The ACT government has strongly criticised proposed federal religious discrimination laws, which it says would set a dangerous precedent allowing the Commonwealth to erode state and territory protections.
The ACT said the federal government's proposed laws would also undermine human rights protections in the territory.
The territory government said it does not support the package of bills as they would privilege religious freedom protections over other human rights, and has recommended dropping proposals that would allow for discrimination against LGBTIQA+ people.
ACT Human Rights Minister Tara Cheyne said some of the provisions in the Commonwealth's proposed laws would override existing protections and make it harder to introduce new state or territory protections.
"Only humans have human rights, and the ACT government recommends that the bills be amended to clarify that only a natural person has the right to make a discrimination complaint, not companies," Ms Cheyne said.
In a submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into the bills, the ACT government made 14 recommendations for changes, which included better protections for students and workers.
The ACT government is concerned LGBTQIA+ and HIV positive people might self-select out of seeking services from religious bodies if those bodies were able to have greater and more ambiguous powers to discriminate.
The ACT also criticised the bill's powers that would let schools discriminate against prospective and current students, which it said would be out of step with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The powers "may also limit the rights in the ACT Human Rights ACT to education without discrimination".
Ms Cheyne said the ACT had a proud history of protecting human rights and was the first Australian state or territory to adopt a legislative bill of rights.
"Our human rights framework ensures that these rights are balanced against the need to protect other rights such as the right to equality and non-discrimination," she said.
"Some of the proposals in the bills specifically override both existing protections and the development of future protections in state and territory laws, and the ACT government recommends that they be amended to allow ACT laws to operate concurrently and to ensure that ACT's culture of inclusivity and social cohesion is preserved."
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The ACT's submission said there was no "reasonable justification to elevate the right to freedom for religious discrimination and freedom of religious expression above other federal freedoms from discrimination on the basis of sex, age, disability and race".
"The ACT government is particularly concerned about the chilling effect of the override clauses, as they disempower victims of discrimination from accessing their human right to non-discrimination, and may reduce community willingness to call out intolerant behaviour," the submission said.
"In turn, the ACT government is also concerned that this will jeopardise the ability of ACT employers to regulate what is acceptable in ACT workplaces.
"The override clauses mean that the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour, and matters that are unlawful under ACT law versus federal law, becomes unclear."
The ACT said the bill would remove the right of a female member of a Canberra club to pursue complaints under the ACT Discrimination Act if the club's president told her in good faith that divorced women were living in sin.
"The member would lose her right to make a discrimination complaint about sex discrimination, and obtain any remedies from the Territory or Federal Commissions," the submission said.
The ACT government also criticised the proposed test for whether religious views are genuinely held, which it said was entirely unprecedented in Australian law.
"A religious body must show that just one other person of the same religion could reasonably consider the body's conduct to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion," the submission said.
"The body's conduct need not align with generally acceptable principles of that religion; as long as one other person reasonably believes the conduct was aligned with its faith, the defence will be made out."
The test would mean there was "no requirement to show conformity with the general doctrines of a religion, unlike other sections of the Bill, and instead defines a religious belief at an individual, subjective level".
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