Rainbow Labor Queensland has given the Commonwealth Attorney-General a “fail” mark after examining the Exposure Drafts of the proposed Religious Freedom Bills and demanded he go back and start the process again, but this time consult more widely with the affected communities and pay attention to the substantial negative criticisms already voiced by several legal and religious experts.

According to Phil Carswell OAM, spokesperson for Rainbow Labor Queensland, “Attorney-General Christian Porter has produced a draft that is seriously deficient, potentially damaging to the fabric of a tolerant and inclusive Australia, undermines the existing anti-discrimination framework around the country and could place the health and well-being and workplace rights of many Australians, including LGBTIQ Australians, at real and immediate risk.

 “Consider the placing of religious beliefs over and above other already protected attributes such as gender, sexuality, disability and race. This means that, if someone wants to insult or abuse an LGBTIQ person or a person with a disability or people with different ethnic heritages by quoting their religious beliefs, they would be free to do so. That is not the fair and tolerant Australia that Rainbow Labor strives for.

 “The provision allowing health professionals to object to providing healthcare on religious grounds is particularly worrying in a large state like Queensland. If there is only one pharmacist in a small regional or rural town and they refuse to sell condoms or dispense PrEP, there could be direct and lifelong harms inflicted. Imagine if there was only one General Practitioner around who also had strong religious beliefs, should he or she be able to refuse to provide the morning-after pill, provide care for a child of a same-sex couple or refer a pregnant woman for a termination? What would happen if the Emergency Department of the nearest hospital had staff who refused to provide PEP to anyone who inadvertently exposed to HIV?”

All these scenarios are not fanciful speculation. Rainbow Labor is already aware of health practitioners who would be only too happy to use this provision to refuse their duty to provide care and service to people they fundamentally disagree with. In smaller population centres with fewer health care providers and a lack of a legislative provision requiring those health care providers who have religious objections to refer their patient on to another more sympathetic doctor or pharmacist, this draft provision poses real risks to people who are already struggling.

 “The mental health of diverse Queensland communities stands to lose significantly under the proposed legislation. Those who feel victimised or isolated stand to have these feelings further entrenched. When we seek to bring all of Queensland together and embrace our diversity, these proposed laws only serve to tear us apart. If you are retiring with a long-term partner or transitioning gender or yet to disclose your sexuality to those you love, Queensland stands with you.

 “The Federal Attorney General’s drafts constitute a clear attack on the workplace rights of LGBTIQ workers, and other already disadvantaged groups. Employers would have the ability to terminate a worker’s employment purely on the basis that their private lives somehow conflict with the religious beliefs of the organisation. Such discrimination could be carried out arbitrarily, with an employer needing only to refer to their religion as grounds for the termination of a LGBTIQ person.

 “Already disadvantaged or marginalised groups would also be at risk. Working women might find themselves dismissed solely for marrying, for falling pregnant or starting a family. The current drafts don’t allow for the ruling out of what would be considered, by most people of faith, archaic and out-dated religious practices and beliefs. Where will the lines be drawn? This is not the Australia we know and love.

 “The final insult in the proposed legislation is the singling out of Tasmania’s excellent anti-discrimination provisions which upends the whole co-operative nature of Australia’s anti-discrimination framework. We should all be working together for a stronger and more respectful community, not weakening laws that are working well,” Mr Carswell said.

Rainbow Labor will be meeting with Members of Parliament, discussing the issue at local Branch meetings, hosting activist workshops and working with like-minded organisations over the coming months to seek a better outcome than the half-baked one proposed now by the Commonwealth Attorney-General.

12 November 2019.

For further comment, contact Phil Carswell OAM at rainbowlabor@queenslandlabor.org.