Genetic discrimination misses out in anti-discrimination revamp

A CIVIL liberties group says Labor’s proposed national anti-discrimination laws have removed the only protection for people against genetic discrimination in the workplace.

In their submission to the Senate inquiry into the draft bill, Civil Liberties Australia says current laws prevent a person being discriminated against based on a disability that “may exist in the future (including because of a genetic predisposition to that disability)”.

Director Tim Vines says this part of the law has been left out in the definition of disability in the current draft and could mean people who have a greater chance of getting certain diseases may be discriminated against by employers, insurance companies or superannuation funds.

“Genetic discrimination occurs where someone treats you so you are worse off because you might have a genetic predisposition towards a certain illness (like cancer), or a condition like sickle cell trait, or a higher risk of becoming an alcoholic or developing a gambling addiction,” he said. “You may never develop cancer, or a problem with alcohol, but you could still be treated as though you are a potential invalid or risk to the business.”

Mr Vines said the government’s decision to leave it out of the draft bill also means that it will fail to stop employers from asking workers about their genetic health.

“More and more Australians are having genetic tests done but our genetic discrimination laws seem to be getting weaker,” Mr Vines said. “There’s no reason for our existing protections to be removed. No one has explained why it is being dropped from the existing law.”

The latest concern comes as the second day of Senate hearings took place in Sydney, where indigenous groups, religious organisations and human rights advocates gave evidence.

The National Association of Community Legal Centres said it broadly supported the proposed legislation but called on the government to remove the words “offends and insults” from the bill.

Australian Catholic Bishops conference general secretary Brian Lucas said he was concerned about the onus of proof shifting to people defending allegations of discrimination.

“When you are required to prove that you did not do this, there is a real opportunity here for certain mischief-making with respect to how complaints can be brought,” Father Lucas said. “Organisations can be very vulnerable to great expense and a great deal of difficulty in proving something that can be almost impossible to prove.”

He also defended the exemption for religious bodies in the bill, which allows churches to discriminate against gay people within its education and health institutions.

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