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News Article

Discrimination bills undermine key freedoms
Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 which passed the Senate yesterday evening has set a dangerous precedent, FamilyVoice research officer Ros Phillips said today. 

“Coalition spokesman George Brandis rightly pointed out that removing the exemption for religious organisations in relation to aged care services would infringe on freedom of religion,” Ros Phillips said.  “The bill is also potentially invalid because there is no head of power in the Constitution for the Commonwealth to enact this law.

“Government services such as public transport, public hospitals and public education should be and are available to all Australians without discrimination, apart from reasonable restrictions to protect other members of the public from behaviour which disturbs the peace or causes harm to others.  However, aged care facilities run by religious organisations should have the freedom of religion and association to decide whether they can accommodate requests for shared accommodation.  There are currently many alternatives from which people with diverse sexual orientations may choose,” Mrs Phillips said.

But proposed anti-discrimination laws in Tasmania would be even more onerous than the new federal Act.

Proposed changes to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1988, likely to be debated in the upper house soon, would greatly expand the number of grounds where conduct that “offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules” is prohibited. 

The new list would include “race, age, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, gender, marital status, relationship status, pregnancy, breastfeeding, parental status, family responsibilities, disability, industrial activity, political belief or affiliation, political activity, religious belief or affiliation, religious activity, irrelevant criminal record, irrelevant medical record, and association with a person who has or is believed to have any of these attributes”.

The changes could potentially gag newspaper cartoonists, political journalists and people who write letters to the editor.  

“We are concerned that the test for whether something offends is subjective rather than wholly objective.  Robust public debate cannot occur under such onerous discrimination laws,” FamilyVoice Tasmania state officer Jim Collins said. 

Briefing for Tasmanian MLCs held this morning

FamilyVoice advisory board member and Christian Schools Tasmania director Mr Simon Matthews addressed MLCs this morning, saying that the anti-discrimination amendment bill would also be in direct conflict with faith-based schools who want to ensure that students and their families support and agree with their values.

“The freedom to maintain a community that shares the same faith-based values is something the government should be pleased to uphold,” Jim Collins said.

Toowoomba GP Dr David van Gend also spoke at the briefing, describing how he suffered under anti-discrimination laws in Queensland after writing a commissioned opinion piece in the Courier-Mail.  A vilification complaint lodged with the Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland against him in 2011 was withdrawn, but only after Dr van Gend had been “punished by the process”.  He had to leave his medical practice and travel to Brisbane for a conciliation session, and pay for his own legal advice.

“Dr van Gend’s experience should prompt Tasmanian MLCs to consider carefully the possible impact of the proposed laws,” Mr Collins said. 


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