By ALLISON HORE
An Eastern suburbs MP has backed a controversial bill which advocacy groups say would make it easier to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people.
A NSW parliamentary committee reported on the findings of their inquiry into a set of “religious freedom protections” proposed by One Nation NSW leader Mark Latham late last month. Member for Vaucluse, Gabrielle Upton, supported Mr. Latham’s changes which may open the door for further discrimination against LGBTQI+ people.
The amendments would explicitly make it unlawful to discriminate against a person on the basis of their religious beliefs, bringing NSW anti discrimination law in line with that of other states. Other attributes including gender and orientation are already protected under NSW law.
A majority of the committee, chaired by Ms. Upton, endorsed the move to amend the state’s anti-discrimination laws to protect religious freedom. The committee concluded Mr. Latham’s amendments were a useful template for reform.
Ms. Upton urged the NSW government to take on the recommendations and introduce them to law by the end of the year.
She said the committee had “raised complex issues about religious beliefs and activities which go to the core of who we are as individuals” and found there was a “strong need” to protect people on the basis of their religious beliefs.
“It is my strong expectation that the important issue of protection from religious discrimination can finally be addressed through a Government Bill, thereby improving the lives of people in NSW,” she said.
As Chair of NSW Parliament’s Committee on the Anti-Discrimination Amend’t (Religious Freedoms & Equality) Bill 2020 I tabled the Inquiry Report📄. Grateful to the community who helped shape our recommendations to bring in a Government Bill. Info here: https://t.co/uhw69LzUN5 pic.twitter.com/d8Zkxn4dh0
— Gabrielle Upton MP (@gabrielleupton) March 31, 2021
Sword or shield?
But some worry the changes will make it harder to protect other marginalised groups from religious based discrimination which could limit their access to essential services. Of the committee, independent member for Sydney Alex Greenwich, the Greens’ Jenny Leong and Paul Lynch of the Labor party opposed the amendments.
Ms. Leong pointed out the hypocrisy in Mr. Latham being the one to put forward protections for religious people when his own party, One Nation, has pushed for discriminatory policies against muslims.
“From the very start, the hypocrisy of having a member of One Nation, a party that has a current policy of banning the burqa and wanting to halt the building of mosques and Islamic schools, propose so-called religious freedoms legislation, should have been enough to have this whole thing scrapped,” she said in a scathing Facebook post.
“Instead, the Liberal National Government chose to entertain this disastrous One Nation Bill by referring it to an inquiry – stacked with so-called ‘Friends of Religious Freedom’ MPs.”
She said that the majority of the committee came back endorsing the bill was “unsurprising” given the “disrespect shown to expert witnesses by members of the committee.” She said while she agrees there is a need to protect people on the basis of their religion, the “completely flawed report” put forward by the committee will do nothing to advance protections for those being discriminated against.
“There is broad recognition across the experts and the community that there is a need to protect people from being discriminated against on the basis of their religious beliefs,” she said.
“But that is not the same as enshrining protections for people to engage in wholescale discrimination against women and the LGBTIQ+ community under guise of religious freedoms.”
From the very start, the hypocrisy of having a member of One Nation, a party that has a current policy of banning the…
Experts hit back
A number of LGBTQI+ organisations, women’s organisations and health bodies have also spoken out against the amendments.
An open letter to the Attorney General of NSW denouncing the amendments has been signed by organisations such as ACON, Equality Australia, Domestic Violence NSW, NSW Teachers Federation, the Uniting church and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
“Unfortunately, the Committee’s report into the Bill introduced by One Nation NSW Leader, The Honourable Mark Latham MLC, has failed to address some concerns raised by our various organisations in key areas such as employment, education and access to services, such as healthcare,” the letter said.
“A Government Bill which adopts critical aspects of the One Nation NSW proposal would not attract our support, as it would not protect all of us, equally.”
The letter says the proposed amendments would privilege religion over other protected classes of people by giving them “free-standing rights against discrimination and setting standards for others to meet.”
The changes would also make it harder for employers, educators and professional licensing bodies to “foster inclusive cultures” and protect their employees, students, customers or clients from harmful behaviour justified by a person’s religious beliefs.
Ms. Leong said she and Alex Greenwich have expressed their objections towards the changes to the NSW Attorney General, Mark Speakman
“Alex Greenwich and I have written to the Attorney General urging him to disregard the report – and we will do all we can to ensure that our Anti-Discrimination Act doesn’t actually entrench rights to discriminate,” she said.
Sydney’s progressive east
When it comes to LGBTQI+ rights Sydney’s eastern suburbs generally take a progressive view.
In the federal seat of Wentworth, which covers the same areas as Ms. Upton’s seat of Vaucluse, 80 percent of the population voted “yes” for same-sex marriage.
Ms. Upton herself acknowledges that the LGBTQI+ community faces a concerning amount of discrimination. In 2015, Ms. Upton (then NSW Attorney General) said in parliament that more work needed to be done at a state and federal level to protect LGBTQI+ rights.
“I find it very worrying that many in the LGBTI community continue to experience… bullying, harassment, intimidation, even violence, based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, and the impact this may have on their physical and mental health,” she said.
However, by endorsing Mr. Latham’s bill Ms. Upton may be protecting the same bullying, harassment, intimidation and violence against the LGBTQI+ community which she said is “worrying.”