Submission to the second exposure drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bills

Anna Siddall

In January 2020, Mental Health Australia made a submission to the Attorney-General’s Department’s consultation on the second exposure drafts of the Religious Discrimination Bills. This submission built on Mental Health Australia’s initial submission responding to the first exposure drafts in October 2019.

The Religious Discrimination Bills package (also known as Religious Freedom Bills) includes three pieces of proposed legislation:

  • Religious Discrimination Bill 2019,
  • Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019, and
  • Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill 2019.

As in our initial submission, Mental Health Australia remains concerned with the potential impact of these revised Bills on the mental health of people who already experience high rates of suicide and mental illness, including the LGBTIQ+ community, women, and people with disability.

Mental Health Australia strongly believes no one should face any kind of discrimination. Any introductions or amendments to anti-discrimination laws should preserve or enhance currently protected attributes. Furthermore, any changes to anti-discrimination laws must not impinge on human rights. Consequently, Mental Health Australia strongly recommended Government does not proceed with its proposed Bills. Should Government proceed with the Bills, it is critical the revised Bills are again re-examined and subsections 8(6), 8(7) and 41 are removed from the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019.

Australians currently have federal legal protection for a range of attributes including race, gender, sex, age, and disability, in addition to jurisdictional anti-discrimination laws. The Bills would see ‘religious belief’ added as a protected attribute. Mental Health Australia believes people with religious beliefs should be protected from discrimination and the negative mental health outcomes stemming from discrimination. However, these Bills are an inappropriate vessel to provide such protection, and does so at the expense of existing protected attributes.

While intending to protect people who are religious and religious institutions from direct and indirect discrimination, the construction of the Bills confuses and minimises protections provided under existing federal and jurisdictional anti-discrimination legislation, and international human rights obligations. In addition to creating confusing legal situations which will require wasteful and avoidable litigation, the revised Bills will likely impact vulnerable people in a multitude of negative ways.

On top of discrimination contributing to poorer mental health outcomes, the Bills could make it easier for health practitioners to refuse health services on the basis of the health practitioner’s purported religious belief. Mental Health Australia expressed our deep concern about potential detrimental impacts for people seeking physical and mental healthcare, which in turn may reduce help-seeking behaviours.

Mental Health Australia strongly recommended in our submission Government does not proceed with the proposed Bills. Should Government proceed with the Bills, it is critical the revised Bills are again re-examined to ensure every Australian’s rights to access adequate healthcare and freedom from discrimination is not compromised by legislation that preferences religious freedom over other human rights.

Read the submission here

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