health first

Invitation to urgent community forum on non-discriminatory access to health, education, employment and services in the NT

Rainbow Territory writes to inform you of proposed legislation developed by the federal government and to invite you to an important forum about its impact.

The current draft of this law, the Religious Discrimination Bill 2019, puts at risk non-discriminatory access to health care, education, employment and services. 

NT law can be overridden by Commonwealth law, and this bill in particular seeks to override state and territory laws.

Rainbow Territory is particularly concerned about the impact on the provision of healthcare. Advances in health have enabled people to control their own reproductive health and have helped turn the tide on HIV in Australia. These advances should remain accessible to all.

Rainbow Territory has organised a community meeting about the proposed law and invite you and your networks to attend, details are:

  • When: 5:30-7pm, Tuesday 29 October 2019
  • Speakers:
    • NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sally Sievers, on the impact of the current bill on laws in the NT
    • Australian Medical Association NT (AMA NT) President Dr Robert Parker. AMA NT represents the medical practitioners and medical students in the NT, and will be speaking about the impact the proposed Bill will have on people living in the NT and their access to healthcare.
  • Where: Uniting Church Hall, 78 Smith St, Darwin (beside Woolworths)
  • RSVP/information: OR Facebook/rainbowterritory
  • facebook event:

Rainbow Territory has reviewed a number of the submissions to the review of the draft exposure bill. We support protection from discrimination based on religious belief, but we share the concerns of many others that the proposed laws in their current form privilege one attribute – the holding of a religious belief – over other attributes such as disability, gender, sexual orientation.

More details see Rainbow Territory key concerns below.

Access to health

How the laws can override state and territory laws

Workplace bullying

Proposed legislation (exposure draft)

Rainbow Territory key concerns 

Please note, below are the views of Rainbow Territory only and not the views of speakers at the community forum

Care has been taken to ensure the information below is accurate, however it does not cover all aspects of the bill. We have relied on and paraphrased the submissions of other organisations and individuals and encourage you to seek these out. 

Access to health care

The current draft of the legislation would allow health professionals to object to providing healthcare on religious grounds.

Rainbow Territory is concerned the proposed law could allow

  • refusing to supply contraception
  • refusing to supply HIV treatment and prevention medication
  • refusing to supply hormone treatments to transgender people
  • refusing to supply IVF services to a same sex couple
  • refusing to provide midwifery health care to a single mother or lesbian couple
  • refusing to supply termination of pregnancy and not referring the patient to another provider
    • conscientious objection is permitted under NT law in this area, but the patient must be referred to another health care provider who does not have a conscientious objection.

The legislation in its current form could have considerable impact for Territorians as there are limited options in accessing health care compared to other places in Australia. For example, there are only three pharmacies in Katherine, and even less in remote communities.

While the impact of the legislation will not be known until it is implemented, we have developed case studies to demonstrate how the laws may work in practice.

Case study: a young woman in Katherine is prescribed the pill and goes to one of the pharmacies in Katherine. She is refused the script as the pharmacist does not support contraception because of their religious beliefs. The young woman feels ashamed and doesn’t try again.

Case study: a young gay man in a remote community wants to access Prep, medication that prevents the transmission of HIV. The nurse who services the community considers homosexuality to be a sin, and tells the young man to abstain from sex instead of providing the medication.

Case study: a young woman in a remote community decides she wants to terminate a pregnancy. She goes to the locum doctor to ask for RU486. The doctor has a religious belief that opposes termination of pregnancy and refuses the request. The doctor can conscientiously object under NT law, but under the proposed federal law does not have to refer the woman to another provider.

Access to education

The current draft of the bill would allow a student to be excluded from a religious educational institution based on sexuality or gender identity.

Currently NT law does not permit a young person to be denied an education based on sexuality or gender identify. As we understand it the federal law can override Territory law.

There are approximately 40 or more religious educational institutions in the NT. They make up a considerable part of the education system in the Territory, including in remote communities/for residents of remote communities. We are concerned about the impact on access to education for young people.

Case study: a young person comes out at 16 while in the middle of their education at a religious school in the NT. The young person is expelled when the school learns they are in a same sex relationship with another student.

Access to employment

Rainbow Territory is concerned that the proposed federal law will entrench and expand discrimination in employment against Territorians, including women and lgbtqi people.

NT law currently permits discrimination based on sexuality in employment in a religious educational institution, and this law is under review by the NT government. Rainbow Territory is advocating for this law (s37A of the NT Anti-Discrimination Act) to be changed so that sexuality is not a grounds on which someone can be denied employment. 

We are concerned that the federal law will enable schools, and other bodies (including religious charities) to discriminate against people who are divorced, separated, in a de facto relationship, single parents, and people in same sex relationships or who identify as lgbtqi.

Case study: a recently divorced single mother applies for an administrative position at a local religious school. She is asked whether she is married at the interview. She tells the person conducting the interview that she is no longer married. Another applicant is married and is given the job as the school policy is that all staff are rolemodels and should live according to beliefs supported by the school.

Access to services

Rainbow Territory is concerned that the bill could allow religious charities and bodies who carry out work conducted in accordance with a particular religion to refuse service to people of a different faith, sexual orientation or marital status.

We are concerned service providers in the NT, many of whom are delivering services paid for by the government, will be able to discriminate based on their religious ethos or belief.