Religious Discrimination Bill- Update
December 2019 | News | Anne Robinson
The Federal Government has signalled its intention to implement a suite of bills designed to protect religious freedom in Australia (Bills), pursuant to recommendations of the Government’s Expert Panel on Religious Freedom (the Religious Freedom Review) made in 2018.
- set out a statutory prohibition of discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity in various community settings and exceptions to these prohibitions (the Religious Discrimination Bill); and
- set out clarifying amendments to Federal human rights laws – most notably, an amendment to the Charities Act 2013 (Cth) to clarify that the advancement of traditional marriage is not in and of itself disqualifying (the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill).
The Bills were released in exposure draft form on 29 August 2019 (Initial Draft). Consultation on the Initial Draft was open to the public until 2 October 2019. Approximately six thousand submissions were received by the Government, with many of these submissions providing constructive feedback on the shortcomings of the Initial Draft. Notably, many faith-based community groups expressed concerns that religious organisations that primarily engage in “commercial activities” would be excluded from the exceptions in the Bills, by virtue of their exclusion from the Religious Discrimination Bill’s definition of “religious body”.
In response to the feedback received regarding the Initial Draft, the Government has revised its timeline for passage of the Bills, and is now expected to introduce the Bills to Parliament at the beginning of 2020, rather than at the end of 2019 (as was originally planned). A final exposure draft of the Bills (Final Draft) is set to be released by the Government by the end of 2019. The Government, through a media release from the Prime Minister dated 30 November 2019, has suggested that it will provide the public with an opportunity to respond to the revisions made to the Bills in the Final Draft through another round of consultations.
The Attorney-General has already indicated that the protections provided in the Initial Draft to religious bodies in relation to employment are to be extended to religious hospitals and aged care providers in the Final Draft. Other changes to the Bills may also be forthcoming.
We are encouraging organisations to continue to advocate on the drafting of the Bills to ensure the Government is aware of the views of all those affected by the proposed legislation. If you need our assistance or would like to explore this issue further, please contact Anne Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Peter Wilson at email@example.com.