The Australian government’s Religious Discrimination Bill will not become law—at least in the life of the current Parliament. This is a good thing. The fundamental difficulty is that the Bill (in its original form) would have whittled away the rights of many in the LGBTQI community. While religious belief and practice may be deserving of protection, it must be an accepted principle that religious adherents cannot have absolute license to diminish the rights and freedoms of other groups.
The debate around the Bill has obscured a more fundamental problem: Australia’s Federal discrimination laws are no longer fit for purpose. Currently, there are separate statutes dealing with discrimination and harassment relating to race, sex, disability and age. Because this legislation is predicated upon a complaints-based system that often pits individuals against more powerful groups, a vast number (indeed the majority) of instances of discrimination and harassment never see the light of day.
From the law’s perspective, at least as far as the workplace is concerned, the remedy would be to impose a positive duty on employers to eliminate discrimination and harassment. This was the considered recommendation of the AHRC report #RespectWork, but unfortunately, this recommendation was not adopted by the government. It is Symmetra’s view that employers should not wait for the law to push them. Organisations can implement and embed policies of diversity, equity and inclusion with leaders being made accountable to model inclusive behaviours consistently and their level of inclusivity benchmarked year on year.
Symmetra has witnessed many of our global clients embark on this journey for several years and the results in creating more inclusive and welcoming work environments have been outstandingly positive. Employers who fail to grasp this nettle will find that employees will simply move on to more congenial and inclusive working environments elsewhere.