Explained: What is Australia’s controversial Religious Discrimination Bill?

🔴 The act 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.

On Thursday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a contentious piece of anti-discrimination legislation called the “Religious Discrimination Bill” in the parliament’s lower house.

The bill, which in its current form is the third and final draft, aims to eliminate to discrimination on the ground of religious belief or activities.

The Religious Discrimination Bill, and associated legislation–which includes the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021–will ensure Australians are protected from discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity.

The timing of 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.

What does the Religious Discrimination Bill say?

Essentially, the act 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.

“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 says.

But the bill also allows faith-based organisations such as religious schools to hire and enrol people from particular faiths. The bill states that religious bodies can give preference, “in good faith, to persons who hold or engage in a particular religious belief or activity”.

It 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, 26 tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.”

Because of this clause, the bill has alarmed some LGBTQI groups and some legal experts who say that the bill will discriminate against gay teachers and students, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

It also reported that on the other hand, religious schools have welcomed the provisions of the bill for providing a clear national framework that will allow them to “proactively hire staff of their own faith, and create consistency by overriding patchy state laws.”

Criticisms

Some critics of the bill see it as a piece of legislation that is legalising hate, while some others are questioning the government and asking for proof that people are discriminated against on the basis of religion in the country.

One user on Twitter said, “If this Bill was actually about Religious freedoms, it would be called the Religious Freedoms Bill.. but it’s not. It’s the Religious Discrimination Bill, because that’s all the Bill is designed to do #ReligiousDiscriminationBill”.

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Further, there are also demands to protect gay students from discrimination. But Morrison has said that legislation related to that will take at least a year after the passage of this bill. “Gay students should not be expelled from religious schools and nor should gay teachers, who have been employed at those schools, be dismissed if they are gay.” Morrison said on Thursday.

Australian Senator Mehreen Faruqi posted on Twitter to criticise the bill and said: “Here’s Morrison introducing the religious discrimination bill today. Sickening from a guy whose government fails to condemn far-right extremism which targets Muslims. And who cosies up to the Modi administration which has made India a more dangerous place for Sikhs & Muslims.”

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