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    Wimmera Pride Project is urging Member for Mallee Anne Webster, pictured, and Member for Wannon Dan Tehan to vote against a Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 to support LGBTIQ+ constituents. 

‘Time to prove it’ – Wimmera Pride group calls for support on religious freedom bill

Wimmera Pride Project is urging Member for Mallee Anne Webster and Member for Wannon Dan Tehan to vote against a Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 to support LGBTIQ+ constituents. 

Wimmera Pride Project has sent a letter to Dr Webster’s office, which highlights concerns the bill would result in Wimmera LGBTIQ+ people being vulnerable to forms of discrimination that would be protected under the bill.

The group said it believed the bill, if passed, would also exacerbate inequality by ensuring only people with enough money to pay legal fees in Federal Court could attempt to prove they had been subjected to discrimination based on someone else’s religious stance. 

It has written that the Wimmera is home to many LGBTIQ+ people, ‘many of whom face ongoing discrimination, homophobia and transphobia at home and in the broader community’.

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Here is Wimmera Pride Project’s letter – 

Dr Webster, we are writing to you to stress our objection to components of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 that has been proposed by your government. 

As we have previously stated, the Wimmera Pride Project is supportive of the Australian Government creating legislation to protect Australians from religious discrimination, but not at the expense of protections for minorities and people of minority faiths. 

Firstly, we applaud the government for removing the health-practitioner conscientious objection clause and employer-conduct rules, otherwise known as the ‘Israel Folau’ clause. 

Despite this improvement, the Wimmera Pride Project still holds serious reservations about the bill in its current form.

The statement-of-belief clause remains in the current version of the bill. This was perhaps the most troubling part of the previous drafts.

In the new legislation, statements of belief still override other state and federal anti-discrimination acts. 

This undeniably prioritises and protects statements of religious belief over all other discrimination protections across the country. 

The clause is highly problematic even with the exemptions for when: 

• The statement is malicious.

• A reasonable person would consider the statement threatening, intimidating, harassing or vilifying a person or group.

• The statement would promote or encourage the commission of an offence punishable by at least two years’ imprisonment. 

As we said in our letter dated June 24, 2020, by overriding the state legislation it means cases will have to be heard by a Federal Court to determine if the discrimination is claimed to be a statement of belief. 

State tribunals, which are free and have much shorter wait times than Federal Courts, will not be able to make decisions when a defendant claims immunity under this clause. 

If a complainant has been discriminated against by a statement of belief which does threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group, that complainant would need to prove said discrimination in a Federal Court, so the statement of belief exemption could be overridden and the state tribunal could then hear the case. 

Under this procedure, the prohibitive cost of court would guarantee many of these cases simply won’t be lodged, leaving people who have been discriminated against without remedy. 

In your electorate there are children that are kicked out of their home because they are LGBTIQ+. 

Do you think someone with that sort of disadvantage is likely to be able to fund a legal battle?

We are not saying this to ask you to confer with your colleagues or take our concerns to the Attorney-General on our behalf. 

We know our interpretation of the legislation is correct. 

We are writing this to beg you not to support this legislation. 

If you vote for this legislation, with it containing the statements-of-belief clause, you are abandoning your LGBTIQ+ constituents. 

You would be supporting legislation that will undoubtedly facilitate more discrimination in our community.

You told us at our meeting last year that you abhor discrimination –  now is the time to prove it. 

Demand this clause is removed, or do not vote for this legislation. 

– Wimmera Pride Project committee

The entire December 8, 2021 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!