Here’s Yr 5-Min Explainer On The Fkd Religious Discrimination Bill The Libs Just Introduced

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has personally introduced the government’s Religious Discrimination Bill in parliament on Thursday, which, if passed, would be a big blow for equality.

He used his speech to say the words “freedom” and “liberty” about 98 times, dig at cancel culture and “cowards” on Twitter, AND to say the bill protects the freedoms of people who have come to Australia to escape religious discrimination. A BIT FUCKING RICH for someone who continues to imprison those people indefinitely.

The third draft of the bill was unveiled on Tuesday after a three year wait, accusations of thumb-twiddling, a divided Coalition party room, and a hell of a lot of controversy and debate.

It hasn’t been passed yet because of division among the conservative and moderate Liberals and Nationals. It’s going straight into a senate inquiry, which is pretty standard for a significant piece of legislation.

So where did this thing come from?

Christian lobby groups have been fanging for this bill ever since same-sex marriage was legalised in 2017. They said it was necessary to protect freedom of belief and expression — which they claimed was under threat — and the Coalition promised a review in its election campaign. The Liberal-led review recommended new protections of religious freedoms so in 2018 Morrison promised a new act.

Former Attorney-General Christian Porter was responsible for the first two drafts in 2019 and 2020 — a responsibility now in the hands of new AG Michaelia Cash.

But human rights and equality groups have spent the last three years protesting the shit out of this bill. They’ve said it would harm minority groups including LGBTQIA+ people, women, people with disabilities and even people of faith.

“The [bill is] a step backwards,” Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown said.

“The Attorney-General appears to have listened to some of the concerns … but the Morrison government has retained some of the worst provisions of bill.”

The bill is broken into two parts, which MPs awkwardly refer to as the “shield” and the “sword”. The first part is all about protecting people from being discriminated against — fairly straightforward and normal — while the second and more controversial part is about legal defences.

The scraps of good news:

Some of the most controversial parts of the first and second drafts have been removed or watered down. The part that said healthcare providers could refuse treatment to patients based on belief is gone, thank fuck. This was criticised heavily for obvious reasons as it would, for example, see LGBTQIA+ patients denied access to treatment because the doc at that clinic could say that person’s identity went against their religious values.

The so-called Folau clause has also been cut from this version. Remember rugby player Israel Folau who was fired after making insanely homophobic comments because it went against Rugby Australia’s code of conduct? Earlier drafts of the bill would’ve banned clauses within employer codes of conduct about stopping a person expressing their religious beliefs. Yuck. 

The final draft has something similar but less extreme. That ban now only applies to licensing and professional bodies. They aren’t allowed to set professional conduct rules for whole industries and professions about “limiting” expression of beliefs, but yes, employers fucking can.

The very, very bad stuff:

“Statements of belief”

Bigotry incoming. The “statements of belief” provision means that in a legal case, someone who is being sued for discrimination can argue what they said was a statement of belief and be immune to all federal and state anti-discrimination laws.

They have to prove that their comments or actions were in line with actual doctrines or teachings of their faith, and the comments cannot be made maliciously or attempt to threaten or vilify. In the end this is a lose-lose. It will protect people who bully both majority or minority groups.

“Your teacher could say anything [like] AIDS is a punishment from God; every child should have a mother and a father,” Adrian Murdoch, spokesperson for youth LGBTQIA+ youth group Minus18, told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

Brown said these provisions could lead to more discrimination. 

“They will have a chilling effect, meaning that people who experience discrimination at work, at school, or when accessing services, will be less likely to call out behaviour that is offensive, insulting or demeaning.” 

Employment “preferencing”

“The bill protects the fundamental right for religious schools to hire religious staff to maintain their religious ethos in accordance with a publicly available policy,” Morrison said on Thursday morning.

This basically means employers can preference (read: discriminate) who they hire based on religion. A Catholic hospital can turn down job applications from non-Catholics with no explanations or consequences. A Jewish school can have a Jews-only hiring policy.

“If there’s no representation [in schools], what message does that say to young people?” Murdoch said.

“Will they feel comfortable to talk to the staff that are there if they have something going on?”

Murdoch said that this provision goes directly against the legalisation of same-sex marriage, pulling us backwards after a generations-long fight.

“It’s scary to think that young people in schools won’t have that support,” they said.

“Depression is five times more prominent in LGBTQIA+ young people than a heteronormative young person. How do we tackle that problem if we’re working against the grain, saying that ‘no this isn’t accepted in this school’?”

Legal issues

These protections override state and territory laws, which is a logistical nightmare for the legal system. All of these discrimination cases will now need to be heard in court, rather than a tribunal, which is a much longer and more expensive process. It’s all very murky.

On top of this, International United Nations human rights law says protection of religious freedom cannot interfere with other human rights, which this bill definitely does.

So now we wait.

The bill won’t be voted on until next year so the debate will continue. Rest now, but stay tuned.