ADA does not properly protect people in our state

The Greens stood firmly against the ADA (Religious Vilification Bill) - which is completely failing queer people, people with disability, sex workers and more. 

Abigail said:

I join with my Greens colleagues in opposition to the Anti‑Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023. I make some comments about how we got here. As has been stated, we know that the Anti-Discrimination Act is—I will put it politely—a piece of poop and is in huge and urgent need of a complete overhaul. It is hard because we are looking at something that we are trying to patch on, when we know that protections are missing. Some vital issues need to be addressed in the Act, not least of all protection for people who are bisexual, asexual and non-binary. During the election campaign there was a very strong call from disability advocacy groups asking where is the protection from vilification for people with disability. We have known about these gaps and problems with the content and the application of the Act for a very long time. That has to be balanced with the need to review it and with taking action now that can make a real difference to people's lives.

That is why in the last term of Parliament on behalf of The Greens I introduced the anti-discrimination amendment bill in relation to providing the nature of sex work as a protected attribute. We had majority support in the Chamber, with the exception that we were told at the time by the then Labor Opposition that although it would dearly love to provide the protections that it had promised to advocates for the sex worker community, it was not prepared to do it because it saw a real threat of unintended consequences when a new provision like that is put on top of an Act that we all know to be severely broken and in need of reform.

I took that on face value only to then have the debacle when the Hon. Mark Latham brought his bill to the House. I cannot remember its name, but I was calling it the pro bigotry bill. Whatever it was, it was a quite extreme version of the type of bill that we have before us. It went to an inquiry. It got quite nasty. There was a lot of outcry, particularly from the queer community and as some sort of sop to the Hon. Mark Latham a Labor bill was brought forward in the lower House. We were quite concerned about it and suddenly there was a shift to appease the religious right of Labor's own party, but also trying to keep the right wing media relatively on side ahead of the upcoming election. Labor began to creep into this idea of perhaps an exception could made to this apparent principle that there will not be any amendments to the Act ahead of a wideranging review in the case of religion.

The Greens have said many times that we completely understand and support the right of people to have and practise their own religion. We do not object to the idea of religion being a protected attribute for the purposes of the Anti-Discrimination Act. What we have here is a rushed piece of legislation that has been put forward that is some sort of election promise. We were commenting before that some election promises are apparently far more important than others. I would love to see the banning of the so-called conversion therapy bill brought forward in such a rushed and earnest manner by the Labor Party. We see only the promises that were made to the Ray Hadley's of the world, the promises that were made to the right wing media that need to be made good before the magical budget date in September.

Here we have this one and it is poorly drafted. It is riddled with errors. A few stakeholders have written to tell us how concerned they are about the bill. For example, the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, like us, support a comprehensive review of the Anti-Discrimination Act, which is long overdue and necessary. We have all agreed on that. I thought we had an understanding from Labor that it was necessary. It is nice that it is being sent off for review, but not before messing with it in the meantime. The NSW Council for Civil Liberties is very concerned that we may effectively prohibit not just merely the vilification or severe ridicule of persons, but actually of institutions or organisations, which would unacceptably impede freedom of expression, legitimate criticism and debate.

The Public Advocacy Centre, again like The Greens, is not opposed to the idea of this sort of amendment in relation to a protected attribute of religion and religious views, but it sets out what the principles should be for any such legislation. It needs to be clear and easy to understand and apply; it needs to be consistent with existing prohibitions; it needs to protect individuals and not organisations; and it needs to be as narrowly targeted as possible to protect against vilification, without unduly restricting freedom of speech. The centre then goes on to say that the bill does not comply with any of those basic principles. We are not alone in thinking that this is a negligent and poorly drafted piece of legislation. I was particularly horrified when I heard that the Attorney General acknowledged in the lower House that yes, maybe there would be some unintended consequences from the amendment.

But it is an election promise, and Labor must go ahead with the election promises it made on the fly in order to get into power. At the same time, The Greens lobbied the Attorney General on other very important legislative reform. For example, the wonderful Harry James has advocated that we change the law around the ability for a character reference in court to reduce a paedophile's sentence. Although the Labor Party and the Attorney General have agreed with the principle of that suggestion, they very sensibly said that they cannot put that through without a review because, of course, that might cause unintended consequences, so they asked if we could give them a couple of months.

For some pieces of legislative reform, including that which is incredibly vital to victim‑survivors—and The Greens have been lobbying for plenty of other legislative reforms—we have been told that we need to go slow and we need to make sure that we have some kind of proper review. But when it comes to the Labor Party's insistence on complying not only with the desires of its quite shockingly religious right wing—

The Hon. Tania Mihailuk: There is no right wing in the Labor Party.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD: No right wing in the Labor Party! That's funny. But also when it comes to Labor enacting the election promises it made to the right-wing media—and not to every other stakeholder who contacted it during the election—the Government is quite happy make legislative change with unintended consequences. In the context of an anti‑discrimination Act as bad as the New South Wales Act, which is already full of provisions that create unintended consequences, this is quite extreme lawmaking. I am very disappointed that we have not seen a change from the old conservative Attorney General when it comes to the way in which the laws in this State are made.

When members of our party room looked at what we would do with this bill, led very well by the member for Newtown, we adopted the approach that we would not stop the bill. We understand it has support from both sides of the Chamber. However, we decided we would try to fix the bill legally so that it does not do things like stop protections for people around safe access zones and does not have more of the obvious unintended consequences that lawyers and civil liberties groups have pointed out. We have made the most modest suggestions. My colleague Dr Amanda Cohn will propose amendments regarding those at the Committee stage. Those amendments were rejected outright in the other place by an Attorney General who is causing great concern with his approach to lawmaking. The Greens are very concerned about that. When the legislation, as a whole, is referred to the Law Reform Commission for review—or whatever Labor is doing with it—that will be fantastic. Hopefully it will pick it apart and come back to us to fix up the mess. Hopefully not too much damage will be done in the meantime.


Read the full transcript in Hansard.

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