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A number of nurses, midwives and assistants in nursing and the people they care for will not be protected under the Morrison Government’s draft Religious Discrimination Bill (RDB), potentially allowing for further discrimination in health and aged care, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) has warned.

The ANMF is concerned that the RDB would allow faith-operated hospitals, aged care providers and accommodation providers to ‘blatantly discriminate on the grounds of a person’s religion or lack of religion’. By allowing health practitioners ‘broad discretion’ to claim conscientious objection under religious grounds, the Bill would potentially allow more discrimination against the LGBTIQ community, women and racial minorities.

The Bill would also interfere in the independence of ‘qualifying bodies’ such as AHPRA and the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), given that the Bill states that ‘qualifying bodies’ would not be able to impose rules that restrict people from making statements of religious belief in their personal capacity.

The NMBA codes of conduct oblige nurses and midwives to promote health and wellbeing for the broader community at all times, including outside of work.

For example, currently the NMBA could take action against a nurse or midwife who made statements of religious belief on social media that discriminated against a person based on their sexuality. This is at odds with the proposed RDB, the union said.

“The Bill lacks the clarity of legislation, is confusing in its wording and places some of our members and the people they care for, at risk of further discrimination – in health and aged care settings where they should be safe. Nursing homes, in particular, would be at risk. For our members, this RBD will not only make safe care and welfare protection more difficult to deliver but will impose that increased difficulty on an overwhelmed and exhausted workforce doing their best to cope with the extreme workload and stress of dealing with the COVID pandemic, ANMF’s Federal Secretary Annie Butler said.

“Rather than ensuring a safe workplace environment for our members, the RDB will only expose some to discrimination by placing some rights ahead of others. It should be rejected, with religious discrimination included in a wider, more comprehensive Bill of Rights.”