After introducing an exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill in 2012 the Australian government announced on 20 March 2013 that it would not proceed with the consolidation process. In its place the Government introduced legislation to expand protection against discrimination to the new grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status. The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 also seeks to extend the existing ground of ‘marital status’ to ‘marital or relationship status’ to provide protection from discrimination for same-sex de facto couples.
When the Bill was first tabled in parliament it included a broad exemption for religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of the new protected attributes. However, during the Bill’s passage through the House of Representatives, the federal government successfully introduced amendments to limit the religious exemption so it does not cover organisations when they provide Commonwealth government funded-aged care services. This is a positive and practical development that ensures older LGBTI Australians are not excluded from much needed aged care services. The amended version of the Bill is now being considered in the Senate, which is also due to receive a report from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee on 17 June 2013.
While the government has committed to considering the consolidation process further, the community sector and human rights organisations have expressed their disappointment the consolidation process will not proceed, and that the proposed amendments do not go further to remove discrimination in provision of services.
MADELEINE FORSTER is a lawyer presently seconded to the Human Rights Law Centre in Melbourne.