10 Things You Should Know About The Religious Discrimination Bill

10 Things You Should Know About The Religious Discrimination Bill

On August 29, the Morrison Government released a draft Religious Discrimination Bill. You might have heard people discussing it and wondered what it is. Law student Bianca is here to help.

If you’re interested in what the Religious Discrimination Bill is and what it means for young Australians, here’s a guide to get you across the detail.

1. What is a bill?

A bill is proposed legislation that hasn’t been passed yet in parliament. Currently, the bill is in the drafting stages, allowing it to be changed before sending it to be passed in parliament.

2. What is the Religious Freedom Package?

The Religious Freedom Package is the package of legislation that contains the Religious Discrimination Bill and two other bills, including The Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments Bill) 2019 and The Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion Bill) 2019.

3. Another anti-discrimination law?

While we currently have the Racial Discrimination Act and the Sex Discrimination Act, there is no single federal Religious Discrimination Act.

4. What are the aims of the bill?

This bill aims to eliminate discrimination against people on the grounds of religious belief or activity in areas of public life, such as in employment, and protects people who hold or do not hold religious beliefs.

This is particularly important as it ensures that a person can not be discriminated against for holding a religious belief, nor for not holding a religious belief, which promotes the idea that freedom from, and freedom to religion are equal.

5. Which parts of the bill apply to me?

As a young person in Australia, we’re often unaware of how legislation will affect us in our personal lives. The parts of this bill that may affect us most are Section 8 (page 10) and Section 10 (page 13). These are the sections relating to types of discrimination, discrimination in the workplace, and rights of religious health practitioners and bodies.

6. What type of discrimination am I protected against?

The bill protects you against direct and indirect forms of discrimination. A direct form of discrimination includes treating someone unfavourably due to their religion. This includes not hiring a Buddhist candidate based on their faith.

An indirect form of discrimination relates to seemingly neutral situations, such as requiring employees to work on Sunday mornings, but would limit an employee, such as a Christian employee, from practising their faith at that time.

If, however, the practice is shown to be reasonable, particularly in the case of indirect discrimination, the condition or requirement will not be found to be discriminatory. This exception of reasonableness is a common exception found in discrimination laws in Australia.

This would allow normal workplace requirements to be imposed even where it may disadvantage a certain group. One example includes the requirement to work at a specific location or at certain shift times, as it is considered reasonable for an employer to set rosters for their employees with specific work times.

7. How may this affect me as an employee?

The bill discusses the situation when an employer imposes an ‘employer conduct rule’ in a contract, which prevents an employee from making a statement of belief when not at work. The employer is prohibited from doing this unless this rule is to avoid unjustifiable hardship to the employer.

Let’s apply this to the Israel Folau case. When Rugby Australia sacked Folau for posting comments about his religious beliefs on his personal social media channels, under this bill, they would be required to show that imposing such a condition upon Folau was reasonable and justified. Under the bill, Rugby Australia must prove that if they didn’t sack Folau, they would have suffered financial hardship such as a decline in ticket and membership sales, or a loss in sponsorship.

However, if the employee’s statement of belief is malicious or likely to harass, vilify or incite hatred against others, then an employer is justified in imposing an employer conduct rule.

8. How does this relate to health practitioners?

Under this bill, if you are visiting a practitioner who holds certain religious beliefs, they are allowed to conscientiously object to providing a health service to you, such as the morning-after pill, an abortion, or gender reassignment surgery, due to a religious belief they hold, if it’s deemed reasonable.

Currently, practitioners in Victoria and New South Wales can refuse to perform an abortion based on religious beliefs they hold, but must refer the patient to a practitioner who will. However, this bill may allow practitioners with a conscientious objection to refuse to refer their patients.

9. How does this apply to religious bodies?

If a religious body like a church is acting in good faith—meaning they’re not acting dishonestly or in bad faith—and their conduct may reasonably be in accordance with their religious beliefs, their actions will be lawful.

Hypothetically, this would enable religious schools to have discretion in employing staff of a certain faith, if this was in good faith and reasonable in accordance with the school’s religious doctrine and beliefs.

10. What are the concerns about the bill?

There are various issues with these parts of the bill. It’s raised concerns that religious beliefs will be privileged over other anti-discriminatory rights people possess under the Racial Discrimination Act and Sex Discrimination Act.

If the bill is not amended it may result in vulnerable members of society such as women, members of the LGBTQI+ community, people living with disabilities, and ethnic minorities being negatively affected.

But the bill still ensures that people are protected against direct and indirect forms of discrimination in the workplace, and doesn’t allow for individuals to make statements of belief that are malicious.

So what happens next?

The bill is now in the public consultation period until the beginning of October. This is where submissions by various bodies will be made to amend any sections. From there, the government will review the submissions then it’s likely to be sent to a Senate committee. It is intended that this will occur and the bill be passed into legislation before Christmas 2019.

Did you know you can have your say on the bill? Send in your submission here. Submissions close Wednesday 2 October 2019.