6 things you need to know about the "Religious Discrimination Bill 2.0"

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.