The Australian Christian Lobby has welcomed key changes to the Federal Government’s second draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 released today, whilst expressing concern that individuals of faith or ‘future Folaus’ may not be fully protected from workplace discrimination. “On the one hand the bill contains some meaningful improvements, but on the other hand, some obvious gaps still remain,” said ACL spokesperson, Dan Flynn.
“Importantly, the Bill now says that a person from the same faith – not judges – will determine religious doctrine in religious discrimination cases. It also makes sense that religious charities will now be able to prefer persons of the same religion and that religious hospitals, aged care and accommodation providers will be able to make staffing decisions based on faith,” said Mr Flynn, “However, we expected crucial changes to protect individual people of faith, particularly in the workplace. These changes are not in the new draft released today.”
“A large employer can still limit an employee’s statements of belief outside the workplace if the employer successfully claims it is necessary to avoid unjustifiable financial hardship,” Mr Flynn observed, “This clause will empower activists to stage boycotts and negative publicity campaigns against sponsors, suppliers or customers, to pressure them to fire people of faith.”
“Everyday Australians are unlikely to afford a legal battle with a large company, effectively imposing limitations on their speech,” Mr Flynn warned, “ACL supports and hears from many people marginalised and disciplined for their statements of faith at work, in university and in their professions.”
“The Government has better protected some individuals from discrimination with a new ‘qualifying body conduct rule’,” Mr Flynn further noted, “This prevents professional, trade or occupational bodies stopping a person making a statement of belief unless that restriction is essential to that profession, trade or occupation. This excellent principle should also apply to employers to ensure that statements of religious belief are only restricted where it is essential to the performance of that employee’s work duties.”
“The ACL will continue to engage with the Government, Opposition and cross-benchers to achieve a Religious Discrimination Act that provides real protection for people of faith.” Mr Flynn concluded.