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Faith groups relieved as Greenwich “Equality Bill” debate delayed

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MP Alex Greenwich and supporters were intent on ramming the bill through. Photo: EqualityCWiki/Wikimeida Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0
MP Alex Greenwich and supporters were intent on ramming the bill through. Photo: EqualityCWiki/Wikimeida Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Faith leaders and human rights advocates welcomed news that debat­­­e on Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich’s alarming “Equality Bill” will be postponed until mid-March, as encouragement the New South Wales Government is taking their concerns seriously.

Debate on the bill, introduced last August, was due to begin on 8 February, but the plan was quietly shelved the previous day, pushing it to 14 March, the next available sitting day.

The 50-page bill is aimed at changing 20 different pieces of legislation and includes removing protections for faith-based schools and other institutions to teach Christian doctrine on marriage, sexuality and gender and to hire employees who adhere to the same beliefs and values.

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It would legalise commercial surrogacy if the arrangement is made outside of NSW, give sex work the same protections as age and disability under anti-discrimination laws, and allow people over 16 years of age to consent to sex-change procedures.

Children under 16 would be permitted to access them against their parents’ wishes if considered capable of understanding and accepting the consequences and ­­­­risks by a doctor.

The changes would also allow people, including in some cases children, to alter the record of their sex on their birth certificate without transgender surgical or medical treatments and further relax prostitution laws in the state.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, heads of the major Christian denominations, leaders of other faith traditions and the governing bodies of religious schools have strongly protested the proposed changes as extreme, with the risk of “significant” unintended consequences.

A spokesperson for NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley said the government is working “with a range of stakeholders to address the issues involved in this complex policy area.”

Freedom for Faith executive officer Mike Southon said the large number of faith leaders who joined the organisation to raise concerns about the bill, including Archbishop Fisher, highlighted the problems with it.

He said the delay will give time for more people to ask their members of parliament to reject the bill via the contactyourmp.org.au website.

“We are encouraged that the government is not rushing this bill through and are taking the time to consider the implications and consult broadly, including with faith communities,” Southon said.

“Part of the reason they are listening to us is that we have taken the time to talk to them. Thousands of people have written to their MP, and they are starting to listen.

“Our fear is that the government will try to slice and dice the bill to find something that they can pass.

“It is too complex and too inter-connected to cut up without risking serious unintended consequences.”

Rachael Wong, CEO of advocacy group Women’s Forum Australia, said the delay on the “anti-woman, anti-child” bill was excellent news and that more than 15,000 people have signed its petition asking NSW MPs to reject the bill.

“Greenwich and his supporters were intent on ramming it through as quickly as possible, with as little public consultation and awareness as possible,” she said.

“This is despite the bill being utterly out of step with community expectations and not what NSW citizens voted for at last year’s state election.”

“With far-reaching reforms such as these, one would expect to see an inquiry or call for public submissions, but there has been no such public consultation.

“The only consultation undertaken by Greenwich appears to have been with LGBT groups, including trans activists, with women’s and children’s advocates left out in the cold.”

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