Page 244 - Week 01 - Thursday, 10 February 2022

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we still have major concerns with it. Our submission went through the legislation in detail and made 14 recommendations. I will touch briefly on four key recommendations. In our submission we recommended changes so that the territory’s laws would not be excluded nor limited, particularly when it came to the religious statement of belief. Other federal discrimination laws do not seek to override state or territory laws, and neither should religious discrimination laws. This would simply be unprecedented.

We recommended amendments to prohibit vilification under the guise of a religious statement of belief. For example, ACT’s current laws can protect against a person with disability being told their disability is a punishment from God for their sins. If this statement meets the low threshold of a statement of belief, the new bill means that it could be harder for that person to bring a discrimination complaint in the ACT. We are also deeply concerned about the potentially chilling effect of the broad protections for religious bodies. In effect, they provide broad and unfettered protection to any kind of religious belief, even if extreme or unorthodox, so long as that belief is reasonably shared by one other member of that religion. There would be no requirement to show conformity with the general doctrines of a religion, unlike other sections contained in the bill. Instead, it defines a religious belief at an individual and subjective level. A religious body could simply claim that its conduct is in accordance with its teaching. This legal test is untested and unprecedented.

Finally, the proposed bills go much further than the ACT law, giving broader grounds and lower thresholds for permission to discrimination in employment in religious hospitals, aged care facilities and disability service providers. We provided several recommendations regarding this.

DR PATERSON: I have a supplementary question. Minister, what are the potential negative impacts of this legislation on the ACT’s LGBTIQ+ community and children?

MS CHEYNE: This debate about the religious discrimination bills has been particularly tough for the LGBTIQ+ Canberrans and their loved ones. If these bills are enacted as they currently stand, it will be even worse because these laws will override the ACT’s existing protections. It will mean that our laws will not protect everyone equally, and our LGBTIQ+ community will be particularly vulnerable. These laws will no doubt impact—and have already, no doubt, during the debate, impacted—the mental health of LGBTIQ+ Canberrans.

I was relieved to see the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act passed in the House of Representatives early this morning. However, we still should not be openly debating whether schools should have the right to discriminate against gay and transgender students. We certainly should not leave teachers unprotected, either. The current bill could mean that LGBTIQ+ teachers are fired because their school does not believe that their identity can co-exist with the school’s religious beliefs, or could mean that candidates with different or no religious beliefs are rejected, even when their religion had nothing to do with the subject they are teaching.

Our current laws can protect against a retail worker making homophobic comments about a same-sex couple’s relationship in the eye of God, or a psychologist telling her

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