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Attorney-General Christian Porter at the National Press Club in Canberra. Photo: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

Aged care providers could hire, fire over religious beliefs

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”.

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  1. This totally gratuitous distraction by a government that can’t ensure adequate wages, hospitals, schools or aged care is a disaster for people who will be seeking a medically-assisted death in the coming years. These “faith” based corporations oversease have been known to fire nurses who recommend a doctor or a facility where a dying person can obtain the sort of death they would rather have.

  2. Isn’t this going back to the dark ages??? Can’t someone of Anglican background or other religious persuasion still carry out their nursing, cleaning job without it impacting their faith etc??? Aren’t we supposed to be valuing the identity , culture and diversity of staff and residents????

  3. This bill is a disgrace. I have worked in aged care and disability sector for 25 years and at no time has my religious beliefs been a necessary component of the job. The ability to respect all beliefs has been.

  4. Marilyn Lawson-James

    Disgusting!!!! How dare this ever be brought up in any job application. A carer cares for each and every person in a non discriminatory way and govt has no right to impose this ruling. As it is this country is desperately short of carer’s and that situation us going to become much worse as baby boomers age. Being a certain type of religion gives absolutely no assurance that a carer will do a good job or respect their clients. What next????