Next domino set to fall as NT faith protections face repeal

The Northern Territory is the latest jurisdiction set to remove faith protections from religious schools and organisations, with a plan released by the territory government to crucial religious freedom protections from anti-discrimination legislation.

An Exposure Draft of the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill that amends the Anti-Discrimination Act 1992 (NT) (Act) has been released by the NT attorney general, following a review of the legislation in 2017-18.

The Discussion Paper that preceded the Exposure Draft outlines the list of proposed reforms. The government wants to “modernis[e] gender and sexuality protections and language” and “remov[e] some of the exemptions for religious and cultural organisations”.

Like the proposed laws to amend anti-discrimination laws in the Australian Capital Territory, this new Bill fails to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms in a number of ways:

  • It undermines the integrity of religious schooling and fails to protect parents’ fundamental rights to educate their children in accordance with their religious beliefs.
  • The Bill introduces harmful new hate speech laws that will be easily weaponised by activists.
  • Courts will be given jurisdiction to unjustifiably interfere in church practice and religious worship. This turns judges into theologians.
  • The introduction of positive duties will arm the NT Anti-Discrimination Commission with activist powers that unjustifiably constrain religious freedom.
  • The Bill implements incoherent ideology by erasing sex as a meaningful category.
  • The Bill implements incoherent ideology by introducing a controversial new kind of institutional “systemic discrimination”.
  • The Bill exposes religious schools, churches and charities to strategic legal action in a way that is completely unjustifiable and unneeded.
  • The Bill interferes with personal rights of privacy when a citizen is procuring goods and services.

These amendments represent another concerted attack on religious freedom.

They are inconsistent with Australia’s commitments to human rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Australia in 1980.

The Bill should be abandoned as it unjustifiably interferes with fundamental rights of religious freedom, freedoms of speech and association and privacy rights.

HRLA has made a detailed submission in response to the Discussion Paper, which can be accessed here.