Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison Thursday tabled a contentious piece of anti-discrimination legislation called the ‘Religious Discrimination Bill‘ before the lower house of parliament. The Religious Discrimination Bill, along with the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021, is meant to ensure Australians are protected from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity. The timing of the introduction of this bill, ahead of the federal elections that are just months away, is being seen as an attempt by the Morrison government to target religious voters.
The bill makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the grounds of religious belief or activity in a range of areas of life including work, education, access to premises and the provision of goods, services and accommodation. Section 4 of the bill says:
Discrimination is unlawful if it occurs, for example, because of a religious belief or activity that the person holds or engages in. It is also unlawful if it occurs because of the person’s association with someone else who holds or engages in a religious belief or activity, regardless of whether or not they themselves hold or engage in a religious belief or activity.
The bill also allows faith-based organisations such as religious schools to hire and enroll people from particular faiths. The bill states that religious bodies can give preference, “[i]n good faith, to persons who hold or engage in a particular religious belief or activity.”
Section 7(2) of the bill goes on to say that:
A religious body does not discriminate against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in conduct that a person of the same religion as the religious body could reasonably consider to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.
According to reports, this clause has sparked concern among LGBTQIA+ advocates that the bill would provide Catholic schools with the right to fire teachers or expel gay students in the name of “religious ethos.”
The bill is expected to be put to a vote next week in the lower house of parliament.