Draft religious freedom legislation released

Draft religious freedom legislation released

After a long consultation process, the Attorney-General Christian Porter has released a draft version of the religious freedom legislation.

Large businesses with a turnover of more than $50 million a year would not be able to restrict their employees from expressing their religious views outside work, unless the business can prove this will cause “unjustifiable financial hardship,” under the proposed laws.

The legislation will not protect people of faith from being fired from their job if their employer could demonstrate that their statements had damaged the organisation’s brand in a material way.

“The laws will protect people from being discriminated against, but will not give them a licence to discriminate against other people,” Mr Porter said.

Federal cabinet has signed off on the new anti-discrimination laws. The legislation is expected to be introduced into the parliament shortly, which is set to resume sitting in September.

The government will consult other parties as to the shape of the legislation. Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has previously indicated that Labor will work with the government on the legislation.

LGBTI activist groups have expressed concerns that the legislation will negatively impact upon queer Australians.

Churches are already exempted from a wide variety of anti-discrimination laws, including as it regards hiring staff. The Uniting Church has previously lobbied to remove this provision from anti-discrimination law.

The draft legislation does not address whether or not religious schools should continue to have the right to expel students or fire staff on the basis of sexuality, a matter that is currently being considered by the Australian Law Reform Commission.

The religious discrimination bill was a recommendation of the Ruddock review into religious freedom. Australia currently has no explicit federal laws that protect religious freedom (although anti-discrimination laws are in place). That review was instigated by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in response to concerns expressed by members of the government over same sex marriage legislation.

At a hearing with the Expert Panel held as part of this inquiry, the National Director of UnitingCare Australia, Claerwen Little, said the Uniting Church opposed all forms of discrimination.

“Our agencies are open to all regardless of their race, religion or sexual preference,” Ms Little told the panel chaired by Philip Ruddock.

“As an Assembly agency and as the Church, we don’t discriminate in the way we employ our staff, or recruit our carers or with what we do in service,” said Ms Little.

The full draft of the legislation is available on the Attorney-General’s website.

Jonathan Foye is Insights’ Editor

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