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Religious Freedom Bills - Second Exposure Drafts

The Law Council continues to recognise that there are opportunities to consolidate and strengthen federal protections against discrimination on the basis of religion. It refers in this regard to the 2018 findings of the Expert Panel appointed to review religious freedom (the Expert Panel).

While highlighting the absence of federal protections, the Expert Panel also did not accept that religious freedom was in ‘imminent peril’. As such, a measured and moderate approach to law reform, which accords with established federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, would seem appropriate.

With this in mind, the Law Council considers many aspects of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (the Bill) are unobjectionable. It also recognises certain improvements made in the Bill’s second exposure draft. While the Law Council continues to oppose provisions concerning health practitioner conduct rules concerning conscientious objections to health services, they have been tightened to apply to a narrower range of professions ([67]-[96]). The definition of ‘person’, which previously extended to religious body corporates, has been removed and associates of religious individuals are now protected from religious discrimination. It is nevertheless concerned by the intention to extend the protections for ‘associates’ of religious individuals to body corporates. The Bill should protect natural persons, not body corporates ([97]-[103]).

However, the Law Council continues to hold significant concerns about the Bill due to its unorthodox features. These not only raise human rights concerns, but also complicate an already complex area of law. By adding multi-faceted and novel legal tests to existing legal frameworks, the Bill is likely to create an onerous compliance burden for the business and community sectors alike ([16]-[17]).

You can read the full submission below.

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