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Religious Freedom Bills – Ai Group Submission

"Ai Group has today released its submission to the Australian Government's consultation process on the Second Exposure Drafts of the three Religious Freedom Bills," Ai Group Chief Executive, Innes Willox said.

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

"While some of the amendments made to the first exposure draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill (RD Bill) are welcome, Ai Group remains concerned that significant aspects of the Bill are problematic for Australian employers and workplaces.

"Specifically, the many and significant problems with the RD Bill’s statement of belief provisions, coupled with the existing legislative protections already in place to support religious belief, should be reason for the Government to abandon the statement of belief provisions entirely.

"The Second Exposure Draft of the RD Bill would still impose unreasonable restrictions on businesses and would give employees a very wide ability to argue that they should not have to comply with reasonable company policies. Further amendments should be considered if the RD Bill is to proceed.

"Ai Group remains concerned that the RD Bill:

  • Continues to unfairly restrict the legitimate and necessary operating policies and procedures of businesses, including in circumstances where such policies are needed to manage obligations under current employment laws;
  • Is likely to reduce tolerance for religious diversity in workplaces by protecting a broad range of statements of belief about religion and/or other religions, including statements that cause offence;
  • Is likely to lead to increased workplace grievances that are unable to be resolved by employers, but which nonetheless impact an employer’s business;
  • Would impose further complexity upon employers in navigating Australia’s web of anti-discrimination laws, by elevating legal protections for some employees over others;
  • Contains complex provisions relating to indirect discrimination that, when combined with the broad definition of religious belief, are too far-reaching and difficult for employers to comply with; and
  • Would increase compliance costs and the regulatory burden upon employers as they would need to review existing operating policies, procedures and employment contracts to comply with the RD Bill’s provisions.

"For the RD Bill to proceed in a way that will be workable for businesses, the following amendments should be considered:

  • Removal of the statement of belief provisions in subsection 8(3);
  • Ensuring that actions taken by employers in satisfaction of existing workplace laws are appropriately protected and a defence to claims of discrimination under the Bill;
  • Removal of the indirect discrimination provisions in section 8, if a broad definition of religious belief is to remain in the Bill; and
  • Removal of the reverse onus of proof.

"Ai Group’s earlier submission details our concerns about the RD Bill. A large number of these concerns remain in respect of the second exposure draft,” Mr Willox said.

Ai Group’s latest submission is available at this link: Ai Group Submission Second Exposure Drafts Religious Freedom Bills


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Tony Melville – 0419 190 347