Minister Alex Hawke and PM office provide an easy to understand primer on Religious Bill

Hindu Council of Australia had made a representation to PM’s office and to Minister for Multiculturalism Mr. Alex Hawke’s office and had raised concerns of Hindu community with the new Religious Discrimination Bill. The Minister’s office has sent a detailed reply and explained the law in simple terms for Hindu Community.

Both PMs office and the Minister’s office have assured us that they are available for providing any further clarifications or doubts Hindu community may have about the bill.

If you have any concern about the bill or have a question, please email it to us at editor@hinducouncil.com.au

 

Hon Alex Hawke, Federal Minister for Multiculturalism

Hindu Concerns :

  1. Will the bill affect employment of Hindus working in other faith schools, Hospitals, Aged Care facilities etc.?
  2. Can the employment provisions of the bill have an unintended effect of coercing religious conversion of Hindus?
  3.  Will Hindus be protected from vilification by other faiths based on their belief?

 PM office’s response

Overview of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021

The Religious Discrimination Bill will protect individuals from direct or indirect discrimination as a result of their religious belief or activity in key areas of public life, including in work, education, access to premises and the provision of goods and services. The Bill will ensure protection for people of all faiths, including minority faiths and those who do not hold, or refuse to engage in, religious beliefs or activities.

A person may have been subject to unlawful discrimination on the basis of their religious belief or activity if:
– the person holds or engages in a religious belief or activity, or they are associated with someone who holds or engages in a religious belief or activity
– the person has been subject to direct or indirect discrimination on the basis of their religious belief or activity, or the religious belief or activity of their associate
– the discrimination occurs in a specified area of public life, and
– the conduct is covered by this Bill and an exception does not apply.

Religious belief or activity

– The Bill will protect against discrimination on the grounds of religious belief or activity, which is defined broadly in the Bill as holding or not holding a religious belief, or engaging, not engaging or refusing to engage in lawful religious activity. Hinduism would fall under
these grounds.

Direct and indirect discrimination

– Discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity for the  purposes of this Bill includes both:
 Direct discrimination – where a person treats another person less favorably than someone in similar circumstances, because of that person’s religious belief or activity. For example, it could be direct discrimination for a company to refuse to hire a Hindu person because of
their Hindu faith.
 Indirect discrimination – where an apparently neutral condition has the effect of disadvantaging people of a particular religious belief or who engage in a particular religious activity. However, a person does not indirectly discriminate against another person by imposing a condition, requirement or practice that is reasonable in all the circumstances. For example, it may be indirect discrimination for an employer to provide meals for staff but not to provide a vegetarian option an option that did not include beef.

Areas of public life

– Protected areas covered by the Bill include work, education, access to premises, goods, services and facilities, accommodation, land, sport, clubs, Commonwealth laws and programs.

Exceptions – the Bill provides exceptions, including
 Clause 7 – a general exception to allow religious bodies to undertake conduct that is in accordance with religious doctrines, or which is intended to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.
 Clause 11 – provides that a religious educational institution will not contravene a prescribed state or territory law by giving preference in employment decisions to persons on the basis of the person’s religious belief or activity. This limited override of state and territory law is
intended to maintain the effect of existing exceptions currently available in all jurisdictions.
To rely on this exception, a religious educational institution must have a publicly available policy setting out how they will use the exception.
 Clause 12 – provides that a statement of belief made in good faith is not, in and of itself, discrimination under any Australian anti-discrimination law and also does not unlawful under subsection 17(1) of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998. Clause 12 does not
apply to statements of belief which are malicious or that a reasonable person would consider would threaten, intimidate, harass, or vilify (defined as incitement to hatred or violence), a person or a group of persons, or which would counsel, promote, encourage or urge conduct that would constitute a serious offence.

Complaints of discrimination under the Bill can be made to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission may inquire into and attempt to conciliate complaints under this Bill.

Where a complaint cannot be successfully conciliated, an individual may apply to the Federal Court or Federal Circuit and Family Court. The Bill also creates the office of the Religious Discrimination Commissioner in the Commission.

The Religious Discrimination Bill and minority faiths

The Government understands that minority faiths may have different concerns in relation to protecting their freedom of religion than larger faiths with greater institutional presence, such as faiths which maintain religious schools, hospitals, charities, and aged care facilities.

Religious bodies would not have an unfettered right to discriminate against others in employment under the Bill. Under clause 7, a religious body can only discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity by engaging in conduct that is either:
 in good faith and a person of the same religion could reasonably consider the conduct to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of their religion, or
 to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.

In addition, religious educational institutions (such as religious schools), aged care facilities, accommodation providers and disability service providers may only discriminate in employment in accordance with a publicly available policy. Requiring a publicly available policy means these bodies are being clear about its preferences and how they will exercise their preferences, including in relation to existing employees. It may also be the case that a religious body will seek to preference people who have a religious faith, even if that is not the same religious faith as the religious body, over other people who do not have a religious faith at all.

These exceptions are essential to ensure that religious bodies, including religious schools, can be free to uphold the tenets of their faith. This includes ensuring that religious bodies are able to make employment decisions to maintain their religious ethos, such as giving priority to people who share their faith.

These provisions do not require religious bodies to only employ people of the same faith, and religious bodies often employ people of different faiths to that body.

PM with Hindu Council team members