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New Religious Discrimination Bill to further discriminate Australians with disabilities

Rear view of a wheelchair user in the street

Disability Sector representative organisations have come together to voice their concerns in a Joint Statement on the opening of further discrimination of persons with disabilities which the Coalition Governments proposed Bill will have inclusive of many of those of faith.

The sector representing over 4.5 million Australians with disabilities fully support protection against discrimination on the ground of religion and of religious freedom as essential to any thriving democracy, but state that it must not be allowed at the expense of the rights and dignity of others.

The sector has particular concerns with the provisions permitting ‘statements of belief’ and this Bill overriding the existing legal and policy protections for persons with disabilities from humiliating, insulting, ridiculing and demeaning behaviour and gives licence to an increase in such behaviour towards persons with disabilities, undermining our confidence and sense of worth as Australians.

“There are already significant protections against religious discrimination with existing laws at Federal, State and Territory levels. This unnecessary Bill will override all existing legislation but in so doing, will allow for a “statement of faith” to provide protection for those undertaking, what would currently be covered in existing law as discrimination against people with disability”, said Mr Ross Joyce CEO of Australian Federation of Disability Organisations.

People with disability are often subjected to unwelcome & uninvited statements of religious belief that demean disability as the result of sin, possession, or karma. While these may seem extreme religious views and statements, they are views commonly expressed to people with disability and the Bill will legitimise these views as long as they are personally held beliefs of religious doctrine and are made in good faith.

Mr. Michael Small from Disability Voices Tasmania advised; “Some documented examples of current abuse are direct statements to people with disability that their disability is a “punishment from God for their, or their parents’, sins”; their disability can be “healed by prayer” or by “living virtuously” or that they “deserve to suffer from their disability for what they have done in a previous life”. Our concerns are that these existing discriminatory practices will be furthered and protected by this current Bill”.

The sector is extremely concerned that this Bill will impact and undermine Australia’s commitments to the equality, and equal dignity and rights for people with disability under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability, the vision of Australia’s Disability Strategy 2021–2031, the purpose of the Disability Royal Commission, and the principles of dignity and equity that Australian disability communities continue to fight for.

 

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