CMAA's official response to the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry into Religious discrimination Bill 2021 (and related bills)
This submission is made in respect of the legislative package containing the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 (the Bill), the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 and the Religious Discrimination (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2021 which was referred for inquiry by the Attorney-General on 26 November 2021 and is to report by 04 February 2022. It is made on behalf of Members of Christian Media and Arts Australia. (CMAA)
Summary of recommendations
We urge the Committee and Parliament to support the Bill, with the amendments below.
Amend the definition of religious body to include seeking, receiving and imparting religious beliefs either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media.
Extend the protections in 11(3) to all religious bodies.
Christian Media & Arts Australia (CMAA) is a national association representing Christian media organisations, individual content makers and artists. Our members include licenced community broadcasters, licensed narrowcasters and a subscription TV provider.
CMAA is the peak group and Sector Representative Organisation for broadcasters licenced to represent and serve Christian communities and is a member of the Community Broadcasting Roundtable. Our members create and distribute content that expresses their faith. In doing so they contribute to Australia’s vibrant and healthy diverse society.
CMAA believes that the freedom to hold, act in accordance with and express religious views is a cornerstone of the Australian democracy. We have consistently urged legislative protection for religious beliefs and practices by means of a Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Act.
The Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 (the Bill) currently before the Parliament has our support. This submission reinforces the need for, and desirability of, the approach taken with specific reference to the important role played by Christian media in the lives of millions of Australians.
Serving our audiences, serving the community
The most recent independent survey puts the listenership of Christian radio at nearly 1.8 million people each week in capital cities, major regional centres, towns and localities across Australia.
They listen on average for 9 hours per week, with more than half (53%) listening several times per day. The demographic spread is roughly in thirds: millennials (born since 2000), Gen X (40s – 50s) and baby boomers, an usually wide demographic for one media type.
Christian believers form the bulk of the audience as you would expect. Significantly though the survey showed that one third of the audience identified with no religion (21%) or another religion (11%). Again, radio based on the beliefs and values of the Christian religion has widespread appeal.
Recently on behalf of its radio station members CMAA commissioned McCrindle Research to find out more about this listenership. More than 4,600 respondents were asked about their reasons for listening, their engagement with their station and their activity within their local community.
The results are a window on the significant role faith, spirituality and Christian values play in the daily lives of many ordinary Australians.
Christian radio is a trusted source suitable for families and a wide range of age groups. It is a means of spiritual, personal and professional growth. It stimulates generosity and service in many community activities.
In a cultural climate of increasing and, we would argue, unwarranted hostility to public expressions of faith, these Australians and the media they rely on need a comprehensive framework of protection from claims of religious discrimination. Not only is this the right approach in a pluralistic democracy with a diverse media, we argue that it is in the public interest.
Research results in brief
Inspiring and uplifting unique content
- According to listeners, positive values (77%), trustworthy (64%) and inspiring content (64%) are three of the key strengths of Christian radio.
- Nine in ten (91%) strongly/somewhat agree that Christian radio impacts the community in a positive way by broadcasting uplifting songs and content.
A source of personal growth
Listeners were asked about the areas of their life in which Christian radio has helped them to grow.
- Spiritual: 79%
- Relational: 67%
- Intellectual: 59%
- Social: 48%
- Physical/health wellbeing: 43%
- Professional: 33%
Two in five Christian radio listeners (41%) have reached out to help someone in their local community, specifically because of something they heard on their radio station.
As just one example of the generosity, 60,014 cataract operations in developing nations were funded by Christian radio listeners through CBM Australia during August of 2021. Over the past 9 years of partnership with CBM Australia, over 300,000 such operations have been funded by listeners to Christian radio.
Serving and caring for others
The survey asked whether content heard on Christian radio had prompted listeners to start or increase time spent volunteering in a range of community activities.
Local community activism
An organisation serving the global community
Local school or other educational institution
- 75% of Christian radio listeners have a leadership role in a local community organisation
- 49% have a leadership role in a community, charity or church group
- 28% have a leadership role in a local school or other educational institution
The importance of maintaining Christian radio in Australia
The significant majority (92%) of those surveyed strongly or somewhat agreed that that maintaining the presence of Christian radio is important for Australian society.
Many listeners (68%) contribute to their Christian radio station financially to ensure they stay on air (80%) and because they believe in the message (73%).
Considering the positive impact of Christian radio in the lives of its listeners, it’s unsurprising that four in five (85%) listeners strongly/somewhat agree that governments should also assist Christian radio outlets to remain viable.
The full report can be accessed for downloaded here: https://mediaarts.org.au/
This snapshot of Christian radio listeners provides a fascinating insight into the breadth and depth of their concerns and level of engagement in the community.
By informing audiences about local and global issues, providing uplifting content suitable for families, promoting generosity towards others, encouraging volunteer service, supporting their spiritual, relational and personal growth, Christian media is making an impact for good.
Due to the timing of the survey (April 2021) respondents were not specifically asked about the RDB. The vast majority, four in five, nevertheless agreed that government should assist Christian radio to remain viable.
We contend that the RDB is a very tangible way for the Australian Parliament to do exactly that by ensuring a legal environment that protects appropriate expressions of religious belief and activity in an open and diverse media landscape.
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Free speech has been described as ‘the freedom par excellence; for without it, no other freedom could survive’.
CMAA is particularly interested in ensuring that the right to both make and receive content that expresses religious beliefs is protected. Our broadcast members play a significant role in contributing to diversity in the Australian media.
The right to have a religious belief, or no belief, includes the right to manifest that belief in practice and speak about it to others.
Articles 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) speak directly to the primacy given to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedoms which should not lightly be limited.
- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching.
- No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice.
- Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.
- The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.
- Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.
- Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
- The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.
In reading the ICCPR it is important to note:
- These are intertwining rights. They are to be read together. No one right is greater than the other and all are important.
- The freedom to have a religion includes the freedom to adopt, manifest (i.e. to live out), worship and teach.
- Freedom of religion is only subject to the limitations set out in Article 18(3).
- Freedom of expression (Article 19) includes the freedom to express, seek and receive and impart information, including through any media of the person’s choice, and ‘regardless of frontiers’.
- Free expression is also not unfettered; Article 19(3) establishes the limitations which, again, balance public order and the rights of others.
The balancing principles are critical to an understanding of how different human rights intersect. The key idea is that free expression is limited only to the extent necessary for the protection of the rights of others and for the normal rule of law.
Statements of belief
These free speech principles, including the necessary balancing principle, are reflected in Clause 1, the Objects of the Bill:
(d) to ensure that people can, consistently with Australia’s obligations with respect to freedom of religion and freedom of expression, and subject to specified limits, make statements of belief.
Statements of belief, and statements of unbelief, must be non-vilifying, held in good faith, and (in the case of religious belief) genuinely understood to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of the religion. This is in line with similar provisions elsewhere and is fit for purpose.
This Bill provides a clear frame from within which to evaluate questions about so-called competing rights, better described as balancing rights. In doing so it provides a level of protection not currently enshrined in Commonwealth law for the publication of content based on genuinely held, non-vilifying religious beliefs.
This approach is a much-needed counterpoint to claims that the mere publication and discussion of religious beliefs about moral issues such as marriage and sexual identity are, ipso facto, harmful or discriminatory.
In recent years such claims have only added contention, confusion and enmity to the public discussion of very significant issues. They can be seen as a thinly veiled argument for the censorship of religious beliefs, something clearly out of step with Australia’s claim to be an open multi-faith society.
This effect is compounded by the lack of consistency across commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination legislation including the lack of a comprehensive approach to protecting religious activity.
As such it is appropriate and helpful that this present Bill specifically takes precedence over other named laws with the ability to include others in the future, by regulation.
CMAA believes it is appropriate that the Commonwealth finally will take the lead in the area of religious expression. Every citizen, regardless of their state or territory, is entitled to the human rights freedoms enshrined in the international instruments to which Australia is a signatory and the successful passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 will ensure this is the case.
Definition of religious activity
CMAA notes however that “religious activity” is undefined leaving the interpretation ultimately to the Commissioner and the courts. We are concerned at the consequences of such an approach.
We agree with the submission of the Australian Christian Lobby that the Bill and explanatory notes should give clear guidance. In particular, we urge that any definition of religious activity should include:
seeking, receiving and imparting religious beliefs either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art or through any other media.
This would explicitly be consistent with Article 19 (2) of the ICCPR and for that reason alone is an important inclusion.
Giving preference for genuine reasons
Part 2, Section 7 provides that religious bodies, acting in accordance with their faith, may give preference to persons of the same religion. This is an important provision for bodies, like members of CMAA, who are charitable entities serving a religious purpose. For many of these organisations it is a genuine requirement that employees and volunteers (e.g. including board members) are adherents of the religion concerned.
Where a body is established to serve adherents of a particular religion with content that advances the cause of and teaching about the religion, the ability to give preference to persons of the religion is key. To have it otherwise would frustrate the other purposes of the Bill and indeed stifle genuine religious expression through such means as Christian media.
However, state employment laws are only overridden for religious education institutions by (Clause 11(3)).
We consider it essential that this protection be extended to other religious bodies.
Throughout this submission the general terms broadcaster and broadcasting will be used to encompass all kinds of licenses issued under the Broadcasting Services Act 1992 (Cth) unless further qualification is necessary for the context.
McNair yellowSquares listenership survey #1 2021, including Christian Community Licenced stations and the Vision network of Open Narrowcast stations
CBM Australia is a Christian Charity serving people with disabilities in the developing world. https://www.cbm.org.au/miraclesday
Enid Campbell and Harry Whitmore, Freedom in Australia (Sydney University Press, 1966) 113. Quoted in the Australian Law Reform Commission Report 129 ‘Traditional Rights and Freedoms – Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws, Chapter 4: Freedom of Speech https://www.alrc.gov.au/publication/traditional-rights-and-freedoms-encroachments-by-commonwealth-laws-alrc-report-129/4-freedom-of-speech/accessed 11/05/21
International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), as incorporated as Schedule 2 to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1992 (Cth) https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C2019C00030
RDB 2021 5 (1) Definitions: statement of belief