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Religious Freedom Bills – Ai Group releases submission

Ai Group has today released its submission to the Australian Government's consultation process on the Exposure Drafts of the three Religious Freedom Bills. While expressing support for the right to freedom of religion, Ai Group has proposed a series of amendments to make the Bills workable for Australian businesses.

Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox said:

"Ai Group supports the right to freedom of religion, and the right not to be religious in the Australian community. Businesses, of course manage a combination of multi-faith and non-religious workforces while striving to ensure that their operations are viable, productive, competitive and harmonious.

"The draft Religious Discrimination Bill has the potential to increase conflict and disharmony in Australian workplaces. The potential for the provisions of the Bill to be used to advance and protect extremist opinions or behavior, of whatever kind, in the name of an undefined religious belief should not be underestimated.

"The Bill limits the ability for employers to regulate, respond to and manage instances of inappropriate conduct by an employee that may cause conflict with, or detriment to, co-workers. It is also conceivable that an employer's diversity and inclusion policy that promotes tolerance and acceptance of religious diversity may conflict with some people's religious beliefs.

"The provisions of the Bill, as drafted, would impede the ability of employers to maintain appropriate standards of conduct and to protect their employees from harassment and discrimination.

"As drafted, the Bill would give employees a very wide ability to argue that they should not have to comply with particular reasonable company policies.

"There are already comprehensive protections in place to protect religious freedoms. The Australian Constitution protects freedom of religion and State anti-discrimination laws in nearly all States and Territories provide protection against discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs and activities. The Bills would add to the existing complex web of Federal and State anti-discrimination laws that Australian businesses need to comply with.

"If the Bills are to proceed, substantial amendments are needed. In particular, the following provisions in the Religious Discrimination Bill need to be removed,” Mr Willox said:  

  • The statement of belief provisions;
  • The indirect discrimination provisions; and
  • The reverse onus of proof.  

Full details of Ai Group’s proposals are available in our submission at this link.

Media enquiries: Tony Melville – 0419 190 347