SAGE has been busy, with co-founder Norrie speaking and marching at rallies and co-founder Tracie O’Keefe lobbying politicians to stop the dangerous proposed Religious Discrimination Bill which contains clauses that would allow religious people and groups to discriminate against people from sex and/or gender diverse communities.
SAGE members have not voiced any objections to people of religious persuasions being protected in law against discrimination because of their beliefs. Indeed, some of our members belong to a selection of religions.
However, what is a private belief should not allow religious individuals or groups to discriminate against others including refusing services, medical care, hospital care, education, employment and age-related services.
Consultation on the Second Exposure Draft closed on 31 January 2020 for public submissions.
SAGE put in yet another consultation document. And now the government will formulate its final proposed bill to be presented to parliament.
Minister Porter for the Attorney General’s Office indicated to SAGE that it would not budge on the included discriminatory clauses that will adversely affect sex and/or gender diverse people and groups.
It can be seen in reviewing the difference between the First and Second Exposure Drafts of the bill that the AG’s office only paid attention to previous submissions from religious groups and ignored civil rights groups and their submissions.
What’s more, the original Religious Freedom Review recommended that it did not see the need for standalone Religious Discrimination Bill as no religions were prohibited in Australia.
It seems, however, that the Prime Minister Scott Morrison privately promised his religious block-voting supporters that he would introduce laws that would allow them to discriminate against the public and did not declare that in his election campaign. So, to get that block-voting support at the next election he must now publicly be seen to fulfil that private promise.
Responses from politicians
SAGE approached all Senators.
Coalition senators rarely responded but some far right senators did respond saying how they fully supported the bill. One even responded with no mentioning of the bill at all, simply saying he had been elected on a business platform and it was nothing to with him.
So, it is clear that the coalition Senators are unlikely to break ranks and go against Scott Morrison’s agenda.
The Greens have clearly indicated that they will vote the bill down as the coalition are adamant on including the clauses that allow religious people to discriminate against sex and gender diverse groups. They are also clear that the clause in the Sex Discrimination Act that allows religious people to exclude sex and/or gender and sexually diverse people should be removed.
Labor, which has been publicly accused of sitting on the fence on this bill and not engaging in public debate, have taken their own position.
Antony Albanese, the opposition leader, had indicated that he supported laws that protect people against religious discrimination. At the last election Labor lost big time in Western Sydney to the coalition so since then he has been meeting with religious leaders. He has, however, stated that Labor will not support the removal, destruction or watering down by federal law of state laws that protect sex and/or gender diverse groups of people.
The problem with Labor’s position, however, is that it does not recognise the wide range of scope in the bill to discriminate against anyone at any time in the name of religion. The bill in itself is a deeply flawed piece of human rights legislation.
There is a possibility that some coalition Senators who are gay or who have family members who are sex, gender or sexuality diverse may cross the floor and vote against the bill should it go to the vote in the senate.
The king pin of the bill’s success will, however, clearly be Labor’s position. Will they stand up to the scope of discrimination against the public by religious people in the bill and vote it down?
The religious scope for discrimination also includes discrimination against unmarried women, women who have had abortions, women who are taking the birth pill, people from other religions and cultures and people who are disabled. It is a deeply anti-feminist bill as well.
Or will labor, as they are presently doing, try not to alienate the religious block vote by negotiating deals with the coalition which will probably mean throwing some civil rights groups under the bus.
Independent senators are wild cards who often tend to vote in exchange for compensation for their constituents, such as jobs or hospitals, and are often not voting on morals or human rights grounds.
So, they can never be counted on for votes until the reckoning. Jackie Lambie, who has not declared a position, states she is against the watering down of Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws in any way. Even Pauline Hanson of the One Nation Party has warned against the danger of allowing extreme religious groups off the lead. [Note: SAGE does not endorse the views or policies of oppressive far right parties].
Where to from here?
The difficulty of negotiating the terrain of the public mood is that the government is not releasing many of the submissions made to the Attorney General’s Office. Either it is playing a dangerous game of controlling the debate or some of the groups that have made submissions have specifically asked for their submission not to be released publicly.
Legally the bill is profoundly flawed. It is full of loopholes that will allow religious people and groups to discriminate against sex and/or gender diverse people and other groups.
As it is, it cannot be fixed so it complies with Australia’s international human rights commitments, while satisfying the religious right.
While SAGE supports the protection of the human rights for religious people, since the bill is impossible to fix, our position is to have the bill struck down.
There is also the probability that this bill may go to a senate enquiry or it may never reach the senate floor at all. The latter, however, is unlikely as Scott Morrison is constantly trying to appease his right-wing religious voters who he sees as his support stronghold, being Pentecostal himself and displaying traits of homophobia, intersex phobia and transphobia.
We understand that Labor does not want to alienate the religious voters. However, many religious leaders do not believe this bill will give equality in Australia.
In reality the bill needs to be scrapped and religious protection needs to go back to the drawing board.
In Sydney the Lord Mayor Clover Moore has made it clear the bill would be unworkable and unwelcomed.
In Victoria the Andrews’ government says it would make the banning of conversion therapy difficult.
In the opinion of SAGE, this bill has so many opportunities to discriminate against sex and/or gender diverse groups and people that is it not rescuable.
Therefore, we ask Labor and other Senators to strike the bill down.