In December, the Liberals released a second draft of their Religious Discrimination Bill.
The exercise is a concession to the hard-right of the party, who want to push back against the result of the marriage equality plebiscite.
Religious organisations refused to support the original bill on the grounds it did not give them enough rights to discriminate when hiring, or to protect bigoted speech under the guise of religious freedom.
The changes have received praise from many of the same religious bodies including the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and the Greek Orthodox Church.
Labor says it is opposed to anything that over-rides existing anti-discrimination provisions but has refused to take a position on the bill so far.
The most significant change is to allow religious hospitals, aged care and disability care services as well as op shops, campsites and conference venues to discriminate against workers in hiring processes. Religious campsites and conference centres would also be able to refuse to hire out their facilities to clients on religious grounds.
The bill also extends the right to make discriminatory or derogatory statements, through preventing bodies that qualify professionals, for example doctors and lawyers, maintaining codes of conduct that restrict statements of belief on social media.
This is similar to the “Folau Clause”, proposed after rugby union player Israel Folau was sacked for posting “God condemns gays will go to hell” on his Instagram feed.
It bans large companies from restricting discriminatory or offensive speech that expresses religious beliefs, outside the course of someone’s employment.
Lastly, medical practitioners’ right to refuse treatment have been tightened.
Medical professionals will now not be able to refuse to provide treatment based on an individual’s gender identity, sexuality or religion.
However, they can still refuse to provide particular treatments on religious grounds across the board, including anything from providing hormone therapy, contraceptive provision, IVF, gender and sexuality counselling and antidepressant medication.
We need to oppose the bill—it will only encourage division and bigotry in the workplace and in society, and will embolden religious bigots to launch further attacks on LGBTI rights.
By Steven Kwon