Human rights lawyers highlight flaws in NSW Government’s approach to Religious Vilification

June 29, 2023

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has highlighted serious flaws in the New South Wales Government’s Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Bill 2023 (the Bill). The Bill seeks to include religious vilification as an offence under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. Under the Bill, it would become unlawful to publicly invite hatred towards or severely ridicule a person or group because of their religious belief, affiliation or activity. ALHR is concerned that the amendments are too broad and that the Bill does not reflect Australia’s international human rights law obligations to strike an appropriate balance between protection from religious vilification and other fundamental human rights such as freedom of expression. 

ALHR President Kerry Weste said:

“While it is appropriate to include religious vilification as an offence under the Anti-Discrimination Act, this Bill does not sufficiently distinguish between freedom of expression directed against the ideas and tenets of a religion, and vilification against persons or groups because they hold or express religious beliefs. As the former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief has recommended, governments attempting to combat intolerance and incitement to violence based on religion should take account of the rights to freedom of expression and to freedom of religion’ in conjunction with one another.

It is significantly unfortunate that NSW stands apart from Victoria, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory – as well as the rest of the Western democratic world – in its failure to legislate a Human Rights Act. The inter-relationship between freedom of religion and free speech should be conceptualised against a background of comprehensive legislated protection for interrelated, indivisible, interdependent human rights that are treated contextually and according to international law. 

Furthermore, the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act is in desperate need of comprehensive reform so that it protects everyone in NSW. The patchwork approach taken to amending it has left the people of New South Wales with limited protections that are difficult to understand. 

New South Wales needs to start a conversation about how we can evolve into a modern democracy that equally protects everyone from harmful discrimination and vilification and legally protects a much broader range of our fundamental human rights. New South Wales is being left behind by more progressive states. This conversation needs to start now and it must involve meaningful opportunities for community consultation with all stakeholders and expert agencies such as the NSW Law Reform Commission.

ALHR calls on the NSW Government to reconsider its selective and piecemeal approach to addressing serious deficiencies in NSW’s outmoded anti-discrimination laws and instead establish a comprehensive NSW Law Reform Commission review of the Anti-Discrimination Act – as promised during the 2023 election campaign. Further, we call for the establishment of an inquiry into a Human Rights Act for NSW. 

ALHR urges members of the NSW parliament to reject this Bill in its entirety.”

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365