The Attorney General has indicated there will be changes to a Bill being put to parliament in the next few weeks that will allow religious aged care providers to refuse to employ people because of their religion.

A draft of the Bill was released on 29 August this year, and the Attorney General has been consulting widely on the bill since then.

In a speech to The Press Council last night, Christian Porter said he will add protections for religious hospitals and aged care providers that will allow them to refuse to employ people because of their religious beliefs.

“Many religious hospitals and aged care providers indicated that, similar to religious schools, the ability to take into account religion in staffing decisions was important to maintaining the religious ethos and culture of the organisation,” Mr Porter said.

They “reasonably sought an exception to the general prohibition on religious discrimination in employment that allows them to make staffing decisions in accordance with their faith,” he explained to the audience.

Draft Bill released in August 2019

The draft Religious Discrimination Bill released on 29 August states that religious organisations are not being discriminatory if they are acting in accordance with their faith.

The draft Bill states that “A religious body does not discriminate against a person under this Act by engaging, in good faith, in conduct that may reasonably be regarded as being in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the religion in relation to which the religious body is conducted.”

It also states that it is possible to discriminate if a person can not carry out their duties because of their religious views.

The proposed employment laws “do not make it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person, on the ground of the other person’s religious belief or activity… because of the other person’s religious belief or activity, the other person is unable to carry out the inherent requirements of the employment”.

Consultation has revealed need to employ staff aligned with operator’s religious beliefs

In a speech at The Press Club last night, Mr Porter said he has consulted widely religious hospitals and aged care providers.

He said aged care providers made it clear to him that they do not consider religion or absence of religion when making a decision about whether or not to admit a new resident.

“Aged care providers (with very few exceptions) they do not appear to consider religion or lack of religion before making a decision to accommodate a person,” he said.

But religious hospitals and aged care providers also said they do consider religion when hiring staff.

“In the Bill that will be introduced, I can flag that one significant change from its first draft will be that religious hospitals and aged-care providers will be given protections equivalent to those given to other religious bodies, in relation to employment of staff,” Mr Porter said.

Balance between providing care and maintaining religious identity

Aged & Community Services (ACSA) CEO, Patricia Sparrow said, “This has always been and always will be a fraught issue and a balance must be struck between the competing objectives of providing access and maintaining a faith based identity. 

“The most important thing must be that all Australians get the care they deserve from an appropriately skilled and qualified workforce.”

Most providers more focused on care than religion

Leading Age Services Australia (LASA) General Manager Policy & Advocacy, Tim Hicks, told HelloCare the area is a complex one for aged care because many aged care providers have religious affiliations.

“The religious freedom debate is a challenging and controversial issue for the broader community and views on this issue will differ among age care providers just as they do in the broader community,” he said. 

“One issue this debate has highlighted is the important and often forgotten role that religious organisations play in supporting the community by providing essential services.

But Mr Hicks said religious freedom is also an “academic” debate for most aged care providers which are most focused on care.

“For most providers this is an academic issue and they are far more concerned with the immediate challenge of keeping the doors open, providing high quality care, and attracting and retaining the right staff in the presence of woefully inadequate funding.”

 

 

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