Legislative Council, Wednesday 27 October, 2021
Ms FORREST question to LEADER of the GOVERNMENT in the LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL, Mrs HISCUTT
The federal Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, has indicated a Religious Discrimination Bill will be introduced to the Federal Parliament by December 2021. Two previous iterations of the Bill have included provisions that effectively override and weaken section 17(1) of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act which effectively prohibits a range of bullying behaviour. Its wording is echoed in a range of government and non-government anti-bullying policies. Tasmanians, including those with disability have accessed its protections.
My questions are to the Leader:
If the Federal Religious Discrimination Bill, when tabled, includes a weakening of section 17(1) will the Premier:
1. Defend Tasmania's right to make our own human rights laws free from federal intervention?
2. Make representations to his federal colleagues highlighting that a range of groups will be disadvantaged by a weakening of section 17(1) including Tasmanians with disability;
3. Confirm that he has no intention of weakening section 17(1) though state legislation?
The Tasmanian Government is committed to free speech and allowing all Tasmanians to express their views reasonably and respectfully in accordance with their views.
Regarding the Commonwealth’s Religious Freedom Bill, the Government can confirm that the second draft has been carefully considered, particularly as to how it interacts with Tasmanian law. The Tasmanian Government has also been involved in discussions with the Commonwealth during the various consultation processes, in the drafting of this Bill.
The Attorney-General, on behalf of the Government, has written to the then Commonwealth Attorney General to indicate that the Tasmanian Government is of the view that every member of the community should enjoy full freedom of religious belief and freedom of expression, as well as to ensure the Tasmanian position is considered. It remains important the laws strike the right balance between providing protection from discrimination and unlawful conduct, whilst still allowing for the responsible expression of beliefs, public debate and discussion on important issues.
In particular, the Attorney-General has also made it clear to the Commonwealth that it was the Tasmanian Government’s view that the Bill as drafted would diminish the ability of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal to deal with certain complaints.
We have made our Government’s views and concerns known. However, it is recognised that ultimately any changes to the draft Bill are a federal matter.
The then Commonwealth Attorney-General advised he was considering the concerns raised by Tasmania, along with other issues raised during his consultation in Tasmania.
While there are no current plans to revisit amendments to the Act, it is appropriate that all legislation should be reviewed from time to time, to ensure that it remains contemporary, consistent with other legislation and meets community expectations.