Religious Discrimination Bill threatens access to healthcare

Religious Discrimination Bill threatens access to healthcare

The Morrison Government must ensure that the rights of doctors to freedom of religion do not unfairly trump the rights of people to non-discriminatory health care, the Human Rights Law Centre said in its submission on the Religious Discrimination Bill.

Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre Hugh de Kretser said the current Bill threatens people’s ability to access healthcare without discrimination.

“The Bill will make it harder for health services to ensure people get the health care they need without discrimination. The Bill prioritises the interests of doctors who may conscientiously object to providing services such as an abortion or contraception, over the interests of people to access those health services,” said Mr de Kretser.

“Women and LGBTIQ+ people shouldn’t have to fear whether they’ll get the healthcare they need because of the religious views of their doctor.”

Different state and territory laws allow doctors to conscientiously object to providing some health services like an abortion. Medical conduct rules require doctors to disclose their objection and refer a patient to another service. The Bill will make it harder for health services to enforce these rules in jurisdictions like South Australia and Western Australia.

“The Bill will also introduce unjustified protection for people to express harmful discriminatory views and will override certain state and territory protections which ensure fair treatment,” said Mr de Kretser.

“Australia needs stronger protections from discrimination for people of faith, but the current bill fails to strike the right balance. It’s good that the Government has released these reforms in draft form so that the flaws can be fixed to ensure legislation that can be welcomed.”

Mr de Kretser also expressed concern about further delays in implementing Prime Minister Morrison’s commitment to address discrimination against LGBTIQ+ children in religious schools.

"It’s outrageous that children can still be discriminated against by religious schools because of their sexuality or gender identity. Last year, the PM committed to fix this ‘as soon as practicable’. He should act on that commitment now as part of this reform package.”

The need to strike a fair balance between different rights and responsibilities highlights the need to create an Australian Charter of Human Rights.

“Instead of piecemeal steps forward to advance human rights protection in Australia for some, we should be discussing how best to comprehensively protect all human rights, including freedom of religion, through an Australian Charter of Human Rights. A Charter would help us better navigate issues like these in a way that doesn’t unreasonably restrict people’s rights,” said Mr de Kretser.

Read the Human Rights Law Centre’s submission on the Religious Discrimination Bill here.

Media contact:
Michelle Bennett, Communications Director: 0419 100 519