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“Flawed, bewildering and nonsensical”: Column in The Australian Crucifies Religious Freedom Bill

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October 29 2019

By Nicholas Hartman

The religious freedom bill is “flawed, bewildering and nonsensical” according to an opinion piece in the Australian.

“At its core it is flawed, a bewildering, nonsensical addition to our logically thought-out industrial relations framework,” writes columnist Katrina Grace Kelly.

“It will put larger employers in a no-win position, stuck between competing laws and at risk of fines.

“For large and small employers alike, it imposes the requirement to become experts in the doctrines of every single religion as well as the belief systems of atheists.”

The bill, which has been drafted and released to the public in that form, seeks to protect workers from being sacked due to expressing a religious belief.

The political will to introduce such laws was motivated by Rugby Australia’s dismissal of Israel Folau, after the rugby union footballer was dismissed for publishing an Instagram post that stated, amongst other things, that ‘hell awaits’ homosexuals if they do not ‘repent’.

Business and religious groups have already raised concerns with the draft bill, with the Anglican church calling the bill ‘flawed’ and with “very significant implications”.

Kelly also has concerns with it. By way of a scenario, she explains her issues with the bill.

‘For example, two employees of a business with a more than $50m turnover speak at a Christmas party. One keeps proselytising to the other and saying things like she is a sinner and going to hell because she is having sex out of marriage, and that using contraceptives is a sin,” Kelly writes.

“If ’the sinner’ complains to the employer that she felt uncomfortable, bullied and distressed, the employer is required…to address the issue.

“Legally, the employer is responsible, and the employer will be liable if the offended employee takes time off because she is upset and puts in a WorkCover claim.

“However, the employer will be unable to prevent the behaviour from recurring as long as the offending employee is merely making statements of her religious beliefs.

“The employer will be caught between two conflicting individuals. One has the legal right to a safe workplace, the other has the legal right to keep saying things that may be deemed to make the workplace unsafe.

“And among all this conflict and drama, the employer has to deal with the fallout and pay the WorkCover premiums.

“It is a no-win situation [for the employer], and it is staggering that a Coalition government would inflict this on the Australian workplace.”

Employsure’s Senior Employment Relations Adviser Michael Wilkinson raised different concerns about the bill in a media release, published in early October.

“In effect, the proposed laws are flawed and impractical. This is just another case of unnecessary red tape – various protections exist protect employees from discrimination in the workplace and outside the workplace,” Wilkinson said.

“Is another law really needed?”