Critics pan proposed changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act

Critics pan proposed changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act
Image: NSW Attorney General Michael Daley. AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts


The NSW Labor government has introduced a bill today to amend the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, but critics believe the proposed changes are convoluted and vague, and fail to adequately protect vulnerable communities.

The NSW Government pledged to amend the Act within its first 100 days in office and has stuck to this commitment. But law groups, who have long pointed out that the Act is outdated and flawed, remain sceptical of the bill in its current form.

NSW Minister for Multiculturalism Steve Kamper said, “the unfortunate reality is that certain forms of religious vilification are on the rise. No matter your personal beliefs, this is unacceptable.”

“Members of the Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths have all raised concerns about the growing levels of intolerance towards members of their communities.”

Legal concerns over bill

Law groups including the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) are questioning the vagueness of terms in the bill which could mean organisations – and not just individuals – are protected from religious vilification.

Josh Pallas, President of NSWCCL, said, “the Council is particularly concerned that the Bill could create a situation in which severe ridicule or vilification of institutions such as, for example, the Catholic Church, Hillsong, the Church of Scientology or the Anglican Church may be taken to constitute severe ridicule or vilification of persons who belong to those organisations, and thus made unlawful.”

The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) has pointed out inconsistencies in the bill in comparison to the existing Crimes Act 1900 – s93Z specifically – and the then-Labor Opposition’s 2021 bill to prohibit religious vilification, introduced by Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch.

While PIAC acknowledges the importance of protecting people of minority faiths in NSW, PIAC has argued for further amendments.

Director of Policy and Advocacy Alastair Lawrie said, “the scope of these proposed reforms is broader than most other Australian jurisdictions, including Victoria and Queensland.”

“The introduction of prohibitions on religious vilification, while important, also highlights the need for the entire NSW Anti-Discrimination Act to be reviewed, and re-written.”

“Other groups in our community also deserve respect and improved protection against discrimination and vilification”, he continued.

Queer groups unhappy

A spokesperson for the queer rights organisation Pride in Protest has said the group are “deeply worried” that the bill will entrench the right of religious institutions to continue to discriminate.

Describing the bill as “disgusting”, Pride in Protest emphasised the “current climate of attacks against LGBT+ people by religious extremist groups that manifest itself in physical violence and intimidation in LGBT+ areas like Oxford Street and King Street.”

Rachel Evans, spokesperson for Rainbow Rights Coalition, labelled the bill “a kick in teeth” and pointed out Labor’s double standards in simultaneously advocating queer rights but failing to act swiftly.

“Their pre-election promise was to ban gay-conversion therapy which was announced with great fanfare at World Pride,” Rachel said. “They haven’t bothered to move on this tortuous practice for the LGBT+ community.”

“This bill will give religious organisations, who unfortunately are starting to really dominate the teaching and aged-care sphere and are developing quite a lot of control and management of social housing, more confidence to discriminate and sack LGBT+ workers, sex workers and single mothers who’ve had abortions.”

Jenny Leong, Member for Newtown and Greens NSW Spokesperson for Anti-Discrimination, said, “right now we are seeing a disturbing increase of anti-trans and anti-LGBT+ rhetoric and aggression online and on the streets.”

“But instead of prioritising protections against discrimination and vilification for the LGBT+ community and sex workers – the amendment introduced today only inserts broad religious protections in the Anti-Discrimination Act.”

In recent months, emboldened far-right religious groups have targeted safe spaces for queer communities across the country, gate-crashing queer rights protests and causing a series of councils to cancel drag story-time events over security concerns.

In March this year, religious fanatics surrounded and assaulted a group of queer activists, protesting against a Mark Latham event, outside a Catholic church in south-west Sydney.

Reviewing the Act in its entirety: Vital or a delaying tactic?

Law groups prefer to see the entire act reviewed via a referral to the NSW Law Reform Commission.

Lawrie from PIAC said, “The NSW Anti-Discrimination Act remains the worst in the country, and we look forward to the Government following through on its promise to refer it to the NSW Law Reform Commission and acting on the Commission’s recommendations.”

Pallas stated, ““The NSW Council for Civil Liberties opposes the Bill in its current form. The Bill cannot be fixed with amendments.”

“The only prudent way to facilitate such far reaching reform is through a referral of the whole Anti-Discrimination Act to the NSW Law Reform Commission. There is widespread community support for a complete review, the Attorney General should just get on with it.”

Pride in Protest, meanwhile, accused NSW Labor of “brazen hypocrisy”.

“We think it’s unfair that the law reform is seen as a delaying tactic for the rights of LGBT+ people”, a Pride in Protest spokesperson declared.

“If the Labor Party has the ability through to rush through these changes [for religious people and groups], why is there the delay on our rights?”

“Labor needs to get their priorities in order”.

Pallas from NSWCCL also questioned the state government on its perceived hierarchy of priorities, stating “others within the community, trans people, people with intersex variations and sex workers also receive limited protections under NSW anti-discrimination law. Where is the protection for them?”

“Why should religious organisations receive protection before them?”

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