We don’t serve Catholics!

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The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 was introduced into the NSW Legislative Council by Mark Latham almost two years ago.
The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 was introduced into the NSW Legislative Council by Mark Latham almost two years ago.

In 2022, such blatant discrimination is sadly still legal in NSW and our state MPs have voted against moves to change it.

Imagine you are planning a wedding at St Mary’s Cathedral because, let’s face it, it’s the most beautiful church in the country. You go to get your invitations printed but the printer refuses to do the job because you’re getting married in a Catholic Church. “We don’t serve Catholics,” they say.

This is obviously religious discrimination but it is perfectly legal in NSW. Anyone can deny you service on the grounds of your religious beliefs.

On Wednesday night, the NSW Parliament had the opportunity to rectify this and finally make it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their religion.

In doing so, it would have finally extended anti-discrimination protections currently available to people on the basis of age, disability, race, sexual orientation, gender identity and more to people of faith.

“… an extraordinary lack of courage meant that the bill was voted down, with not one member of the government, nor the Opposition, voting in favour of the change.”

It would also have implemented the recommendation of numerous inquiries on anti-discrimination law held at a state and federal level over a period spanning three decades.

But political pragmatism and an extraordinary lack of courage meant that the bill was voted down, with not one member of the government, nor the Opposition, voting in favour of the change.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 was introduced into the NSW Legislative Council by Mark Latham almost two years ago.

People gather at the Parliament of NSW on the Day of the Unborn Child in 2015. Photo: Patrick J Lee
People gather at the Parliament of NSW on the Day of the Unborn Child in 2015. Photo: Patrick J Lee

The bill was referred to an inquiry that received close to 20,000 responses to an online questionnaire, close to 200 submissions from affected organisations, and heard from 57 witnesses – including our own Archbishop Fisher – at public hearings that ran over four days.

Twelve months’ ago, the committee conducting the inquiry recommended that – given the delay on a federal religious discrimination bill – the Latham bill be amended slightly and passed as a Government bill before the end of 2021.

Despite this recommendation being supported by Committee members from the Liberals, the Nationals, Labor, One Nation and an Independent, it was only One Nation and the Christian Democratic Party that voted in favour of the bill on Thursday night.

The government’s reason for not backing the bill was that it needed to wait for the federal parliament to pass its religious discrimination bill to ensure that state and federal laws were not in a conflict that would give rise to constitutional issues.

“… it ignores the fact that all other Australian states, with the exception of South Australia, have managed to protect against religious discrimination in their laws without raising constitutional problems.”

Their excuse is farfetched for several reasons. First, it ignores the Committee report, which stated that the federal situation need not be an impediment to the passage of the bill.

Second, it ignores the fact that all other Australian states, with the exception of South Australia, have managed to protect against religious discrimination in their laws without raising constitutional problems.

And finally, it expects us to believe that the public “debate” and collapse of the Federal Government’s bill was not the key factor in the NSW Government kicking this particular can down the road.

Members of Sydney's gay community celebrate in 2017. After a majority of Australians indicated they favoured same-sex marriage, Australia's bishops said legislators must ensure that any new law on marriage include protection for religious freedom. Photo: Steven Saphore, Reuters
Members of Sydney’s gay community celebrate in 2017. After a majority of Australians indicated they favoured same-sex marriage, Australia’s bishops said legislators must ensure that any new law on marriage include protection for religious freedom. Photo: Steven Saphore, Reuters

Disappointingly, Natalie Ward MLC, who outlined the government’s reasons for rejecting the bill in her second reading speech, quoted from submissions from five groups opposed to the bill. She did not see fit to cite a single religious group or individual, on proposed legislation about religious freedom.

Labor’s reasoning was not much better. Penny Sharpe MLC focused on the need to conduct a wholesale review of NSW anti-discrimination laws. The Labor position that this would be preferable to a piecemeal amendment seems implausible.

First, it ignores the Committee finding (backed by all Labor members except Paul Lynch) that any review of anti-discrimination laws should wait until after religious protections were inserted.

Second, it fails to acknowledge that there was a wholesale review of the NSW anti-discrimination laws back in 1999. That review recommended changes, including protections against religious discrimination, be included. Religion was left off the list while other changes progressed.

“The frustrating truth is that no major party at a federal or state level currently has the conviction to stand up for the rights of people of faith.”

Finally, it expects us to believe that the influence LGBTI lobby groups have over Labor policy was not a key factor in its decision to avoid the issue.

The frustrating truth is that no major party at a federal or state level currently has the conviction to stand up for the rights of people of faith, who still make up the overwhelming majority of people in this country.

In fact, the abandonment of religious groups by major parties has become so expected that the voting down of the bill didn’t even make the news. The only place you’re going to read about it is right here in The Catholic Weekly.