LGBTI community welcomes Senate report into anti-discrimination
Advocates and activists from the LGBTI community have largely welcomed the recommendations of a Senate committee looking at the Federal Government’s proposed national anti-discrimination laws, with the committee suggesting religious exemptions be tightened for service providers, protections be strengthened for transgender people and that intersex people receive specific inclusion under any new legislation.
However, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee analysing the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 has also decided in its report to permit church groups and other religious organisations a full exemption allowing them to lawfully discriminate against LGBTI people, pregnant and unmarried women, adulterers or anyone else who may upset the organisation’s “religious sensitivities” when it comes to employment.
Groups will be able to get away with such employment discrimination if they clearly publish their intention to discriminate and on what grounds and then make it freely available.
'TASMANIAN MODEL' SHOWS WAY FORWARD
With the Senate report recommending the Commonwealth adopt “the Tasmanian model” whereby faith-based organisations are subject to the same anti-discrimination laws as other organisations when providing services, it could create a situation where private schools or aged care services run by religious groups will be able to discriminate against LGBTI people looking for employment while at the same time providing non-discriminatory services for students and clients.
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson, Rodney Croome, welcomed the committee's recommendations as a step forward but said Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus will have to go further if it is to match “the Tasmanian model”.
“In Tasmania, religious organisations are prohibited from discriminating in employment as well as the provision of services,” he told SX.
“In Tasmania, religious bodies are not permitted to discriminate against LGBTI people in any way whatsoever, and this has worked well for over a decade. I would be appalled if federal legislation took a backwards steps and allowed anti-LGBTI prejudice to have free rein in the workplace.”
Pressure has also come from the Greens who have called upon Prime Minister Julia Gillard to listen to her own MPs who sat on the Senate committee and turn her back on a promise she made to Australian Christian Lobby chief, Jim Wallace, that her government would not alter current religious exemptions. Wallace today has already warned Gillard to not create “an ideological soup” that will threaten religious freedom.
“The Australian Greens have always said current exemptions are unacceptable,” Senator Penny Wright said.
“Now we wait to see which it will be – will she take the advice of her own party or will she be beholden to an unrepresentative lobby group?”
LGBTI COMMUNITY URGES COALITION SUPPORT
NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby co-convener Justin Koonin told SX he was disappointed the Coalition had seemingly decided to not support the Bill despite giving its in-principle support for anti-discrimination protections for LGBTI people.
“The GLRL has long advocated for the removal of religious exemptions and argued strongly, including through the Senate Committee process, that this should particularly apply in the case of service provision, in places such as schools, hospitals and social service centres,” he said.
“With a majority of Australians backing equality for LGBTI people, the time is right to implement such reforms.”
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby convener Anna Brown told SX that the religious exemptions allowed for employment provided a better balance between freedom of religion with the right to be free from discrimination.
“In particular, people should be told if they are to be discriminated against so they can make an informed choice about applying for a job or buying goods or services,” she said.
“The proposal that religious service providers and employers publish their intention to discrimination encourages transparency and makes common sense.”
STRONGER PROTECTIONS FOR TRANS AND INTERSEX
Transgender and intersex groups were buoyed that their concerns were taken seriously by the Committee which has recommended the definition of ‘gender identity’ be amended and that ‘intersex’ be added as a separate attribute.
“The Government has said it was waiting for this report before it could proceed. Well now that the Senate committee has affirmed the importance of LGBTI human rights, the bill should be passed before the election,” TransGender Victoria spokesperson Sally Goldner told SX.
“[However] we urge the Government to ensure that responsibility for sexual orientation, gender identity and now intersex issues is vested in a particular Commissioner and this be enshrined in law, just as we have Commissioners for Race, Disability, Age and other areas.”
Organisation Intersex International (OII) said the report was “profoundly important” as it recognises that intersex is a “matter of biology rather than gender identity”, and reflects “innate biological characteristics”.
“The proposed changes to definitions are in line with best practice in Australia and will better protect intersex and transgender people from discrimination,” OII Australia spokesperson and Hobson Bay Councillor, Tony Briffa, told SX.
“It is pleasing all political parties see the need for these protections, and we urge the Parliament to pass this legislation well before the federal election.”
The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has also given its backing to the narrowed exemptions for religious groups and stronger protections for LGBTI people.
“The Committee has made 12 sound recommendations to improve the proposed bill and to ensure that it meets the aim of providing anti-discrimination laws that are clearer and simpler for consumers, employers and the general public,” HRC president Gillian Triggs said.
“If adopted, the Committee recommendations will ensure that an appropriate balance is struck between freedom of expression and the right to be free from discrimination.”
A copy of the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s report can be accessed here.
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