What’s Wrong With South Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

 

This post is part of a series looking at Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, and examining how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people against discrimination. The other posts in the series can be found here.

 

In particular, they assess Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation in terms of the following three issues:

  • Protected Attributes
  • Religious Exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

 

Unfortunately, while South Australia has expanded the range of people legally protected against discrimination, the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 remains grossly inadequate because of the breadth of religious exceptions it offers, and its failure to establish LGBTI vilification offences.

 

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Protected Attributes

 

Section 29 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Australians from discrimination.

 

Sub-section (2a) defines discrimination “on the ground of gender identity” to include (among other things):

  • “if the person treats another unfavourably because the other is or has been a person of a particular gender identity or because of the other’s past sex;
  • if the person treats another unfavourably on the basis of a characteristic that appertains generally to persons of a particular gender identity, or on the basis of a presumed characteristic that is generally imputed to persons of a particular gender identity… and
  • if the person requires a person of a particular gender identity to assume characteristics of a sex with which the person does not identify.”

 

Importantly, unlike some jurisdictions, South Australia protects all trans people against discrimination (and not just people with binary gender identities).

 

The protections against discrimination “on the ground of sexual orientation” contained in sub-section (3) are similarly broad, and would cover all lesbian, gay and bisexual South Australians.

 

The Relationships Register Act 2016 has expanded this coverage even further by introducing a new protected attribute of ‘intersex status’, with the addition of sub-section 29(4)[i].

 

With this change, South Australia has become only the fourth jurisdiction in Australia – after the Commonwealth, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory – to explicitly protect intersex people against discrimination. Although it should be noted that in the March 2017 Darlington Statement, intersex activists called for this terminology to be replaced by a protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’.

 

Summary: The South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people against discrimination – with the 2017 inclusion of ‘intersex status’ making it only the fourth Australian jurisdiction, out of nine, to cover the entire LGBTI community.

 

 

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Religious Exceptions

 

Unfortunately, while the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 will soon be close to best practice on protected attributes, in terms of religious exceptions it is anything but.

 

Section 50 sets out an incredibly broad range of circumstances in which religious organisations are legally entitled to discriminate against LGBTI South Australians:

Religious bodies

(1) This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(ba) the administration of a body established for religious purposes in accordance with the precepts of that religion; or

(c) any other practice of a body established for religious purposes that conforms with the precepts of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of the adherents of that religion.”

 

While paragraphs (a) and (b) are at least directly related to religious appointments – and therefore somewhat defensible because of their connection to freedom of religion – paragraph (ba) and especially paragraph (c) effectively encourage discrimination by religious organisations in healthcare and other community services.

 

It also allows discrimination in relation to education in religious schools, and therefore likely overrides the general protections offered to students under section 37, which ostensibly prohibits discrimination with respect to admission as a student, the education or training offered to that student, and expelling or otherwise punishing the student.

 

However, the situation is slightly more complicated with respect to teachers in religious schools, with sub-section 34(3) setting out a separate, specific exception in that area:

“(3) This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation,  gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment or engagement for the purposes of an educational institution if-

(a) the educational institution is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion; and

(b) the educational authority administering the institution has a written policy stating its position in relation to the matter; and

(c) a copy of the policy is given to a person who is to be interviewed for or offered employment with the authority or a teacher who is to be offered engagement as a contractor by the authority; and

(d) a copy of the policy is provided on request, free of charge-

(i) to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors of the authority to whom it relates or may relate; and

(ii) to students, prospective students and parents and guardians of students and prospective students of the institution; and

(iii) to other members of the public.”

 

Some may see this as a relatively positive approach, because at the very least it allows everyone to be informed about the policies any particular school adopts. And, admittedly, it is preferable to the carte blanche approach adopted in other states (and especially in New South Wales).

 

However, there are three important qualifications to this ‘benign’ assessment:

  • It still allows discrimination against teachers and other employees in religious schools. This discrimination – which has no connection whatsoever to the ability of LGBTI teachers and other staff to do their jobs – remains unacceptable, irrespective of the procedural steps a school must first negotiate,
  • It is (I believe) unique in Australia in that it specifically states that religious schools can discriminate on the basis of intersex status (despite there being no supporting evidence of doctrines, tenets or beliefs which discriminate against people born with intersex variations), and
  • The general religious exception in sub-section 50(c) nevertheless applies (because it covers all sections in the Part, including those applying to employment). Depending on how the interaction between these two provisions has been interpreted by the judiciary, it is possible that religious schools can ‘pick and choose’ the basis on which they discriminate against teachers and employees (and therefore potentially avoid these procedural hurdles altogether).

 

There is one final religious exception which allows discrimination against LGBTI South Australians – sub-section 35(2b) allows ‘associations’ to exclude and otherwise adversely treat people on the basis of their intersex status, gender identity or sexual orientation “if the association is administered in accordance with the precepts of a particular religion and the discrimination is founded on the precepts of that religion.”

 

Summary: The religious exceptions contained in the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 allow discrimination against LGBTI people in a wide range of circumstances, including healthcare, community services, associations and in education (at least in relation to students).

 

LGBTI teachers and other staff in religious schools can also be discriminated against simply because of who they are, although whether or not the school must have transparent policies in place to allow such discrimination would depend on judicial interpretation.

 

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

 

This section will be the shortest of this post – because there is none. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex South Australians have no protection against anti-LGBTI vilification under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984[ii].

 

This is despite the fact that an entire stand-alone act exists with respect to racial vilification (the Racial Vilification Act 1996). Given homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia are just as damaging, and just as harmful, as racism, the lack of equivalent protections against anti-LGBTI vilification is, in my opinion, shameful.

 

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Other Issues

There are a few additional issues in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 that it would be remiss not to at least mention.

 

On the negative side, there is a very broad ‘inherent requirement’ exception in relation to employment. Sub-section 34(2) provides that:

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in relation to employment or engagement for which it is a genuine occupational requirement that a person be of a particular sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.”

 

It is difficult to think of many jobs in which it is an inherent requirement that someone be of a particular sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. It would be interesting to see on what possible basis the drafters attempted to justify this sub-section.

 

Similarly, sub-section 34(4) allows discrimination in employment against transgender people generally, and non-binary gender diverse people in particular, on the basis of their appearance, stating that:

“This Division does not apply to discrimination on the ground of gender identity in relation to employment or engagement if the discrimination is for the purposes of enforcing standards of appearance and dress reasonably required for the employment or engagement.”

 

Once again, it is hard to see how such discrimination can possibly be justified, and I would argue that both sub-sections (34(2) and (4)) should be repealed.

 

On the other hand, there are two exceptions that allow positive discrimination in favour of LGBTI people.

 

The first, in sub-section 35(2a), permits LGBT-specific associations to be created (for “persons of a particular gender identity”, for “persons of a particular sexual orientation (other than heterosexuality), or for “persons of intersex status”, noting that heterosexuality remains privileged within Australian society).

 

The second, in section 47, authorises actions designed to overcome discrimination against minority groups:

Measures intended to achieve equality

This Part does not render unlawful an act done for the purpose of carrying out a scheme or undertaking intended to ensure that persons of a particular sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status, have equal opportunities with, respectively, all other persons, in circumstances to which this Part applies.”

 

Nevertheless, while these final two provisions are welcome, they do not negate the harmful aspects of the Act, including its overly-generous religious exceptions, and the complete lack of anti-vilification coverage for LGBTI South Australians.

 

It remains to be seen whether the new Liberal Government, under Premier Steven Marshall, will take any action to improve any aspect of the South Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984.

 

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Will new Liberal Premier Steven Marshall amend South Australia’s out-dated Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

 

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Footnotes:

[i] “(4) For the purposes of this Act, a person discriminates on the ground of intersex status-

(a) if the person treats another unfavourably because of the other’s intersex status or past intersex status; or

(b) if the person treats another unfavourably because the other does not comply, or is not able to comply, with a particular requirement and-

(i) the nature of the requirement is such that a substantially higher proportion of persons who are not of intersex status complies, or is able to comply, with the requirement than of those of intersex status; and

(ii) the requirement is not reasonable in the circumstances of the case; or

(c) if the person treats another unfavourably on the basis of a characteristic that appertains generally to persons of intersex status, or presumed intersex status, or on the basis of a presumed characteristic that is generally imputed to persons of intersex status; or

(d) if the person treats another unfavourably because of an attribute of or a circumstance affecting a relative or associate of the other, being an attribute or circumstances described in the preceding paragraphs.”

[ii] Although South Australia is not alone in this regard – there are also no LGBTI vilification protections in Commonwealth law, and in Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

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What’s Wrong With Western Australia’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

This post is part of a series examining the anti-discrimination laws that exist in each Australian jurisdiction and analysing how well, or how poorly, they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination. Other articles in the series can be found here.

Specifically, each post considers three main aspects of LGBTI anti-discrimination legislation:

  • Protected attributes
  • Religious exceptions, and
  • Anti-Vilification Coverage.

Unfortunately, as we shall see below, the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (‘the Act’) has significant problems in terms of all three elements, making it serious competition to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 for the (unwanted) title of worst LGBTI anti-discrimination law in the country.

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Protected Attributes

As with most Australian anti-discrimination laws (other than those in the Commonwealth, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT), the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 only protects some parts of the LGBTI community from discrimination, but not others.

On the positive side, it does include all lesbian, gay and bisexual members of the community – with ‘sexual orientation’ defined in section 4 as:

“in relation to a person, means heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism or bisexuality and includes heterosexuality, homosexuality, lesbianism or bisexuality imputed to the person.”[i]

On the negative side, however, it completely excludes intersex people from anti-discrimination protection, an omission that should be rectified immediately.

On the negative and downright bizarre side, the Western Australian Act adopts a completely unique approach that results in only transgender people whose gender identity as been officially recognised by the State Government benefiting from anti-discrimination coverage.

Specifically, rather than prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity (which would be best practice), the Act only prohibits discrimination against “a gender reassigned person on gender history grounds”.[ii]

Section 4 of the Act states that “gender reassigned person means a person who has been issued with a recognition certificate under the Gender Reassignment Act 2000 or a certificate which is an equivalent certificate for the purposes of that Act”, while section 35AA prescribes that “[f]or the purposes of this Part, a person has a gender history if the person identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex.”

Prima facie, the combination of these two definitions mean that only people who have transitioned from male to female, or vice versa, and had that transition recognised by the Government via the Gender Reassignment Act are protected from discrimination. People who have yet to transition, or any trans person who is non-binary, are not covered by these clauses. This is a serious flaw, and one that must be corrected by the WA State Government.

Conclusion: While lesbian, gay and bisexual Western Australians are included in the protected attributes of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, intersex people are completely excluded, as are a large number of trans people (either because their gender identity has not been formally recognised under the Gender Reassignment Act, or because their gender identity is non-binary).

Both flaws should be rectified as a matter of priority, with the adoption of the protected attribute of ‘gender identity’ as found in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and the inclusion of ‘sex characteristics’ as called for by intersex activists in the March 2017 Darlington Statement.

 

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Religious Exceptions

While it’s approach to trans anti-discrimination regulation is unique, the Equal Opportunity Act’s provisions surrounding the rights of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people are pretty standard for a state and territory (or even Commonwealth) law[iii]. Unfortunately, that ‘standard’ allows homophobic, biphobic and transphobic discrimination in an incredibly wide range of circumstances.

Section 72 of the Act states:

Religious bodies

Nothing in this Act affects-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of any religious order; or

(b) the training or education of persons seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of persons to perform duties or functions for the purposes of or in connection with, or otherwise to participate in any religious observance or practice; or

(d) any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion.”

The first three sub-sections ((a), (b) and (c)), can potentially be justified on the basis that there is a direct connection with the appointment and training of religious office-holders, or the conduct of religious ceremonies.

However, sub-section 72(d) is effectively a blanket exception that allows any religious organisation – including religious-operated schools, hospitals and community services – to discriminate against LGBT employees, and LGBT people accessing their services. This is clearly unacceptable.

Religious schools don’t even need to rely on this broad exception. That’s because they have additional, specific protections in section 73, which allow them to discriminate against teachers and other employees (sub-section (1)), contract workers (sub-section (2)), and even students (sub-section (3)).

Sub-section (1) is incredibly generous (with sub-section (2) adopting similar wording):

“(1) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act in connection with employment as a member of the staff of an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

Even though the wording used in relation to students is slightly narrower, it nevertheless envisages discrimination against students on the basis of sexual orientation or against gender reassigned persons on the basis of their gender history:

“(3) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful for a person to discriminate against another person on any one or more of the grounds of discrimination referred to in this Act, other than the grounds of race, impairment or age, in connection with the provision of education or training by an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed, if the first-mentioned person so discriminates in good faith in favour of adherents of that religion or creed generally, but not in a manner that discriminates against a particular class or group of persons who are not adherents of that religion or creed.”[iv]

Given education is conducted in the public sphere, it is, in nearly all circumstances, at least partially paid for by taxpayers, and above all it is the right of students to receive a comprehensive and inclusive education free from discrimination, there can be no justification for the continued existence of the exceptions for religious schools outlined in section 73. Just like sub-section 72(d), they should be repealed as a matter of priority.

Conclusion: The religious exceptions contained in the WA Equal Opportunity Act are, sadly, similar to those that exist in most Australian jurisdictions, in that they provide religious organisations generally, and religious schools in particular, extremely generous rights to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans employees and people accessing services. These religious exceptions must be curtailed to better protect LGBT Western Australians against discrimination.

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Anti-Vilification Coverage

This will be the shortest section of this post because, well, there isn’t any: there is currently no prohibition on vilification of LGBTI people under the Equal Opportunity Act 1984. This lack of protection is similar to the Commonwealth, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory.

Interestingly, the Act also excludes racial vilification. Instead, Western Australia has chosen to outlaw racial vilification via the Criminal Code 1913, which creates a total of eight related offences, including:

Section 77. Conduct intended to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Any person who engages in any conduct, otherwise than in private, by which the person intends to create, promote or increase animosity towards, or harassment of a racial group, or a person as a member of a racial group, is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 14 years” and

Section 78. Conduct likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

Any person who engages in any conduct, otherwise than in private, that is likely to create, promote or increase animosity towards, or harassment of, a racial group, or a person as a member of a racial group, is guilty of a crime and is liable to imprisonment for 5 years.”[v]

However, there are exactly zero offences outlawing vilification of LGBTI people in the Code. This disparity is completely unjustified, especially given the real and damaging impact of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia on people’s lives (similar to the detrimental impact of racism).

If vilification offences are to be retained, as I believe they should (even if some right-wing Commonwealth MPs and Senators may disagree), then they should be expanded to cover vilification against members of the LGBTI community.

Conclusion: Neither the Equal Opportunity Act nor the Criminal Code prohibit LGBTI vilification, despite the latter creating a number of offences against racial vilification. Similar offences should also be established against the vilification of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Western Australians.

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Other Issues

We have already seen, under ‘Protected Attributes’ above, that the Equal Opportunity Act offers only limited anti-discrimination protections to Western Australia’s trans and gender diverse community.

Unfortunately, this ‘anti-trans’ approach is replicated in a number of other sections of the Act, and is even featured in the Long Title: “An Act to promote equality of opportunity in Western Australia and to provide remedies in respect of discrimination on the grounds of sex, marital status, pregnancy, sexual orientation, family responsibility or family status, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age, or publication of details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website, or involving sexual or racial harassment or, in certain cases, on gender history grounds” [emphasis added].

Note that, not only does ‘gender history’ come last, it is also the only ground which features the qualifier ‘in certain cases’.

The objects of the Act are also exclusionary with respect to trans people. While object (a) in section 3 the Act seeks to ‘eliminate, so far as possible’ discrimination on grounds including sexual orientation and “in certain cases, gender history”, object (d) excludes trans people altogether:

“to promote recognition and acceptance within the community of the equality of persons of all races and of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation, religious or political convictions or their impairments or ages.”

Apparently, promoting recognition and acceptance of transgender people is not a priority.

This approach is also reflected in substantive parts of the Bill. Whereas section 35ZD allows discrimination in favour of people on the basis of their sexual orientation “to ensure that persons of a particular sexual orientation have equal opportunities with other persons” and “to afford persons of a particular sexual orientation access to facilities, services or opportunities to meet their special needs” (ie positive discrimination), there is no equivalent section for transgender people (or gender reassigned people with a gender history).

There is even a sub-section (74(3a)) that ensures an aged care service cannot discriminate solely in favour of transgender people (even though other aged care services can discriminate on the basis of ‘class, type, sex, race, age or religious or political conviction’[vi]).

Even the way some sections of Part IX, which aims to provide ‘Equal opportunity in public employment’, are drafted indicate that transgender discrimination is to be considered separately. For example, section 140 states:

“The objects of this Part are-

(a) to eliminate and ensure the absence of discrimination in employment on the ground of sex, marital status, pregnancy, family responsibility or family status, sexual orientation, race, religious or political conviction, impairment, age or the publication of relevant details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website; and

(aa) to eliminate and ensure the absence of discrimination in employment against gender reassigned persons on gender history grounds; and

(b) to promote equal employment opportunity for all persons.”[vii]

It is bizarre that even the protected attribute of ‘publication of relevant details on the Fines Enforcement Registrar’s website’ is included with sex, race and sexual orientation (among others), while gender reassigned persons are included in a separate sub-section.

Whenever the Western Australian Equal Opportunity Act 1984 is finally updated to ensure all transgender and gender diverse people are protected from discrimination, these additional sections will need to be updated to ensure that, as a protected attribute, gender identity is finally treated equally to other attributes.

Update:

In October 2018, the Western Australian Attorney-General John Quigley announced that the Equal Opportunity Act would be referred to the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia for a comprehensive review. This was in the wake of the leaking of the recommendations from the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review, and ongoing publicity about the issue of discrimination against LGBT students and teachers in religious schools. Although note at the time of writing (late December) nothing has yet appeared on the LRCWA website.

Mark McGowan

Will WA Labor Premier Mark McGowan, elected in March 2017, update the out-dated Equal Opportunity Act 1984?

 

If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus

 

Footnotes:

[i] With discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation then prohibited under Part IIB of the Act.

[ii] Section 35AB.

[iii] Other than Tasmania’s exceptions, which are significantly narrower and, to a lesser extent, Queensland’s and the Northern Territory’s.

[iv] Interestingly, the phrase “other than the grounds of race, impairment or age” is omitted from the exceptions relating to teachers and contract workers – presumably religious schools can discriminate on these attributes then too.

[v] Other related offences include:

79 Possession of material for dissemination with intent to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

80 Possession of material that is likely to incite racial animosity or racist harassment

80A Conduct intended to racially harass

80B Conduct likely to racially harass

80C Possession of material for display with intent to racially harass

80D Possession of material for display that is likely to racially harass

[vi] Sub-section 74(2)(a).

[vii] Section 146 includes a similar delineation.

Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

Update: 15 January 2017

 

Unfortunately, this legislation was voted down by the Victorian Legislative Council on 6 December 2016.

 

As reported by The Age here (‘Coalition and conservative crossbenchers unite to vote down equal rights bills’), the Liberal and National Parties rejected the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016, describing it as an attack on ‘religious freedom’.

 

Of course, it was nothing of the sort – instead it was a modest (some might argue too modest) reform that would have simply required religious schools and other religious bodies to demonstrate that any discrimination against LGBT employees was because of an ‘inherent requirement’ of the relevant job. Nothing less, and nothing more.

 

But even that was too much for Coalition MLCs, meaning lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teachers at religious schools, and LGBT employees at other religious organisations, can continue to be discriminated against for at least another two years, solely because of who they are and irrespective of the responsibilities of the actual role they are performing.

 

Hopefully, Victoria’s LGBTI community remembers this shameful sell-out by the Liberal and National Parties when they cast their ballots on 24 November 2018 – and that the next Parliament strengthens the state’s LGBTI anti-discrimination laws as a matter of priority in early 2019.

 

Original Post:

 

Ten days ago I wrote about the first of two LGBTI law reforms put forward by the Andrews Labor Government that are currently before the Victorian Parliament – the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Amendment Bill 2016.

This post will discuss the second – the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016.

As the title suggests, this Bill will amend the religious exceptions currently contained in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, making it more difficult, in certain circumstances, for religious bodies and schools to discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity[i].

It does this by reintroducing the ‘inherent requirements test’ for employment by religious bodies or schools, which was part of the Act as passed in 2010, but which was subsequently repealed by the Baillieu Liberal-National Government in 2011 before it commenced operation.

This test is set out in clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill, which would amend the current exceptions applying to religious bodies and religious schools featured in sections 82 and 83 respectively:

“(3) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done in relation to the employment of a person by a religious body where-

(a) conformity with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion is an inherent requirement of the particular position; and

(b) the person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity means that the person does not meet that inherent requirement.

(4) The nature of the religious body and the religious doctrines, beliefs or principles in accordance with which it is conducted must be taken into account in determining what is an inherent requirement for the purposes of subsection (3).”[ii]

As you can see from this proposed wording, these are very modest changes. All the Bill does is to remove the ‘blanket’ ability for religious bodies and schools to discriminate against all employees on the basis of these attributes, replacing it with a slightly narrower ability whereby, in order to discriminate, the body or school must show that such discrimination is required because of the particular position involved.

As described by Attorney-General Martin Pakula in his second reading speech:

“A large number of people are employed by or seek to be employed by religious bodies and schools in Victoria, in a range of different positions. In these circumstances, it is fair to ask these organisations to demonstrate the necessary connection between their religious beliefs and principles, and proposed discrimination in employment because of an individual’s personal attribute…

“What the test will do, and appropriately so, is require those organisations that do seek to discriminate in employment on religious grounds to demonstrate the necessary connection between their particular religious beliefs and the need to discriminate.”

pakulamartin58250

Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula

Despite the extremely modest nature of the Bill, it has nevertheless attracted strong opposition from the Australian Christian Lobby[iii] and the Liberal and National Opposition, meaning that, although it has cleared the Legislative Assembly where the Government has the numbers, it is unclear whether it will be passed in the Legislative Council where the Government does not, and where it is expected to be debated later this week (with Victorian Parliament sitting from Tuesday 11 October).

Given this, I have sent a short email to all members of the Victorian upper house, encouraging them to pass this Bill, with the text included at the end of this post.

Before we get to that, however, an important caveat. Regular readers of this blog would be aware that I am opposed to religious exceptions beyond those that are necessary for the appointment of religious office-holders, and for the observance of religious ceremonies.

Indeed, these views formed part of my criticisms of the Victorian anti-discrimination framework, expressed earlier this year in my post What’s Wrong With Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010?[iv]

On this basis, I would obviously support amendments to the religious exceptions contained in the Act that go beyond what has been proposed by the Andrews Labor Government. This would, at the very least, include extending the ‘inherent requirement test’ to protect those people accessing services, including education, from these religious bodies and schools, in addition to employees.

However, we have already seen an unsuccessful attempt by the Victorian Government, this term, to restrict the rights of religious bodies to discriminate against people accessing services – it sought to prevent discrimination against same-sex couples by religious adoption agencies as part of the broader introduction of adoption equality.

Those particular amendments to religious exceptions were defeated in the Victorian Legislative Council, while the overall reform passed.

In this context, it is difficult to see how any amendments to religious exceptions that go further than those currently proposed would be passed by the upper house[v]. Indeed, the fate of the narrow changes that are contained in the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 still seems precarious.

As a result, I have chosen to send this short email calling for these reforms to be passed, as a minimum standard, and in the hope that more comprehensive changes may be able to be made by a subsequent parliament, one where (hopefully) the influence of the extreme right is less powerful[vi].

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Monday 10 October 2016

Dear Member of the Victorian Legislative Council

Please Support the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

I am writing to call on you to support the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 when it comes before the Legislative Council.

This Bill is an important reform that will better protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees, and prospective employees, from discrimination that has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to do their jobs.

As noted by Attorney-General Martin Pakula in his second reading speech, these reforms simply ask religious bodies and schools to “demonstrate the necessary connection between their religious beliefs and principles, and proposed discrimination in employment because of an individual’s personal attribute.”

These are modest changes, and it is difficult to see how the introduction of an ‘inherent requirement test’ can be argued against.

In practice, voting against the reforms contained in the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 is effectively saying that LGBT people can be discriminated against simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even where there is absolutely no reason why they cannot perform a particular role.

I do not believe such an extreme ideological position is sustainable in 2016. I sincerely hope you agree, and in doing so, vote for this Bill.

Please do not hesitate to contact me, at the details provided below, should you have any questions, or wish to clarify any of the above.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:

[i] Noting that intersex status is not a protected attribute under Victorian law.

[ii] The wording of the amendment in relation to religious schools is largely similar.

[iii] Media Release, Is this kind of Government interference really warranted?, 1 September 2016.

[iv] Also expressed through my Submission to Victorian Greens Equal Opportunity Amendment (LGBTI Equality) Bill 2016.

[v] Perhaps the only complementary change that stands some chance of success in the current political environment would be the introduction of a provision requiring religious bodies and schools seeking to use the ‘inherent requirement exception’ to advertise the fact it will discriminate against LGBT employees with respect to particular positions, rather than simply asserting this ability as part of any defence to discrimination proceedings. However, determining whether such an amendment would be passed is best left to Victorian LGBTI advocates.

[vi] In drafting this email I have been careful to avoid language that rules out the need for further reform, or that would contradict amendments to the Bill, such as those proposed by the Victorian Greens (which would limit the ability of religious bodies or schools to discriminate to a greater degree), even if it is my personal view that such amendments are unlikely to be successful at this time.

Submission to Victorian Greens Equal Opportunity Amendment (LGBTI Equality) Bill 2016

The Greens Member for Prahran in the Victorian Parliament, Sam Hibbins, is currently undertaking consultation on his exposure draft Bill to amend the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

Full details of the consultation process can be found here. The following is my submission:

Mr Sam Hibbins MP

Member for Prahran

94 Chapel St

Windsor VIC 3181

sam.hibbins@parliament.vic.gov.au

Friday 12 February 2016

Dear Mr Hibbins

Consultation on Equal Opportunity Amendment (LGBTI Equality) Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on your exposure draft Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill.

Thank you also for your commitment to improving the anti-discrimination protections that are provided to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and bisexual (LGBTI) Victorians.

I agree with your statement, made as part of this consultation, that “The [Equal Opportunity] Act needs updating so that it better protects same-sex and gender diverse Victorians from discrimination at school, at work and in the community” (although I note that the phrase ‘same-sex and gender diverse’ does not include intersex people).

I believe that your exposure draft Bill addresses two of three major deficiencies in the current Act (and that I have written about previously – What’s Wrong With the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010).

Specifically, the Bill would significantly improve the protected attributes that are included in the Act, by:

  • Introducing a new protected attribute of ‘intersex status’, consistent with the protections offered under the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, and
  • Updating the definition of ‘gender identity’ to be broader, and to remove any requirement to identify as either male or female in order to attract anti-discrimination coverage (and again in line with the 2013 Federal Labor Government reforms to the Sex Discrimination Act).

Both of these changes are overdue, and are welcome.

I also support the proposed amendments to reduce the current excessive and unjustified ‘exceptions’ that are offered to religious organisations and individuals allowing them to discriminate against LGBT Victorians in circumstances where it would otherwise be unlawful to do so.

The balance which the Bill strikes – removing religious exceptions in schools and other services, in employment and by individuals, while retaining exceptions for ‘core religious functions’, such as the appointment of ministers of religion and the conduct of religious ceremonies[i] – appears to be a reasonable one.

However, there is one major deficiency of Victorian anti-discrimination and vilification law that your exposure draft Equal Opportunity Amendment (LGBTI Equality) Bill 2016 does not address – and that is the absence of anti-vilification protections covering LGBTI people.

As I have written previously:

“There are… protections against both racial and religious vilification under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

“With homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification just as serious, and just as detrimental, as racial and religious vilification, there is no reason why LGBTI people should not have equivalent protections under Victorian law.”[ii]

In this context, the major suggestion I would make for improvement to your exposure draft Bill is for you to consider amendments to introduce protections against vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, equivalent to the current prohibitions on racial and religious vilification contained in the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.

Outside of these three main issues – protected attributes, religious exceptions and anti-vilification protections – the other reforms proposed by the exposure draft Bill, to “restore… the powers of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to conduct public inquiries, enter into enforceable undertakings and to issue compliance notices” and to “restore… the power for the Commission to order someone to provide information and documents, and to order a witness… to attend and answer question” also appear reasonable.

Overall, then, I support the provisions contained in the exposure draft Equal Opportunity Amendment (LGBTI Equality) Bill 2016, but encourage you to consider adding provisions to provide protections against vilification on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.

Beyond the content of the proposed Bill itself, however, I would like to make the additional point that, given the failure of the Victorian Legislative Council to support reforms in late 2015 to ensure that religious organisations could not discriminate against LGBTI people accessing adoption services, the passage of any of the above reforms would appear to be difficult, at least in the current term of Parliament.

In this context, I urge you and the Victorian Greens to work collaboratively with the state Labor Government, the Sex Party (who also supported last year’s reforms), and the Victorian LGBTI community, to persuade remaining cross-benchers, and indeed sympathetic Liberal and National MLCs, to support at least some of these reforms now – while retaining the option of passing the remainder following the 2018 election.

Thank you for taking this submission into consideration. If you would like any additional information, or to clarify any of the above, please contact me at the details provided below.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

160212 Sam Hibbins

Member for Prahran, Sam Hibbins MP.

Update: 14 January 2017

The Greens introduced an amended version of this legislation into Victorian Parliament in mid-2016.

Renamed the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Equality for Students) Bill 2016, as the name suggests it focused specifically on ensuring religious schools could not discriminate against LGBT students.

Its major provision would have added the following new section to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010:

84A Discrimination against school students not exempt

Sections 82(2), 83 and 84 do not permit discrimination by a person or body that establishes, directs, controls, administers or is an educational institution that is a school against a student on the basis of the student’s sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.”

Unfortunately, despite the modest nature of this proposed reform, it was rejected by the Victorian Legislative Council on November 9 2016, by a margin of 32 to 6 (as reported by the Star Observer here).

Footnotes:

[i] The Bill would leave sub-section 82(1) of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 in tact:

“Nothing in Part 4 applies to-

  • the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religions or members of a religious order; or
  • the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or
  • the selection or appointment of people to perform functions in relation to, or otherwise participate in, any religious observance or practice.”

[ii] What’s Wrong With the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 

What’s Wrong With the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010?

This post is part of a series looking at Australia’s Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws analysing how well – or in some cases, how poorly – they protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people from discrimination and vilification (other posts in the series can be found here).

Each post examines that jurisdiction’s LGBTI anti-discrimination laws, focusing on three main areas:

  • Protected attributes
  • Religious exceptions, and
  • Anti-vilification coverage.

Unfortunately, as we shall see below, Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010 has serious deficiencies on all three fronts. It is time for the Parliament to act to ensure LGBTI Victorians enjoy adequate protections against homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic discrimination and vilification.

**********

Protected Attributes

Victoria’s first anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and bisexual people were introduced in 1995. However, rather than protecting people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or homosexuality and bisexuality, the Act instead covered ‘lawful sexual activity’.

This protected attribute was defined as “engaging in, not engaging in or refusing to engage in a lawful sexual activity”[i] and, with its focus on behaviour rather than identity, it is questionable how effective these protections were in practice.

Fortunately, as the name suggests, the Equal Opportunity (Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation) Act 2000 introduced ‘sexual orientation’ as a protected attribute, defined as “homosexuality (including lesbianism), bisexuality or heterosexuality.”[ii]

While the language used may not be the same that would be used today[iii], it is clear that lesbian, gay and bisexual Victorians are all covered by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

The same amending legislation in 2000 also introduced anti-discrimination protections for transgender Victorians for the first time.

This is because it introduced ‘gender identity’ as a protected attribute, with the following definition (that remains in place today):

gender identity means-

(a) the identification on a bona fide basis by a person of one sex as a member of the other sex (whether or not the person is recognised as such)-

(i) by assuming characteristics of the other sex, whether by means of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise; or

(ii) by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the other sex; or

(b) the identification on a bona fide basis by a person of indeterminate sex as a member of a particular sex (whether or not the person is recognised as such)-

(i) by assuming characteristics of that sex, whether by means of medical intervention, style of dressing or otherwise; or

(ii) by living, or seeking to live, as a member of that sex.”[iv]

Paragraph (a) of this definition applies to transgender people, although, given its focus on ‘binary’ genders, it would appear to only cover those people whose sex was designated as male at birth, but now identify as female (and vice versa). It does not appear to cover people with non-binary gender identities.

The definition in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 is therefore no longer best practice, and a new, more inclusive definition of gender identity should be adopted[v] to ensure all transgender people benefit from anti-discrimination protection.

Intersex Victorians are even worse off when it comes to current state anti-discrimination legislation. Paragraph (b) of the definition of gender identity, above, offers their only protection under Victorian law, and it is problematic because:

  • It inappropriately conflates intersex status, which relates to physical sex characteristics, with gender identity, and
  • It only appears to protect people with intersex variations where they identify as either male or female.

In order to remedy this situation, a stand-alone protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ should be added to the Act, based on the call by intersex activists in the March 2017 Darlington Statement[vi].

Summary: Lesbian, gay and bisexual Victorians are covered by the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, although some transgender people are likely to fall outside the current binary definition of gender identity. Likewise, many people with intersex variations living within Victoria are unlikely to be covered by the protections offered under the existing Act. Therefore, a more inclusive definition of gender identity should be adopted, alongside a new, stand-alone protected attribute of sex characteristics.

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Religious Exceptions

The religious exceptions contained in Victoria’s Equal Opportunity Act 2010, are, to put it bluntly, outrageous. They are so broad, and so generous, that they substantially, and substantively, undermine laws that are supposed to redress discrimination against LGBTI people (amongst other groups).

While the exceptions for religious bodies[vii] contained in subsection 82(1)[viii] appear largely innocuous, relating to the appointment or training of religious ministers and the selection of people to perform religious services, it is only downhill from there.

For example, subsection 82(2) states that:

“Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a religious body that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

Essentially, as long as a religious organisation can show that discriminating against LGBTI people is related to their religion, they have carte blanche to do so in areas where it would be otherwise unlawful.

And, lest there be any doubt that these provisions cover religious schools – allowing them to discriminate against LGBTI teachers and students – section 83 reinforces the ‘right’ to discriminate on these grounds:

83 Religious schools

(1) This section applies to a person or body, including a religious body, that establishes, directs, controls, administers or is an educational institution that is, or is to be, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.

(2) Nothing in Part 4 applies to anything done on the basis of a person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity by a person or body to which this section applies in the course of establishing, directing, controlling or administering the educational institution that-

(a) conforms with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion; or

(b) is reasonably necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of the religion.”

The Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 even includes a somewhat unusual, ‘special right’ for individuals to discriminate against other individuals:

84 Religious beliefs or principles

Nothing in Part 4 applies to discrimination by a person against another person on the basis of that person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity if the discrimination is reasonably necessary for the first person to comply with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of their religion.”[ix]

Tasmania is the only other jurisdiction to include a similar ‘individual’ right to discriminate, although it only allows discrimination on the basis of religion – and not on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of these exceptions is that the most recent changes in this area took the law backwards.

In 2010, the then Labor Government introduced amendments to both the general religious exception, and the specific religious schools exception, so that, in order to discriminate in employment the religious body or school would first need to show that:

“(a) conformity with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion is an inherent requirement of the particular position; and

(b) the person’s religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity means that he or she does not meet that inherent requirement.”[x]

However, before this ‘inherent requirement’ test could even take effect, the newly-elected Liberal-National Government repealed these provisions in 2011, effectively restoring the previous broad and generous exceptions.

Not only are groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, Christian Schools Australia and the Catholic Education Office all (predictably and) vehemently opposed to limiting what is in practice an almost unfettered right to discriminate against LGBTI employees[xi], the history of recent adoption equality legislation also shows just how committed the Liberal and National parties are to protecting this so-called ‘right’.

For those who may be unaware, as part of the long overdue introduction of equal adoption rights for same-sex couples in Victoria[xii], the Andrews Labor Government proposed that religious agencies providing adoption services should not be allowed to discriminate against LGBT people. The amendment sought to add a new subsection (3) to section 82 of the Act:

“Despite subsection (2), Part 4 applies to anything done by a religious body that is an approved agency within the meaning of the Adoption Act 1984 in relation to its exercise of any power or performance of any function or duty under that Act for or with respect to adoption, whether or not the power, function or duty relates to a service for a child within the meaning of that Act or for any other purpose.”

Unfortunately, the Liberal and National parties combined with some cross-bench MPs to defeat this amendment, meaning that, while the right of same-sex couples to adopt has now finally been passed, adoption services operated by religious organisations will continue to have the ‘right’ to turn those same couples away.

Undeterred by this setback, in the second half of 2016 the Andrews Labor Government attempted to implement its election commitment by reintroducing the inherent requirements test for anti-LGBT discrimination in employment via the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016.

Yet again, however, the Liberal and National parties used their numbers in the Legislative Council to block this modest reform, meaning LGBT teachers at religious schools, and employees at other religious organisations, can still be discriminated against simply because of who they are, and even where this discrimination has nothing whatsoever to do with the actual role they are performing.

With the Andrews Labor Government re-elected on 24 November 2018, and a potentially more supportive Legislative Council, it is now up to Minister for Equality Martin Foley MP and his Government to push for broader reforms than simply re-instaing the ‘inherent requirement’ test for employment to considering how best to prohibit discrimination against LGBTI people accessing services.

Ultimately, of course, there is a need to remove all religious exceptions outside those required for the training and appointment of religious ministers, and for the conduct of religious ceremonies.

Summary: The religious exceptions contained in the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 are overly broad, too generous, and – frankly – outrageous. Current provisions give religious bodies and religious schools wide powers to discriminate both against LGBTI employees and against LGBTI people accessing their services.

The Labor Government is to be commended for attempting to reinstate the ‘inherent requirement’ test for discrimination in employment, and to remove exceptions for religious adoption agencies – but now, following their re-election, they must go further and, at the very least, remove exceptions which allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, teachers and other staff.

**********

Anti-Vilification Coverage

This section will be the shortest of the post – because, unlike NSW, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT, there are no anti-vilification laws covering any parts of the LGBTI community.

Given the similar absence of LGBTI anti-vilifications provisions under Commonwealth law, this means Victoria’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community do not have any recourse to legislative anti-vilification protection.

There are, however, protections against both racial and religious vilification under Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.[xiii]

With homophobic, biphobic, transphobic and intersexphobic vilification just as serious, and just as detrimental, as racial and religious vilification, there is no reason why LGBTI people should not have equivalent protections under Victorian law.

Summary: There is currently no anti-vilification coverage for LGBTI people under Victorian law. However, given there are existing protections against racial and religious vilification, LGBTI anti-vilification laws should be introduced, too.

**********

In conclusion, it is clear there is plenty wrong with the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 2010 – from the need to update the definition of gender identity, and to introduce a new protected attribute covering sex characteristics, to reforming the overly-generous religious exceptions contained in the Act, and to ensuring LGBTI Victorians have equivalent access to anti-vilification protections as those based on race and religion. Which means there is plenty of work for the Government, and Parliament, to do.

 

160117 Martin Foley

Victorian Minister for Equality, Martin Foley MP.

 

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Footnotes:

[i] This definition remains in subsection 4(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[ii] Subsection 4(1), Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[iii] For example, the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which was amended in 2013, defines ‘sexual orientation’ as “a person’s sexual orientation towards:

(a) persons of the same sex; or

(b) persons of a different sex; or

(c) persons of the same sex and persons of a different sex.”

[iv] Subsection 4(1), Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[v] Potentially modelled on the definition adopted by the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984: “gender identity means the gender-related identity, appearance or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of a person (whether by way of medical intervention or not), with or without regard to the person’s designated sex at birth.” [Although obviously exact wording should be agreed with Victoria’s transgender community.]

[vi] While the inclusion of ‘intersex status’ in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Act 2013 was seen as world leading at the time, intersex activists now prefer the terminology ‘sex characteristics’ be used as a protected attribute.

[Again, the final wording of the new definition would need to be agreed in consultation with Victoria’s intersex community.]

[vii] Defined in section 81 as “(a) a body established for a religious purpose; or (b) an entity that establishes, or directs, controls or administers, an educational or other charitable entity that is intended to be, and is, conducted in accordance with religious doctrines, beliefs or principles.”

[viii] Subsection (82)(1) “Nothing in Part 4 applies to-

(a) the ordination or appointment of priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order;

(b) the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order; or

(c) the selection or appointment of people to perform functions in relation to, or otherwise participate in, any religious observance or practice.”

[ix] Not only is it unclear why this section is necessary (given the protections contained in Part 4 only apply in specific areas of public life, such as employment, education, the provision of goods and services and accommodation, rather than establishing a general right to non-discrimination), it is also concerning that this ‘special right’ extends to unincorporated associations (because ‘person’ is defined in subsection 4(1) of the Equal Opportunity Act as “person includes an unincorporated association and, in relation to a natural person, means a person of any age.”)

[x] The same wording was used in both subsections 82(3) and 83(3) of the then Equal Opportunity Act 2010.

[xi] “Religious groups hit out at Labor’s move to rewrite state’s equal opportunity laws”, The Age, 8 December 2014.

[xii] As passed in the Adoption Amendment (Adoption by Same-Sex Couples) Act 2015.

[xiii] Section 7 prohibits racial vilification while section 8 prohibits religious vilification: Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001.