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Monica Doumit: Greenwich bill proves nothing’s more certain than an inquiry at Easter time

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Independent MP Alex Greenwich in 2023. Photo: AAP Image/Bianca De Marchi

“Nothing is certain except death and taxes.” So goes Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote. With respect, there’s a third certainty: a parliamentary inquiry each Christmas and Easter. This time, it’s an inquiry into the so-called “equality” bill tabled by the Independent Member for Sydney, Alex Greenwich.

The inquiry was announced on 13 March and invitations for submissions were sent a week later. Despite the bill being tabled in August of last year, the time for the inquiry is condensed, with submissions due on 14 April. The timing cuts across not only Holy Week and the Easter Octave, but also Ramadan and Eid al-fitr, and the Jewish festival of Purim with the inquiry ending a mere week before Passover.

Christian, Islamic and Jewish faith leaders will now have to find time in their holiest (and busiest) periods to turn their minds to the base matters covered by this bill. Additionally, while congregations swell during the feasts, those pushing these inquiries bet that faith leaders won’t want to talk about politics from the pulpit in these sacred times.

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Despite the inappropriateness of the timing, it is important that we participate in this inquiry and send a clear voice to NSW Parliament that we reject the bill. Despite being marketed as being about “equality,” it is an attack on the most vulnerable, on religion and on public decency.

The bill is complex, seeking to amend 20 different pieces of NSW legislation. But these proposed changes can be summarised under five key themes.

The first is the removal of religious protections contained in anti-discrimination law. The proposals under the Greenwich Bill go much further than even the disastrous recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission released last month. The ALRC, for all its faults, limited its recommendations to stripping protections from religious schools and universities only. The Greenwich Bill has all religious organisations in its sight.

It allows some small accommodations for the training and appointment of those involved in worship services, but otherwise seeks to require religious organisations to behave much like secular ones. As an example, a parish would not be able to refuse to hire a prostitute as the parish secretary, nor a biological man who insisted he was a woman as the sacramental coordinator.

This isn’t really about “equality,” but rather about making sure religious organisations can’t impose their sexual morality even on their own staff.

The next is the stripping away of public decency laws for prostitution. As I have written previously, prostitution is legal in NSW, but until now there have been some limits imposed around how publicly it can be promoted. Under the Greenwich bill, these limits will be removed, and so prostitutes will be permitted to advertise, as well as personally solicit, outside churches and schools. Again, this isn’t really about “equality,” but about removing any taboo around sex-for-payment.

Third is the introduction of a sex self-identification law, which would allow any of us to show up to ServiceNSW and change our sex on official documents like our driver’s license or birth certificate. Far from being something personal, these actions have significant public consequences because they would allow men into women’s only spaces like gyms, prisons and even domestic violence shelters.

Fourthly, it would allow residents of NSW to engage in commercial surrogacy arrangements overseas, allowing them to hire a woman from another country to bear their child. The Former Chief Justice of the Family Court, John Pascoe, described commercial surrogacy as “the new frontline in the trafficking and commodification of women and newborn children … used by people ill-suited to be parents, driven by cash with no oversight by any regulating body, and likely to expose vulnerable women and children to terrible abuse.”

But don’t worry, this bill is about “equality,” so I’m sure it’s fine.

And finally, the bill would remove the need for parental consent for children’s medical treatment, allowing kids and their doctors to override the wishes of parents when it comes to medical care. This is obviously aimed at facilitating the prescription of puberty blockers to kids without parental oversight.

It isn’t so much about equality but proposing a dramatic shift in the relationship between parents and children. Currently in NSW, we have so much respect for the parent-child relationship that a doctor needs a court order to override a parent’s decision on medical treatment for their child. The Greenwich Bill would turn that on its head.

While written submissions for this inquiry are limited to a small number of invited participants, the public is invited to have its say using an online, parliamentary survey.
The survey asks your view on each of the amendments. While there are some proposals we could support (eg. referring to HIV as “HIV” rather than “HIV infection”), these are few and far between.

The bill is otherwise so bad that it will send the clearest message if it is opposed in its entirety. Please take the five-minute survey, indicating you OPPOSE every aspect of the bill by CLICKING HERE

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