“The federal government’s plan to prohibit religious discrimination is a welcome start, but more work is needed to avoid counter-productive and unintended consequences which may limit rather than strengthen religious freedom,” said Morgan Begg, Research Fellow at the free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.
Attorney-General Christian Porter this morning released the exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, which will expand federal anti-discrimination laws to prohibit “unfair” treatment of people of faith.
“Religious freedom is a natural human right which all Australians enjoy, it is not a gift from government. The only way to restore religious freedom in Australia is to repeal laws which impinge upon the free exercise of speech, association, and religion.”
The draft bill also proposes to override state anti-discrimination laws, which make a statement of belief unlawful.
“It is encouraging that the draft bill recognises the problem of state legislation in restricting religious freedoms. This is a good start that the federal government should build on.”
The draft bill will reverse the onus of proof by requiring “large” businesses to prove that compliance with a “discriminatory” employment condition is necessary to avoid unjustifiable financial hardship to the business.
“The reversal of the onus of proof is an unconscionable incursion on individual legal rights and should be removed from the draft bill.”
The draft bill will also expand the role for the Australian Human Rights Commission, including through the addition of a Freedom of Religion Commissioner.
“The Australian Human Rights Commission has proven itself to be illiberal and anti-democratic when deciding what is and isn’t acceptable speech. It should be abolished, not expanded,” said Mr Begg.
“The Australian Human Rights Commission must not have any role in defining what a legitimate religious belief or action is or is not.”
“State and federal governments all have a responsibility to restore religious freedom, and that means repealing laws which restrict freedom of speech and association, such as through repealing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and abolishing the Australian Human Rights Commission.”
The Institute of Public Affairs will be providing a submission to the Attorney-General’s consultation process before the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 is debated in Parliament.
“The government’s bill could have a range of unintended consequences. It requires thorough investigation and study. It should not be rushed,” said Mr Begg.