policy directive issued by NSW Health requiring doctors with a conscientious objection to take every reasonable step to help a woman access the healthcare she needs. The bill makes it even more important for the NSW abortion bill to have strong referral provisions. Without them, doctors who object will be able to obstruct vulnerable women by refusing to tell them where they can go to get the healthcare they need,” said Ms Walters.

The Bill would also limit the ability of employers to enforce codes of conduct that promote diversity and non-discrimination and will override state and territory discrimination laws in some circumstances.

“There is no justification for the Federal Government to override state and territory discrimination laws. This will limit discrimination protections for people and introduce unnecessary complexity,” said Mr de Kretser.

Mr de Kretser said the Human Rights Law Centre looks forward to working with the government to address the flaws in the bill and strengthen national anti-discrimination laws.

Media contact:

Roselina Press, Digital Producer, Human Rights Law Centre, 0478 170 742