Religious hospitals and aged care providers would be able to make staffing decisions based on faith under a redrafted bill.
Speaking to the National Press Club, Attorney-General Christian Porter said the changes will be contained within the redrafted Religious Discrimination Bill, giving hospitals and providers the same exemptions to the general prohibition on religious discrimination in employment as schools.
Porter said consultations with religious hospitals and aged care providers revealed many felt that the ability to take religion into account in staffing decisions was important to “maintaining the religious ethos and culture of the organisation”.
“The religious hospitals and aged care providers themselves recognise that competing objectives of providing access to health services and maintaining a faith-based identity must be reconciled, and seek to maintain the balanced position they themselves have arrived at reflected in the Bill,” he added.
Porter reassured that religious hospitals – and, with a few exceptions, aged care providers – do not appear to make decisions about the admission of patients or residents based on their religion or absence of religion, and do not seek to do so.
In an interview for ABC’s Afternoon Briefing, Porter stopped short of explaining a scenario in which a religious provider or hospital would be able to use the changes to the Bill to sack a staff member.
But when asked whether the Bill would mean a provider or hospital could reject a job application on the basis of their sexual orientation, Porter replied: “No, because that’s not on a religious basis.
“The exemption only is an exemption to make a decision about an employee based on their faith.”
National secretary of the Health Services Union Lloyd Williams told RN Drive the group did not support the move and didn’t buy Porter’s assurances around other forms of discrimination.
“What it will create is this enormous conflict between one right and another right,” Williams said. “This bill will sweep away those protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientations or the grounds of gender identity by the provider simply saying, ‘Oh well, it’s got nothing to do with those grounds it's all to do with religious belief’."
Williams also countered the idea that aged care providers and hospitals are religious organisations in the same way schools are.
“When you’re working in health, I don’t see that your religious beliefs go to the inherent requirement of the job. You’re employed as a nurse or … a health professional to deliver health services; you’re not employed, as you may be in a school, to deliver religious scripture or education.”
Porter said he didn’t have a date in mind for the Bill’s passage through Parliament and conceded that it would be a “complicated debate”.Do you have an idea for a story?
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