The federal government’s religious discrimination bill will effectively give older people the right to be nasty, say legal experts.
Most at risk of ridicule are LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer) people in aged care facilities.
An older person living in an aged care facility would be able to hang a sign in a communal area or in a person’s room that says “homosexuality is a sin”, or a nurse could tell a patient “being gay is a form of brokenness” under the proposed law, reports The Sydney Morning Herald.
“The bill would diminish the rights of LGBTQ people in aged care homes,” said associate professor of constitutional law at Monash University, Luke Beck.
“The bill allows religious-run aged care homes to subject LGBTQ residents to ‘statements of belief’ that ridicule, humiliate or even intimidate.”
Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and psychologists could also refuse to provide healthcare if they have a religious objection, says Dr Beck, adding that under the latest draft of the bill, Catholic nursing homes could even refuse to employ Muslim nurses or Hindu cleaners.
The draft has a “targeted exception” for religious hospitals in regard to employment and partnerships “to ensure such bodies can maintain their religious ethos”.
“[But] why would a nursing home ever want to subject a resident to such nasty treatment?” asked Dr Beck.
“And if nursing homes say they never would do such a thing, then why is the Morrison government proposing a law that creates a right to be nasty to vulnerable aged care home residents?”
Professor of law and ageing at the University of South Australia, Eileen Webb, said the proposed law might be at odds with existing legislation which says funding could be cut for facilities that practise discrimination.
“I think it’s a retrograde step and undermines progress that has been made regarding acceptance and inclusion of older LGBTQ people as they age,” she said.
Many LGBTQ people keep their sexuality or gender preferences to themselves, for fear of being harassed by fellow residents or treated unfairly by staff, said chief executive of AIDS Council of NSW, Nicholas Parkhill.
“Many older people come from a time when their sexuality wasn’t legal, or they were classified by the health system as deviant or sick, and they had to fight for their rights to exist,” he said.
Other legal experts say the laws will give church-goers the “right to be a bigot”.
The Uniting Church in Australia agrees with this sentiment, saying the new bill does not “get the balance right”.
“To be a welcoming, inclusive, multi-faith and multicultural society, it is important that people are able to freely practise religion without fear,” said Uniting Church president Dr Deidre Palmer.
“But privileging statements of religious belief at the expense of other people’s dignity and wellbeing is not something we support. Christians in Australia are not persecuted. In Australia, churches aren’t victims. To cultivate some kind of victim status is disingenuous.”
What are your thoughts on the redrafted religious discrimination bill?
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