Submission on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021

Scarlet Alliance submission on the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021, and the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 on December 21, 2021.

“The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and related bills enables people of faith to lawfully encroach upon the human rights of other people and groups. In addition to working counter to the aim of anti-discrimination legislation – to promote equity and human rights – the Bills also overrides important federal and jurisdictional legislation designed to protect against discrimination, and enshrines into law permission for one protected group to discriminate against others. This is divisive and counters the advances made in human rights law in Australia.

While people holding religious beliefs are currently protected against geniune experiences of discrimination, these bills unnecessarily propose additional protections on the basis of religious belief at the cost of the safety of other marginalised groups. No individual or group, including people expressing religious faith, or those with no religious faith, should be provided with legal protections when they discriminate against other protected groups. For this reason, we reject the bills and hold concern for our own community of sex workers in relation to several sections of the bills in their current form.

Sex workers report high rates of discrimination and are deeply impacted by sex work stigma at systemic and interpersonal levels. The full decriminalisation of sex work is the best-practice model for sex work legislation and a key policy change required across the jurisdictions to achieve equitable access to health, safety and human rights for sex workers. Decriminalisation has been achieved in two Australian jurisdictions and is under way in many others. Anti-discrimination protections are a cornerstone of decriminalisation efforts in the jurisdictions, as they work in concert with industrial protections to unlock sex workers’ access to many of the benefits of a decriminalised framework. Scarlet Alliance and our members are currently mounting anti-discrimination and anti-vilification law reform campaigns throughout Australia.

Existing anti-discrimination protections for sex workers are non existent in some jurisdictions and weak in others and can be difficult to access. The sex worker community cannot afford further erosion of existing protections, nor curtailing of access to any gains made in the jurisdictions through the creation of inequitable provisions that elevate the rights of one group at the expense of others. In its current form, the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and related bills are incompatible with our obligation to provide healthcare, access to justice, and other fundamental human rights to all Australians.

We wish to raise our concerns with the survey provided by the Committee to enable individual members of the Australian public to provide input on the Bills. We do not believe that the survey adequately captures the complexity of the legislation, nor does it provide enough information to support individuals to respond. Its framing is selective and oversimplifying, does not allow for users to answer provisionally or with context for their responses, and divides what is a complex set of ethical and legislative questions into binary ‘yes / no’ answers. We do not believe that the survey provides a useful instrument for measuring public sentiment on the three bills.

We endorse the submission of Equality Australia in full as a rigorous analysis of the legislation and its impacts on allied members of the LGBTIQ+ community, of which many sex workers are a part. Our submission is endorsed by the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) and Hepatitis Australia.”