On 20 November, nine days after Armistice Day, the federal Attorney General laid out a battle plan sanctioning new discriminations against citizens needing hospital care and against older Australians needing aged care. Hospitals and aged care will be included in the Religious Discrimination Bills.
Consider this: would you feel confident booking into a hospital or an aged care service, knowing you would be respected for who you are? My spouse and I do not know that feeling of confidence. And this government plans to ensure we never do.
My spouse has had major surgeries at a Catholic hospital. Each time we were anxious about how we would be treated. Would our marriage be respected? Would they phone me, as next of kin, if something went wrong? Would staff be demeaning towards us?
When the time comes that we need home-based aged care support, will our service provider and their staff respect us? In an aged care residence, will we be refused couple’s accommodation? Will we face explicit or implicit bias?
This, after a lifetime together, is the new agenda for discrimination the federal government is serving up to us, to LGBTI Australians and others.
We are secular, retired professionals with a lifetime of public service. My spouse, the daughter of an Auschwitz survivor, received the Officer of the Order of Australia Award in the 2018 Queen’s Birthday Honours’ list. We attended Government House in Perth where Governor Kim Beazley congratulated her, shook her hand and pinned a medal on her lapel. One of her sons and I watched proudly, dabbing at a little tear or two. This Award was for a lifetime of service to the community in mental health and clinical psychology.
Ironically, after a lifetime of public service and caring about the wellbeing of fellow citizens, our federal government is turning its back on us. Apparently there was no reciprocal obligation in our contracts of service. The investment was only one way.
Health and aged care providers will be able to discriminate behind the mask of religious belief. The Attorney General indicated that “most organisations do not do this now and do not want to do this”. But if these institutions do not currently discriminate and do not intend to discriminate, why write this option into law? It defies credulity. His statement is obviously meant as “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine, they won’t discriminate anyway.” It’s a transparent excuse any parent would dismiss from a 6 year old: “No mum, I won’t really hit him, but the rules say I can if I want to … so when your back is turned … or if I feel like it …”
Freedom of religion exists in Australia.These bills are unnecessary. The loud voices you hear demanding a law to protect religious freedom are not wanting it to practice humane and loving faiths. They want legal cover to perpetrate abuse and discrimination, while keeping their tax exemptions. The bills essentially say: “An act which would normally be discriminatory, is not discrimination if it’s linked to a religious belief”. It’s a Kafkaesque reframe. Seriously?
The bills segregate Australia into two tiers where religious belief takes precedence over secular belief. They override the right to be free from discrimination and cancel existing human rights in State and federal anti-discrimination laws. They license discrimination in employment and in obtaining services for all LGBTI people, 13 million women, people with disability, culturally diverse communities and, ironically, those of religious faith.
It’s a governmental own goal. In Australia’s multi-faith and multi-cultural society, anyone and everyone could be a victim of discrimination or abuse as a result of these bills. They’re a dog’s breakfast.
This government is legalising abusive behaviour to enable attacks on the well-being of its citizens. Religious belief can and will be used to fire arrows of hate into our hearts.
In this cruel zero-sum game, the government is deliberately trying to create artificial seismic divisions between and within Australian communities. They have even shelved their pre-election commitment to repeal laws allowing your children, LGBTI kids in schools, to be expelled.
Is this new agenda of legalised abuse a cynical political diversion, or is the government just morally moribund?
There can be only one answer to their offer. No. Discrimination is abusive. Full stop. You do not have my permission to put us in harm’s way. Repeal existing laws legalising religious discrimination and take these new bills off the menu!
Yvonne Patterson is a member of the Rationalist Society of Australia and a retired clinical psychologist and senior WA State Government policy director with experience in human services including health, mental health, disability, community and justice services, living in Perth WA.