Religious Discrimination Bill frozen
Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney
Religious Discrimination Bill stalled by hasty amendments
We are deeply disappointed that the passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill has been stalled. People of faith have been waiting for this since 2018, and there seems to be broad agreement on both sides of the House that legal protection against discrimination on the basis of religious belief is necessary and long overdue.
It is regrettable that the passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill – which is about Religious Discrimination, and Religious Discrimination only – is being held hostage to rushed changes to the Sex Discrimination Act relating to students.
There have been claims that religious schools are harming trans and gay students and further claims that they want the legal right to do so. This is the opposite of what happens. Religious schools provide exceptional pastoral care to all students (which is one of the reasons why parents choose to send their children to these schools).
Many MPs seem to have given scant regard to how to protect those of religious faith and the positive contribution of individuals, churches and religious organisations to the community. Instead, the central intent of the bill has been overshadowed and derailed by the discussion of the exemptions section of s38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act.
As we have seen from hasty amendments made in the middle of last night, this issue is complex, which is why it was referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission to address. Nevertheless, if the removal of s.38(3) is the only means by which the Bill can progress, we call on the government and opposition to work together to resolve the technical issues and bring this matter to a resolution before the next Federal election.
People of religious faith in Australia, of all beliefs and backgrounds, deserve the equal protection that such a bill was intended to give. The benevolent religious organisations they have established and maintain also need the stability that well-considered legislation would provide. There is goodwill on our part to proceed and we call for a bipartisan approach that would progress this very important Bill.
Bishop Michael Stead, Chair, Religious Freedom Reference Group and Bishop of South Sydney
February 10, 2022