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Religious laws a ‘nightmare’, experts say

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The Morrison government's religious discrimination bill has come under fire from legal experts. Photo: AAP
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The federal government’s religious discrimination proposal has been blasted as a legal nightmare, with experts warning disputes under the laws could drag on for years.

Researchers from the Australian Discrimination Law Expert Group have cast doubt on how the legislation’s contentious “statement of belief” clause would work.

This is designed to protect people who express their religious beliefs from discrimination claims.

Statements must be made in good faith based about genuinely held beliefs, and cannot be malicious or amount to what a reasonable person would consider to be threats, vilification, harassment or intimidation.

The Australian Discrimination Law Experts Group’s Liam Elphick has told a federal parliamentary committee on human rights this could lead to significant legal issues.

“This won’t be easily resolved, and it will be a nightmare, were statement of belief provisions passed into law,” Mr Elphick said on Tuesday.

“For courts and tribunals to find a workable solution would take years and not in the foreseeable future.”

Should a dispute over a statement of belief end up in court, the group said there would be no way to prove remarks were made in good faith or had malicious intent and it would take years to establish a legal precedent.

“There would be no guidance on whether it is up to the complainant to prove the statement of belief was made maliciously, or whether it is up to that person making the statement,” fellow group member Robin Banks said.

“There’s no clarity of who has to prove it, and that will make it more complex.”

The Council on the Ageing panned the laws as condoning humiliation on the grounds of religious belief.

The bill has increased pressure on the Morrison government to change the Sex Discrimination Act to prevent same-sex attracted and gender diverse school students being expelled.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis insisted Christian schools did not discriminate or expel students on the basis of their sexuality.

The National Catholic Education Commission maintained religious schools did not want to discriminate based on someone’s attributes, such as sexuality.

“It’s about protecting religious rights, not discriminating against people who don’t support the same religious view,” executive director Jacinta Collins said in a statement.

The commission supported Catholic schools being able to preference hiring staff who held the same beliefs.

The religious discrimination bill is designed to override legislation passed in Victoria that restricts faith-based hiring to where beliefs are critical to the role.

The inquiry is set to hand down its final report by February 4, with the tight time frame copping criticism.

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– AAP