Aged still at risk of injustice, say critics

A BAN on religious organisations from discriminating against aged care residents on the basis of their sexual identity will not protect the elderly unless it is extended to all health and community services, say critics of the federal government's draft anti-discrimination bill.

The proposed laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity but allow religious bodies to discriminate if it is necessary ''to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion''.

But they remain prohibited from discriminating against people in Commonwealth-funded aged care.

Justin Koonin, co-convener of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, said the exemption for aged care services had ''no logic''.

''It's somewhat peculiar that they've singled out aged care as somewhere that discrimination can't happen,'' Dr Koonin said.

''In aged care, you've got a lot of vulnerable people who may not be there of their own choosing but that equally applies to educational settings, housing settings, and we think, at a minimum, the exemptions should apply across the board to community services.''

The controversial bill consolidates several pieces of anti-discrimination legislation into one act but goes further in reversing the onus of proof that determines whether discrimination has taken place and extends the definition to include ''offending'' people.

It is before a Senate inquiry and public hearings will take place in Sydney on Thursday.

Mark Hughes, an associate professor at Southern Cross University, will tell the inquiry that although he supports the prohibition on discrimination by aged care services, elderly people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual will still face discrimination in accessing other services.

One of his studies found 43 per cent of elderly people in that group were concerned about discrimination among aged care services. Such fear often prevented them from accessing services.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference and HammondCare, an independent Christian charity, agree that the proposed laws should be made consistent in relation to discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

They believe their permission to discriminate should extend to aged care. The clause exempting aged care ''heavy-handedly extinguishes an important aspect of the fundamental right to religious freedom'', HammondCare's submission to the inquiry said.

This story Aged still at risk of injustice, say critics first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.