Fair Agenda Blog

You can read Fair Agenda's full analysis and recommendations on the Government's Second Exposure draft of this legislation in our submission here.

 

There are 6 headline points:

1. This Bill will impact access to healthcare

The proposed Bill would allow doctors, nurses, midwives, psychologists and pharmacists to prioritise their religious beliefs over their patient’s health needs. 

The Bill would mean that prospective employers would be unable to ask any prospective employees whether any religious objections will make them unable or unwilling to do the job; and make it harder for health sector employers and professional bodies to prevent obstruction of treatment on religious grounds.

Fair Agenda are very concerned that this would mean that women and other community members will find it harder to access non-judgement healthcare – particularly in the areas of sexual health, family planning, fertility, mental health and transgender health services. We envisage that the Bill will particularly impact access to: contraceptives, the morning-after pill, fertility treatment and abortion care. As well as access to procedures such as voluntary assisted dying, pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis, and medical treatment for intersex or transgender patients.

2. What consequences?

Proposed provisions relating to ‘statements of belief’ will give a license for people of faith to make a wide range of potentially harmful and offensive statements; and could in turn contribute to hostile, unsafe and non-inclusive workplaces, schools and other public spaces.

The Bill will make it difficult for employers to protect their staff and clients, even if they try to put in place policies to ensure equality.

We are extremely concerned that the provisions relating to ‘statements of belief’ will open avenues for attacks on women, people with disabilities, LGBTIQ+ people and members of minority faith communities, and undermine protections that allow us all to work and study together with equal dignity.

3. Two people get to decide?

The Bill lowers the bar on what is considered a religious doctrine, tenet, belief or teaching, to a new "religion of two" test. It means this Bill likely to provide special protection to much more extreme and unorthodox beliefs.

Requiring just two people to establish that a religious requirement exists and deserves protection is unacceptable. 

In practice, this rule would make it near impossible for a person who has been harmed to argue that conduct of a religious body is not in accordance with the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion.

4. It may enable discrimination by government funded services

The Bill would allow for religious hospitals, aged care facilities and accommodation providers to discriminate in employment and partnerships on the basis of the “religion of two test”.

Fair Agenda are concerned that the Bill may allow providers of government funded services – including homelessness and domestic violence services - to discriminate against individuals with different or no religious beliefs in receipt of those services.

Charities and other religious organisations play an important role in providing services to vulnerable members of the community, including women seeking safety from abusive partners.

5. A right to sue?

The Bill would expressly empower corporations to sue providers of goods, services, facilities, accommodation, clubs and sporting bodies based on their association with religious individuals.

These provisions would silence the ability of many ordinary Australians to boycott in protest, or to conduct business in line with their values.

6. The Government need to add protection against religious vilification

Religious vilification and hate crimes are a real threat to members of minority faith communities, and the women within them. For example, recent analysis of hate crimes showed Muslim women and girls were the most common targets of nearly 350 Islamaphobic incidents reported over a two-year period.

We share the concerns noted by Democracy in Colour in their submission regarding the first Exposure Draft of this legislation, that when religious vilification is allowed to go unchecked and becomes normalised, it lays the groundwork for more violent attacks against minority communities.

Reform in this area should ensure that members of religious groups, particularly minority faith groups that are disproportionately targeted by hate speech, are protected.

Don't like the sound of that? Make sure you're part of the campaign to stop this licence to discriminate becoming law: https://www.fairagenda.org/religious_discrimination

You can read Fair Agenda's full analysis, recommendations -- and some hypotheticals outlining how these laws could impact women in our communities here.

Written by Renee Carr
31 January 2020

As peak and practitioner bodies charged with preventing and responding to violence against women and children we do not accept the legitimacy of the Government’s new select committee inquiry into Family Law. We are alarmed that it is proceeding against the unanimous advice of experts in the domestic and family violence sector.

This Inquiry is not only unnecessary, it is dangerous. We know what is needed to improve the system. The decision to further delay implementing these urgently needed changes is absolutely unconscionable. Women’s and children’s lives are on the line. They cannot wait another year for action.

The use of domestic and family violence is having a devastating impact in our communities - 8 women are hospitalised at the hands of a current or ex-partner every day, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women 32 times more likely to be hospitalised than non-Indigenous women. Right now many of the people trying to escape this violence and abuse are forced through the family law system.

This system is consistently failing them. It is manifestly unfit for purpose - it is failing to identify harm, actively discouraging people from disclosing violence, and forcing children into contact with abusive parents. In many cases it is facilitating further violence and harm. This situation is so dire that more than one in three children post-separation report feeling “not at all safe” in their care arrangements.

Cases before the courts are often complex, and every case is different. Our government needs to ensure the court has all the information and expertise it requires to determine what’s best for a child’s safety and wellbeing, particularly in the context of family violence and child abuse.

Immediate action is required to stop putting victim-survivors of violence and abuse at risk, starting with:
1. Making sure courts identify safety risks that should be considered in any court decision, by implementing consistent screening and risk assessment process to protect children and parents at risk of violence;

2. Ensuring the courts have access to all relevant information by establishing a national information sharing framework to ensure information from state jurisdictions can be considered where relevant, and the courts are supported to make informed decisions that prioritise child safety and wellbeing;

3. Ensuring victim-survivors of family violence are supported and don’t have to go through the court process alone - by providing social and legal supports for all parties to family law matters involving family violence or child abuse;

4. Prioritising matters where people are at high-risk - by creating a specialist case management stream for family violence matters involving children and parents at serious risk of harm, and

5. Requiring those who influence court proceedings to have competency in identifying and responding to domestic and family violence in diverse family contexts - by implementing an accreditation framework for all court officials and family law practitioners and professionals, starting with court report writers and supervised contact centre workers.

Beyond these initial urgent safety changes, the system needs comprehensive reform in accordance with expert advice including the domestic and family violence sector.

We emphasise that the achievement of any substantive improvement in the safety of the family law system will require the Federal Government ending the under- resourcing which puts victims of family violence and child abuse at unacceptable risk.

Peak and practitioner bodies stand ready to co-design and help implement reforms that are focused on improving the safety of the system. But we refuse to be complicit in the harm created by this new inquiry.

Given the nature of this inquiry, the manner in which it has been set up, and the composition and expressed positions of those leading it, we are aware that many victims/survivors do not feel safe to participate.

We remain extremely concerned that any victim-survivors who do wish to ensure their experiences are considered by this process will be unable to do so safely. In any inquiry like this where victim-survivors’ testimonies must be central, essential safeguards and supports must be put in place to make the process safe for them to participate.

Such safeguards should include domestic and family violence and cultural competency training for committee members, options to give evidence anonymously and remotely including via audio visual link, provision of all Inquiry materials in the full range of accessible formats, including Easy English, funded access to counselling and legal services, and media protocols around reporting.

Finally, we note that as representatives of the organisations working on the frontline responding to women and children impacted by domestic and family violence, our primary objective will always be the safety of those who rely on our services. Some organisations in our sector will engage with the inquiry under the principle of minimising harm for victim-survivors and ensuring evidence is circulated to counter misinformation. For many organisations their focus will be on responding to the unprecedented levels of demand for safety support, and therefore they will not be in a position to divert vital resources to this dangerous
inquiry.

Signed,

Domestic Violence NSW
Domestic Violence Victoria
Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria
Women’s Community Health Network WA
WESNET - The Women’s Services Network
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Alliance
Harmony Alliance: Migrant and Refugee Women for Change
Women With Disabilities Australia (WWDA)
National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
National Child Protection Alliance
Women's Legal Services Australia
Women's Safety NSW
Coalition of Women’s Domestic Violence Services of SA
Women's Council for Domestic & Family Violence Services - WA
Women’s Health NSW
No to Violence
Doctors Against Violence Towards Women - Public Page
National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum
National Association of Community Legal Centres Australia
People with Disability Australia
In Touch Multicultural Centre Against Family Violence
Carrie’s Place Domestic Violence and Homelessness Services
West Connect Domestic Violence Services
Wirrawee Gunyah
Wilmah 
Jessie Street
Penrith Women’s Refuge
North Coast Women’s Domesticin Violence Court Advocacy Service
Yarredi Services Inc
Women's Community Shelters
Northern Rivers Women and Children's Services Inc
Penrith Women's Health Centre
Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Warrina Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Services
Central Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Women’s Centre for Health and Wellbeing Albury Wodonga
Central West Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Linking Communities Network Ltd
Parramatta Women's Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Women’s Centre for Health Matters ACT
Sydney Women’s Counselling Centre
Hunter Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Sisters Inside Inc
Marie Stopes International Australia
Association of Women Educators
Women's Legal Service Queensland
Women's Legal Service NSW
NSW Older Women’s Network
Sexual Assault Support Service (Tas)
CASA Forum - Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault
safe steps Family Violence Response Centre
Project Respect
Sera’s Women’s Shelter 
Women’s Centre Far North Queensland
Australasian Centre for Human Rights and Health
Emma House Domestic Violence Services
Engender Equality
Mitcham Family Violence Education and Support Service
Jenny’s Place Inc
Nova for Women and Children
Newcastle Staying Home Leaving Violence
Annie North Women’s Refuge
Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services
99 Steps - CALD specific DFV service in Logan/Beenleigh
Women’s Information, Support & Housing in the North 
Women’s Information and Referral Exchange 
Centre Against Violence
Eastern Domestic Violence Service 
Safe Futures Foundation
Bethany Community Support
Emerge Women & Children’s Support Network
Northern Specialist Family Violence Service, Berry Street.
Leichhardt Women’s community health centre
Women’s Health & Resources Foundation
Kara House Inc.
WRISC Family Violence Support Inc.
Centre for Non-Violence
WAYSS Housing and Support Services
Georgina Martina Inc.
Northern Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services
Blue Mountains Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services
South Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services
Mallee Sexual Assault Unit Inc. 
Mallee Domestic Violence Services
Western Specialist Family Violence Service, Berry Street
Southern Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Far South Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Mid Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
South Eastern Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Macarthur Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
Women’s Health West
Orana House Inc
Cairns Regional Domestic Violence Service
North Queensland Domestic Violence Resource Service 
Lucy Saw Centre
Macarthur Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service
North West Sydney Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service 
YWCA Canberra
Elizabeth Morgan House
Starick 
Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand
Good Samaritan Inn
Quantum Support Services Inc
Salvation Army Family and Domestic Violence Services Western Australia
The Salvation Army Australia

Written by Stacey Batterham
24 October 2019
crowd photos

NSW now has laws that provide for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care!

This historic win only happened because of the months, years and decades of advocacy by thousands of people - and Fair Agenda members have been a vital part of it. Thank you to all of our members for ll the incredible ways you’ve contributed to this campaign.

 

Here’s a recap of how Fair Agenda members helped make history in NSW…

Last year, as we celebrated Queensland’s historic vote to decriminalise abortion - Fair Agenda made sure media knew that it was time for New South Wales to follow suit. We made sure the issue was in the headlines (again), and helped maintain the steady drumbeat of calls for reform.

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Then, in the lead up to the state election, Fair Agenda teamed up with partners to coordinate a powerful open letter calling on the parliament to recognise the right to safe and legal abortion access.

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When MPs from across the political spectrum announced they would introduce the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill to decriminalise abortion, we helped mobilise huge support!

Together, thousands of us sent emails of support to MPs – urging them to vote yes to reform, and thanking those who had pledged to support this desperately needed reform. Then Fair Agenda members chipped in much needed funds to help reach thousands more voters with information about the importance of supporting this reform.

As the heated debate began, and many voters began to engage with this issue for the first time, Fair Agenda worked with medical experts to highlight the desperate need for reform, and the  harm the current laws cause to women, particularly in rural and remote areas.

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Then, to demonstrate the scale of expert support for the legislation before parliament, Fair Agenda joined with more than 70 organisations to publish a joint statement in support of the legislation.

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On key days before MPs headed into parliament to cast their votes, Fair Agenda members joined hundreds of other groups and activists outside parliament to show their support for reform.

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And when MPs who oppose the reform announced that they planned to introduce amendments that would create barriers to timely access to care - within hours more than 500 of us had flooded MPs with email messages urging them to oppose amendments.

And when the bill was due to be considered by committee, we mobilised again to send hundreds of pro-choice submissions in support of the legislation. But, the fight wasn’t over yet.

When anti-choice forces from across parliament used their influence to delay the scheduled vote, and extended this fight for reform by a further three weeks, dozens of Fair Agenda members gave generously to help keep up the pressure, and fight dozens of amendments we knew would be used to try and increase barriers to abortion care access. 

Together, Fair Agenda and the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance released powerful polling showing the overwhelming support for reform, amongst NSW voters, and Liberal party members, and opposition to religious interference in reform.

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Then, on the weekend before this final vote, Fair Agenda members joined a thousand other pro-choice protestors at the “Trust Women” pro-choice rally, and members chipped in to help us fill the crowd with visible pro-choice messages, helping show our support loud and clear.

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Thank you to everyone who has helped make this historic change possible.

 

But the fight isn't over yet

Unfortunately, our fight for reproductive healthcare access doesn't end here:

  • In just a few weeks South Australia is expected to begin debating laws to decriminalise abortion too - and you can bet opponents there will be planning to copy the tactics that were used to delay reform here,
  • Western Australia is still fighting to protect patients from harassment at abortion clinics, where anti-choice people routinely abuse patients, even going so far as trying to trick them into eating so they can’t get their procedure, and
  • We’re now fighting proposed federal “religious discrimination” laws that could enable more doctors and pharmacists to deny women access to contraceptives and the morning after pill around the nation.

Our opponents aren't done. We’ll be up against this powerful and well-resourced opposition again and again in coming months, and we know they'll throw everything they have at limiting our reproductive healthcare options.

We're facing tough fights on multiple fronts, and to have any chance of winning them all we're going to need your help. Can you chip in to help keep up the fight against anti-choice forces?

Click here to start a regular monthly donation

Click here to make a once off donation

Written by Renee Carr
26 September 2019

The Attorney-General announced new “religious freedom” laws last week, and we should all be sitting up and taking notice, because they could have major consequences for women around the country.

As a woman of faith who has experienced the impacts of Islamaphobia, I know the importance of protecting people from discrimination on the basis of their religion.

But that’s not the extent of this proposed legislation. This legislation goes much further.

After weeks of closed door meetings with faith leaders, the Morrison Government has released draft legislation that would provide new privileges to people of faith, and override existing protections from discrimination for others.

While the detailed analysis that will be needed to understand the full implications of this legislation is still being undertaken, it’s already pretty clear that in its current form this bill could allow a person to use their religious beliefs as a cover for sexism and prejudice.

And complicated clauses look like they could provide new avenues for religious anti-choice conservatives to attack access to abortion care, with likely impacts on some state based laws that provide a woman with a right to referral for unbiased advice if her doctor’s personal religious views interfere with her access to reproductive healthcare.

For example, experts from the Human Rights Law Centre have indicated that in jurisdictions like South Australia and Western Australia, the proposed provisions could allow doctors to abandon their patients. And in New South Wales this bill would likely override a current policy directive issued by NSW Health requiring doctors with a conscientious objection to take every reasonable step to help a woman access the healthcare she needs. Yet another reason why it’s so important that NSW parliament passes abortion reform next month.

The Morrison Government’s proposed “religious discrimination” bill would also override existing state-based protections from intimidation, humiliation and ridicule on the basis of sex, marital status, breastfeeding, parenting or family responsibilites that currently operate in Tasmania.

If it’s approved by parliament in its current form, this legislation could put women, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, and people from minority faith communities in the firing line.

But this isn’t a debate about people of faith versus women or the LGBTIQ+ community. Because women and LGBTIQ+ people are also part of faith communities. And (unfortunately) women of faith, particularly women of colour, often do need protection from prejudice and discrimination based on their religion. Especially with the rise of white supremacy and Islamophobia.

This debate is about working towards a fairer and more inclusive society, where everyone is equally protected from harm. And if parliament passes this legislation in its current form it would be a big step in the wrong direction.

The good news is that there’s still time to stop that happening – and to influence this bill before it becomes law. Now that the draft legislation is finally public, the Government has declared that they will conduct a public consultation period – so it’s time for us all to speak up and demand that this bill protect people of faith, women and members of the LGBTIQ+ community equally.

Because our anti-discrimination laws should function as a shield to protect people from harm, not a sword to be wielded against others.

Get involved in the campaign here.

--

This piece was originally published as an opinion piece in Women's Agenda.

Written by Diana Sayed
02 September 2019

Dear Minister Payne,

Congratulations on your appointment as our new Minister for Women. As our collective champion, you have been given a mandate to advance the safety and financial security of all Australian women.

As a movement of more than 35,000 Australians working for a fair and equal future for women, Fair Agenda considers your new role one of the most vital in the country.

The first 100 days is a critical opportunity for your Government to set a roadmap for achieving a safer and more equal future for all women.

The Fair Agenda community urges you to use those critical first 100 days to act on these four urgent issues:

  1. All women should have the ability to live free from violence and fear.

    Right now women in Australia are being murdered on a weekly basis, often by an intimate partner.

    We need a system that supports every woman who needs to flee a violent abuser, and that recognises that men’s use of violence against women is a national crisis, and resources the necessary interventions accordingly.

    Before the election your Government made some good progress with new funding for crisis response, accommodation and long-term prevention. But across the country thousands of women are still unable to access the services they desperately need; and men that are at risk of using violence are having to wait months for access to behaviour change programs.

    We urge you to increase funding for these crucial services that prevent and address family violence so that no woman is left without the help she needs to be safe.

  2. All students should all be able to study and learn in safety.

    Right now university students are being sexually assaulted every week. Many student survivors are having to wait months for their university to respond to urgent safety concerns, are unable to access counselling, and are being targeted if they speak out about their assault.

    We urge you to work with the Education Minister to immediately establish an independent and expert-led Taskforce on campus sexual violence, to ensure universities and residential colleges are held to account for providing safe learning environments.

  3. We all deserve to go to work each day knowing we’ll be safe.

    However in the past five years more than 1 in 3 women have been sexual harassed when they’re just trying to do their job. And right now there’s no real way for those who are affected to ensure their workplace makes any kind of systemic change for their future safety.

    Your Government’s action in establishing the National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces is a positive first step; but we are concerned that the Government is yet to commit to implementing the Inquiry recommendations.

    We urge you to follow the expert’s advice and commit to implementing and resourcing the full recommendations of the National Inquiry.

  4. We know that young children require care as they grow, and this unpaid work is disproportionately provided by women.

    Right now under ParentsNext, parents are forced to comply with demeaning conditions or risk having their parenting payments cancelled. The program disproportionately harms single mums and First Nations families; and one in five parents on the program have already had their payments suspended. Mums on the program say they’re being humiliated, and face financial insecurity on a fortnight-to-fortnight basis.

    We urge you to work with colleagues to bring an immediate end to ParentsNext.

As you shape your vision for your new role, we hope you’ll use your position to act as a champion for women’s safety, security and autonomy in Australia.

We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss these issues. And our movement will be here to show that the community support these changes.

Yours sincerely,

Renee Carr

Executive Director | Fair Agenda

on behalf of Fair Agenda

Written by Stacey Batterham
27 May 2019
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