Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023

Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023

(Second Reading Debate & Amendments, 2 August 2023, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Everyone should have the right to live their life with dignity and peace, free from harassment, vilification and violence. Anti-vilification laws were first introduced in New South Wales in 1989 to protect people from racist public acts that incite hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule. The laws followed concerns raised by the Anti-Discrimination Board and communities that failing to act against racially driven hate speech was creating an environment that condoned racially based violence. Hate speech breeds violence and puts people's safety at risk. It is a problem for all groups that experience discrimination.

In the 1990s my predecessor, Clover Moore, worked to extend anti-vilification laws to people who are homosexual or transgender, or who have HIV or AIDS. But many communities that are vulnerable to hatred and harm from public acts do not have full protection from anti-vilification laws. In 2018 anti-vilification offences were introduced into the Crimes Act. The provisions protected a broader range of communities, including people who are intersex, non-binary or bisexual, as well as on the grounds of a person's religious belief or affiliation. I acknowledge the work of the Leader of the Opposition, who introduced those changes as Attorney General.

While those criminal offences cover a broader range of communities, they only provide a cause of action through the criminal courts, whereas those targeted often want a quick and harmonious resolution like the conciliation and education processes provided by the Anti-Discrimination Board. The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023 will extend anti-vilification laws in the Anti-Discrimination Act to religion, giving those who are subject to hatred, contempt or ridicule for their religion access to a civil remedy. I welcome the new protections in the bill.

Freedom of religion is a human right that must be safeguarded. My electorate has many people of faith, including Christian, Buddhist and Jewish people. Jewish people and Muslim people have been especially vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination. I support full protections for people of faith under the Anti‑Discrimination Act. Notwithstanding that, protections must be drafted sensitively so that they do not encroach on the rights and safety of others. Proposals in the past have attempted to introduce religious protections in a way that put LGBTQIA+ people at risk. The reforms that we are dealing with are only for vilification, for which there is a very high threshold, but I would not support such broad definitions for religion as a protected attribute for discrimination.

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre and the NSW Council of Civil Liberties are concerned that, even under vilification provisions, the application of protections is too broad and could have harmful consequences. I share those concerns, which point to the lack of definition for religious belief, religious affiliation and religious activity; the inclusion of unlawful religious practices; and coverage for religious organisations. I understand the member for Newtown will move amendments to address those concerns. I will support those amendments. I welcome the Attorney General's commitment to refer the Anti-Discrimination Act to the Law Reform Commission for a full review, with additional resources to ensure it can report within a year.

The Anti‑Discrimination Act is out of date in many ways. It relies on a comparator test and a substantially higher proportion test, both of which are not fit for purpose and are out of step with best practice laws in other States and Territories. People who are bisexual, asexual or non-binary; who have variations in sex characteristics; or who are sex workers—people who are subject to considerable community discrimination—have no protections at all. The landscape for some LGBTQIA+ people has been getting even more hostile. I believe there is an urgent need to provide protections for people who are non-binary or who have variations in sex characteristics.

The laws also continue to allow private schools to discriminate against students and employees, which disproportionately impacts the LGBTQIA+ students and staff in those schools. Our laws are behind other States and Territories. We need to move forward. My equality bill will provide an opportunity to protect those LGBTQIA+ people who are currently excluded while we wait for the Law Reform Commission process, the Government response and new legislation. I will work with all sides of this House to modernise our anti‑discrimination laws so that all vulnerable communities are protected.

LGBTQIA+ communities and faith communities are often inappropriately and unfairly pitted against each other or there is an assumption that somehow there is conflict between us. There are many LGBTQIA+ people of faith and many LGBTQIA+ people like me who have the utmost respect for all faith communities. We experience a very similar type of vilification, and the Anti-Discrimination Act should protect people of faith just as it protects us. I welcome the bill as a step towards achieving that.

Details of amendments and debates > HERE

Response to Amendments: I support all of The Greens amendments. I understand that the Government and the Opposition will not support them. The issues raised by the member for Newtown are important and should be considered in the context of the Law Reform Commission review of the Anti‑Discrimination Act. Should the Government not support these amendments today, I will continue to support the legislation in the form that passed the House. But I think the issues raised in all of The Greens amendments are important and need clarification. I hope the Law Reform Commission will be able to provide guidance to the Parliament on those issues.

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