freedom of speech, senate committee, Nicola Roxon, human rights, anti-discriminationA Senate committee is conducting an inquiry on a controversial bill by federal Labor Attorney-General Nicola Roxon. The deadline for submissions is not far away – Friday 21 December 2012 – and brief emails pointing out the bill’s dangers are urgently needed.

Among other problems, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 would:

  • greatly increase the number of attributes (eg gender identity) on which discrimination is forbidden;
  • make it illegal to offend someone at work on the basis of their religious belief or political opinion;
  • reverse the onus of proof;
  • deny non-disabled respondents the right to have a legal adviser at conciliation conferences;
  • make it illegal for church-based aged care homes to discriminate on sexual orientation or gender identity grounds.

The new offence of “offending” others at work on the basis of religious belief is a big worry. A similar law in Victoria caused great stress and expense for two Christian pastors before they were vindicated by the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal five years later. Some other states then decided not to proceed with such harmful and counter-productive laws – but the federal Attorney-General is ploughing ahead.
Former NSW chief justice Jim Spigelman has spoken out against the federal bill, saying it would impose unprecedented restrictions on free speech, far beyond anti-discrimination laws in other countries (The Australian, 11/12/12). Reversing the onus of proof (so respondents must prove their innocence), then denying the right to have a legal adviser at conciliation conferences, is contrary to natural justice.
The bill would prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples. There would be no exception for religious bodies providing aged care – they would have to treat homosexual couples as married couples. This would undermine religious freedom and could be extended to schools and other services in future.

Please act now – send a brief submission to the Senate inquiry by Friday 21 December

Email legcon.sen@aph.gov.au or fax to 02 6277 5794 – or post to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600.
Write “Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012” in the subject line. Include your name and postal address.

In your own words, say: The Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill undermines free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association and natural justice. It should be rejected, or amended:

  • to remove from clause 19 the words, “conduct that offends, insults or intimidates” and the words “religion” and “political opinion” from the list of protected attributes in clause 17;
  • to delete clause 124 which reverses the onus of proof;
  • to allow respondents the right to legal representation if they wish;
  • to allow religious freedom to religious bodies in all circumstances.

For more information on the parliamentary website for this inquiry click here or go to: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=legcon_ctte/anti_discrimination_2012/index.htm



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