National, News, Tasmania

Tas advocates fear religious discrimination bill will erode protections

Advocates have called on Tasmanian political leaders to speak out against the likely override of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act by the federal religious discrimination bill.

The upcoming new draft of the bill is expected to target Tasmania’s gold-standard discrimination law, allowing discrimination against marginalised groups if it is in the name of religion.

Although the latest version of the bill has scrapped the proposal to allow denying healthcare, along with the ‘Folau clause’ that would have prevented employers taking action against demeaning conduct, advocates say it remains an “unprecedented attack on discrimination protections”.

“Tasmania is a more tolerant and inclusive place because of our strong anti-discrimination law, and it is an act of human rights vandalism for the Federal Government to seek to override this law,” said Equality Tasmania spokesperson Rodney Croome.

Croome said other states’ anti-bullying laws would also be weakened by the proposed overriding federal legislation.

The largest proportion of discrimination complaints in Tasmania are from people with disabilities, who could become more vulnerable if a religious discrimination bill passes. 

“Too many people with disability experience humiliating, intimidating, insulting, and offensive behaviour towards us in the name of religion,” said Disability Voices Tasmania spokesperson Fiona Strahan in a letter to Liberal and Labor politicians. 

“People try to heal us by casting out demons or tell us our disability is because our parents were sinners.”

LGBTIQA+ people, ethnic minorities, women, and other marginalised groups would also be at risk of legal discrimination under the proposed new laws. 

Just.Equal Australia has also urged Labor, crossbenchers, and dissenting Liberals to vote down the bill, which could be introduced as early as next week.

Spokesperson Brian Greig said the bill contains wide exemptions allowing faith-based schools, hospitals, and aged care facilities to favour employees who “share their faith”.

“We are very concerned these broad exemptions could be used to discriminate against LGBTQ+ employees under cover of an organisation’s so-called ‘religious ethos’,” said Greig.

“With more states moving to prevent LGBTQ+ discrimination by faith-based organisations, the exemptions in the religious discrimination bill are potentially taking the nation backwards.”

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