Religious Freedom Bills – Second Exposure Draft

COTA Australia welcomes the opportunity to respond to the second exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2019 and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment (Freedom of Religion) Bill 2019 (the Bills). Collectively the Bills give effect to three recommendations of the Report of the Expert Panel on Religious Freedom[1] (recommendations 3, 15 and 19).

COTA is deeply concerned that the proposed legislation overrides existing Commonwealth and State/Territory anti-discrimination legislation. This legislation should not be drafted for the purpose of overriding existing anti-discrimination legislation. In particular our substantive concerns relate to access to health care and delivery of aged care services in a manner which protects older consumers from discrimination. Accordingly, we will focus our comments on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019 (the Bill).

In summary our concerns regarding the Bill are:

  1. Federal anti-discrimination legislation should not automatically override long standing protections contained within state and territory legislation.
  2. Drafting of the legislation should be consistent with existing federal protections and exemptions to those protections.
  3. Provision of services in healthcare and aged care should maintain the principle of person-centred care with the rights of the consumer paramount.

We do not believe the Bill currently strikes the right balance and would suggest further consultations with affected persons, in particular health care and aged care consumers, before introducing the Bill into Parliament.

COTA Australia reaffirms the comments of COTA Tasmania (Appendix A) made on the first exposure draft of the Bills, which remain relevant to the second exposure draft. Further, included in our submission is a letter of concern from COTA South Australia’s LGBTI Advisory Group (Appendix B), and an additional submission from COTA Victoria (Appendix C) elevating the concerns from our state and territory members about the impact of the Bills on the operation of their current state and territory laws.