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Amnesty International welcomes the opportunity to provide this submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiry and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee inquiry into the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and Related Bills (the Bill).

Amnesty has serious concerns that the Bill in its current form will condone behaviour, statements and environments that create unsafe or potentially harmful environments for some people and communities who are attempting to access essential services such as health, mental health, education, accommodation, crisis support services, aged care and employment.

This Bill will particularly impact on LGBTQIA+ people, people with a disability and/or lived experience of mental illness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, rural and remote communities, single parents, divorcees, people of minority faiths and beliefs, people with limited support or resources, women, children and young people.

This submission addresses several serious concerns that Amnesty has in regards to the Bill, namely that it provides protection to religious belief or activity at the expense of other rights and as such are likely to facilitate harm to members of the community.

Our laws must protect all of us, equally.

Amnesty International maintains the strong position that the best form of rights protection, including that of the freedom of religion, is a Federal Human Rights Act or Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The differences in language, definitions of terms and provisions overriding other Federal, State and Territory anti-discrimination legislation contained in the Religious Discrimination Bill clearly demonstrate the urgent need for a Human Rights Act or Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to protect the human rights of all and to balance competing rights appropriately.

Acknowledging that the Federal Government has rejected the proposal of a Federal Human Rights Act, Amnesty is deeply concerned that the proposed Bill protects the right to religious belief at the expense of other rights and this Bill has the potential to cause harm to individuals and communities and to increase disharmony in society. Human rights legislation should always promote the idea that all members of society are free and equal in dignity and rights.

Amnesty’s strong position is that the Bill should not be enacted.

If the Committee supports proceeding with the Bill, it should be amended according to the recommendations of this submission, and be subject to further scrutiny from civil society, particularly the LGBTQIA+ community, women, First Nations people, people with a disability and/or lived experience of mental illness, survivors of institutional abuse and religious communities (especially minority faiths) and other minority or vulnerable communities.