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The majority of a NSW Parliamentary committee has found there is “a strong need” to protect people from discrimination on the grounds of religious beliefs and activities.

The joint select committee was formed in response to the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Freedoms and Equality) Bill 2020 introduced by One Nation NSW Leader Mark Latham, proposing that the state make it explicitly unlawful for a person to be discriminated against on the basis of their religion.  Latham’s proposed Bill would also award protection against adverse action for employees based on any comments, motivated by their religious belief, that are made outside the workplace.

The committee majority, in their report to NSW Parliament tabled on March 31, described Latham’s Bill as “a useful template for this kind of legislation, but it has a number of shortcomings that need to be corrected.”

For example, the committee majority recommended that protection for employees for comments outside the workplace would not apply for those deemed to be “brand ambassadors” who are “employed or contracted solely for the purpose of promoting an organisation’s brand, values and public image.”

“This inquiry raised complex issues about religious beliefs and activities which go to the core of who we are as individuals and indeed what we do as community members,” Upton said.

Upton told LSJ that the Anti-Discrimination Act is “a complex piece of machinery and we definitely do not want to create further discrimination [through any proposed changes].”

“We do not want to have the unintended consequence where vulnerable groups could be subjected to future discrimination,” Upton said. 

“We had 192 submissions, four hearing days and 47 witness, as well as 19,000 responses to a public survey: a whole gambit of individuals, organisations and not-for-profits … and very well considered and well researched submissions from the Law Society of NSW.”

Upton called on the NSW Government to introduce a Bill inserting discrimination on the grounds of lawful religious belief and activity as a protected attribute in the Anti-Discrimination Act by the end of the year.

“It is my strong expectation that the important issue of protection from religious discrimination can finally be addressed through a Government Bill, thereby improving the lives of people in NSW,” she said.

NSW shadow Attorney-General Paul Lynch, Independent MP Alex Greenwich and Greens MP Jenny Leong dissented from the majority support within the committee for amending the laws.