Defeating a deeply flawed Religious Discrimination Bill

Defeating a deeply flawed Religious Discrimination Bill

Our determined and collaborative advocacy helped defeat the Morrison Government’s highly contested Religious Discrimination Bill, which would have wound back hard-fought human rights protections.

Following the successful campaign for marriage equality, some religious organisations called for greater rights for ‘religious freedom’ under Commonwealth law. The Government’s 2018 Religious Freedom Review was followed by proposed legislation for a Religious Discrimination Act.

The Morrison Government released three attempts at a draft Bill, with the final introduced into Parliament in late 2021. Each version was roundly criticised by human rights groups for giving religious groups special powers to discriminate, overriding existing human rights protections. The rights of women, people with disability, single parents and LGBTQI people were particularly at risk.

We were a leading voice of expertise in the debate. While we supported (and continue to support) the right to be protected against discrimination based on religious belief, we saw the Bill had potential to undermine Australia’s anti-discrimination framework and cause great harm.

We gave clear and accessible advice to community members and decision-makers, unpacking the wide-reaching effects of the proposed laws. Our analysis explained complex interactions with State and Territory laws, the threat to existing discrimination protections and Constitutional law issues. We hosted a public forum, bringing together experts from ACON, the Women’s Electoral Lobby, the Uniting Church and the legal community, to explain the Bill’s implications for human rights across the community.

Our work supported others opposed to the Bill’s detrimental impacts, including church groups, disability representative organisations and the LGBTQI+ community.

Our own public advocacy was extensive. We briefed MPs and senators on all sides of politics: outlining problems and proposing solutions. We sent an open letter, urging MPs to protect the rights of LGBT students in religious schools. Our submissions and appearances to parliamentary inquiries were cited extensively in committee reports. Our comments and analysis featured widely across mainstream and social media.

Persistent and compelling advocacy won the debate. Working with our allies, we swayed opinions in the community and in Parliament. Following amendments to protect LGBT students in the House of Representatives (passed by the Opposition, cross-bench and five Coalition MPs), and facing the prospect of further amendments in the Senate, the Government ultimately shelved the Bill.

Media coverage

The Guardian: Vinnies refuses to be ‘used’ to promote Coalition’s new religious discrimination bill, 11 December 2019

Sydney Morning Herald: Do unto others? Power of religions to discriminate must have limits, 12 December 2019

Mamamia: Exactly what Australians would be allowed to say and do if the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed, 16 December 2019

The Guardian: Religious discrimination bill: what will Australians be allowed to say and do if it passes?, 14 December 2019

Lawyers Weekly: Provisions of Religious Discrimination Bill too ‘severe’, human rights commissioner says, 28 January 202

SBS Radio: Faith-based organisations concerned religious discrimination bill could hamper their work, 11 February 2020

Buzzfeed: Could It Get Easier For People To Say Yuck Stuff About Women In The Workplace? Attorney-General: No, Lawyers: Yes., 2 March 2020

Sydney Morning Herald: Religious Discrimination Bill still discriminates against many, despite removal of Folau clause – by Alastair Lawrie, 17 November 2021

ABC Radio National Drive: The contentious Religious Discrimination Bill has been released but will it override current anti-discrimination laws?, 23 November 2021

The Guardian: Labor offers conditional backing to Coalition’s religious discrimination bill, 4 February 2022

ABC online: Disability advocates worried religious discrimination bill will lead to more discrimination in Australia, not less, 7 February 2022

Lawyers Weekly: Legal groups call for rejection of Religious Discrimination Bill in its entirety, 7 February 2022

2SER The Wire: Politicians debate Religious Discrimination Bill, 8 February 2022

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