Exceptions Review - Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act
The Victorian Parliament's Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee (SARC) is currently reviewing the exceptions contained in the state's Equal Opportunity Act to see if they comply with the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
Of particular concern to Christians are the religious exceptions - Sections 75, 76 and 77.
UPDATE: The government put up legislation restricting the religious exemptions in MARCH 2010.
See our NEW campaign page on the legislation - click here.
The Equal Opportunity Act was passed in April 2010.
STATUS: Review completed
The Committee asked for submissions - they closed in July 2009.
The SARC Committee then reviewed the submissions and prepared a report.
Read their Final Report - click here.
The government made a response on March 11, 2010.
Attorney General Rob Hulls put out a media release on Sunday 27 September 2009 about the government's proposals. Media release no longer online - but read media report.
This was BEFORE the SARC report was released!
Mr Hulls claimed to be 'protecting religious freedom'.
He announced that a 'compromise' had been reached with churches and religious groups. Mr Hulls said that the right to discriminate on attributes of "race, disability, age, physical features, political belief or activity, and breastfeeding" would be removed.
Mr Hulls said "But religious groups would continue to be able to discriminate on other grounds including sexuality or marital status if it was in accordance with their beliefs."
He went on to say “In relation to employment, the religious nature of the organisation or school will need be taken into account in determining whether a particular position needs to be filled by someone who adheres to that religion’s beliefs.”
However, this means that EVEN in these attributes, they will not be AUTOMATIC exemptions.
Other reports are already saying this means that a maths teacher or receptionist would possibly not be covered by the exception unless it could be demonstrated it was a religious 'requirement'!
We are extremely concerned about this development!
See media reports in the Herald Sun and The Sunday Age.
Under the changes, religious groups will no longer be able to discriminate on the grounds of race, disability, age, physical features, political belief or breastfeeding.
But they can continue to discriminate on grounds including sexuality or marital status if it is in accordance with their beliefs...."
Government bows to religious right
Sunday Age, September 27, 2009.
"ATTORNEY-GENERAL Rob Hulls will today announce a controversial compromise struck with the state's religious groups that will allow them to continue to discriminate against gays and lesbians, single mothers and people who hold different spiritual beliefs.
In a move that has delighted religious groups but angered gay activists and discrimination experts, Mr Hulls will protect the right of hundreds of church-run organisations - including schools, hospitals and welfare services - to refuse to employ or provide services to people who they believe may undermine their beliefs...."
Anglican bishop supports Mr Hulls
Unfortunately an Anglican bishop then wrote a feature Opinion article for The Age, criticising the churches who wanted to retain exceptions.
On one hand we don't like the laws or the exceptions. But that's not where he ended!
He contended that Christians should treat everyone equally - he used the Good Samaritan story out of context to claim that we should be happy to employ anyone! But there's a big difference between helping someone and having them represent your organisation!
When the Labor Party employs a Liberal Party member as their election campaign director perhaps we'll know they are serious about 'not discriminating'!
First - some updates and media articles.
Following these Updates is the original Campaign page outlining the issue and asking for submissions.
Pursuing the churches over human rights is contradictory
PETER COSTELLO, The Age, July 29, 2009.
"Parents who choose to send their children to a Christian school have a reasonable expectation that the child will get a Christian education."
"WHAT happens when equal rights between men and women are so widely accepted that mainstream Australia hardly thinks about it? Surely it is time to acknowledge that anti-discrimination statutes have done their job?
"Not according to the Victorian Government. It harbours the view that discrimination has got sophisticated - so hard to find under current law - that we must widen the law to catch more of it. One area in the State Government's sights is religious bodies, and their schools. . ."
Dr Mark Durie interview - on You Tube
Mark is the Vicar of St Marys Church, Caulfield. Mark has prepared a briefing paper on the removal of exceptions from equal opportunity laws. Briefing Paper (more details below).
He has now done a 9-minute interview and it has been posted on You Tube.
Click here to view the interview.
Removal of religious (and other) exceptions) - Overview of the issue...
In MAY 2009 SARC (the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee) released an OPTIONS PAPER.
They asked for submissions by July 10, 2009.
SARC Review website - click here.
Options paper - posted on the SARC website or click here (pdf, 634 KB).
Submissions could be emailed or posted.
Many Christians are concerned about the loss of religious freedom in our society. As Christians we must be able to operate according to our religious beliefs.
Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act has provided some exceptions to churches, religious bodies and individuals (see details below). Now there is a great deal of pressure being applied, from secularists and minority groups, to remove or reduce those religious exceptions.
In an E-News email we noted that we don't support anti-discrimination laws because they invariably put one person's right against another's. The giving of exceptions to 'bad' laws is problematic, because they can always be taken away - as in the current review!
Other Christian commentators
Mark Durie, an Anglican vicar has written a piece on this in his blog (24 May) - click here.
He highlights the problems and urges that the religious exceptions be left alone.
He has also prepared a detailed paper (13 pages) titled "Briefing Notes for Victorian Church Leaders". (13p, pdf)
Bill Muehlenberg has written an article on the review, highlighting situations here and overseas about the persecution of Christians who stand up for their beliefs.
More Attacks on Religious Freedom - Culture Watch, 19 May 2009.
The exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act specify situations where the state's anti-discrimination laws don't apply - we are particularly interested in the religious exceptions regarding religious bodies, ordination and employment of staff, religious schools and individuals.
The Religious Exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act are Sections 75 (churches, religious bodies), 76 (religious schools) and 77 (individuals).
Background of Review
* In early 2008 the Attorney-General Rob Hulls asked the Justice Department to conduct a review of the exceptions in the EO Act.
* The Justice Department released a Consultation Paper in February 2008.
* Submissions to the Consultation Paper closed on 18 April 2008.
* Over 500 submissions (P1, P2) were received from a range of organisations, academics and individuals.
* The Review was handed over to SARC in December 2008. [Info ]
The SARC Review
SARC released an Options Paper in May 2009 and is asking for submissions by July 10, 2009.
The SARC Options Paper generally proposes restricting the right of religious bodies to act according to their beliefs.
We contend that most anti-discrimination law is counter-productive and limits individual and religious freedom. Giving exceptions to bad law is a problem!
* Exceptions relating to religion - Sections 75 (ordination, churches, religious bodies), Section 76 (religious schools) and Section 77 (individuals).
* Options Paper - Sections 75-77. Pages 106-131.
For each section, one 'option' is to retain the clause as it is. The remaining options provide varying restrictions. The Report generally proposes restricting the right of religious bodies and schools to act according to their religious beliefs.
* Minority Report by the Coalition members on SARC acknowledges that religious schools want to remain independent and says "In a democratic country such as Australia parents should have the right to choose the value systems in which their children will be surrounded throughout their education."