NSW Government suggests LGBTI discrimination by religious groups is ‘necessary’
The NSW Government, faith-based aged care providers and a right-wing lobby group headed by an openly gay monarchist and controversial broadcaster Alan Jones are among some of the groups and organisations arguing against stronger legal protections for the LGBTI community proposed under new federal anti-discrimination laws.
Over 3,000 public submissions have been received by a Senate Committees Inquiry on the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 introduced late last year by Attorney-General Nicola Roxon.
The Bill seeks to consolidate five separate pieces of legislation into a single Act and will provide federal protections for sexual orientation and gender and sex diversity for the first time. In its current guise, the Bill will also continue to allow religious groups and any businesses or services the ability to refuse to hire, or dismiss, LGBTI people on the grounds of that it “is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion”. The exceptions also allow religious organisations and schools to discriminate against unmarried persons, pregnant women and even “potential pregnancy”.
RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS 'NECESSARY'
In its submission, the NSW Government said it had “significant concerns” about the intentions of the Bill and opposed any attempt to change legislation that would block religiously-aligned organisations from discriminating against LGBTI people.
“The Bill expands the ambit of existing Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws in ways that will significantly impact on the operation of NSW anti-discrimination laws and the nature of discrimination protections in NSW more generally,” the submission states.
“Appropriate exemptions for religious bodies, including in relation to the scope of the ‘inherent requirements’ of a job, are necessary.”
Also opposing any changes to exemptions for religious groups is Anglicare Sydney, the Anglican Church’s community care organisation. Its submission pleads for the Federal Government to not discontinue exemptions for aged care providers, with those that receive public funding to now provide inclusive conditions for LGBTI clients.
“Our view is that religious organisations should be given the opportunity to outline how they believe such discrimination is justified or otherwise in the light of the fundamental freedoms of religion and association,” the submission reads.
In stark contrast to the views of Anglicare Sydney, UnitingCare – the single largest provider of aged care services in NSW and the ACT – in its submission noted its support for the inclusion of sexuality and gender identity as protected grounds for discrimination while also backing calls by Organisation Intersex International urging for the explicit inclusion of intersex people.
“Society expects the delivery of culturally appropriate aged care services to older Australians and should expect nothing less than appropriately responsive aged care services to older LGBTI Australians,” UnitingCare’s submission states.
“Religious groups should be no exception to the delivery of non-discriminatory aged care services in the community.”
LGBTI COMMUNITY UNIMPRESSED
Sydney MP Alex Greenwich told SX it was extraordinary to think the NSW Government supported the notion of teachers and students being dismissed from religious schools simply for being LGBTI and then having no grounds to claim discrimination.
“Religious schools get government funding and practice state-based curricula and LGBTI Aussies who want to teach at or attend them should not be barred just because of their sexuality,” Greenwich said.
“The bill should be about protecting those affected by discrimination, not those currently practising it.”
The likes of ACON, the National LGBTI Health Alliance and the Inner City Legal Centre (ICLC) have also all criticised the broad exemptions that will be provided for charities, schools, and mental health services run by faith groups.
“With the receipt of public funding, and the implicit authority of the state to perform government functions, these organisations should be subject to the same obligations as the government, including the obligation not to discriminate,” ACON noted in its submission.
The ICLC said it supported the inclusion of special measures that are used to redress disadvantage experienced by LGBTI communities and pointed to Tasmania’s recently introduced anti-discrimination laws.
“It contains relatively few exemptions but does include ‘genuine occupational qualification for a position that relates to gender’ but also ‘measures designed to promote equal opportunities’,” the ICLC stated.
Meanwhile, the right-wing lobby group CANdo modelled on America’s Tea Party and headed up by monarchist David Flint and talkback radio host Alan Jones as its patron, has claimed the Bill will impinge upon freedom of religion and interfere in matters of no concern to governments.
“CANdo submits that this bill is unacceptable and indeed outrageous and should be rejected in its totality, the government having no mandate whatsoever to introduce such a monstrosity,” the group states in its submission.
Image: NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell