The National Ethnic Disability Alliance (NEDA) is a national peak body representing the interests and human rights of people with disability from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD).
As an organisation whose members are statistically more likely to experience religious discrimination, NEDA supports the principle of protecting religious beliefs through anti-discrimination laws. However, NEDA strongly opposes the religious discrimination bill, as religious protections must not infringe on the rights and protections of other groups.
NEDA is voicing several concerns about the bill’s impact on people with disability, amongst other intersectional protected groups, whose concerns have been overlooked in the writing of this bill. The proposed bill weakens anti-discrimination protections for people with disability, many of which have been the result of lengthy, persistent efforts in campaigning and advocacy.
People with disability from CALD backgrounds and intersectional groups often face discrimination in wider society as well as within their own communities, in the form of demeaning statements and ostracisation.
The protections of “statements of religious belief made in good faith” - statements which are often offensive and discriminatory, erode the rights of other protected groups to live without discrimination, and open the door for demeaning statements such as “disability as punishment from God”.
Some of the largest disability service providers in Australia are composed of religious organisations. Allowing discrimination from these providers, which are often the only form of support for many people with disability, would be detrimental.
This bill prioritises religious views, including those that are discriminatory, over anti-discrimination protections for people with disability and intersectional groups.
It would allow doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers greater legal leeway to refuse treatment to patients based on religious beliefs, especially toward women and LGBTQIA+ people with disability - who often face discrimination when receiving healthcare, particularly regarding mental and sexual health.
The passing of this bill will likely exacerbate the issue of sexual health-related discrimination due to religious beliefs, with examples being, contraception, abortion, and transgender healthcare. These issues are often denied legitimacy by many religious groups, including Australia’s dominant religious group Christianity, which will likely receive the most protection when it comes to discrimination.
NEDA strongly opposes this bill and would like to reiterate that while religious protections are important in their current form, they cannot be allowed to undermine the rights of other intersectional protected groups.