5 things we learned from the Senate Hearings into the Religious Discrimination Bill

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has been conducting an inquiry into the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 over summer.

As part of that inquiry, it held two days of public hearings, on Thursday 20 and Friday 21 January, with a range of witnesses from religious organisations, civil society, business, legal groups, the Australian Human Rights Commission and Attorney-General’s Department.

Here are five things we learned from those hearings, ahead of the Committee’s final report, which is due to be tabled this afternoon (Friday 4 February), prior to debate on the Bill resuming in the House of Representatives next Tuesday (8 February).

  1. Citipointe’s conduct is not an outlier – in fact, it’s exactly the point

By now, most people will be familiar with the situation at Citipointe Christian College in Brisbane, which this time last week, issued a new enrolment contract seeking to discriminate against LGBT students generally, and trans and gender diverse students in particular.

What is also important to note is the way in which they sought to justify this discrimination. Clause 26 of their contract in particular tries to dress it up as discrimination on the basis of religious belief about gender identity, rather than on the basis of gender identity itself:

‘The Parents acknowledge and accept that, should I/we not share the College’s commitment to fostering these fundamental doctrinal precepts, this will constitute a serious departure from the religious precepts upon which Citipointe Christian College is based and will afford Citipointe Christian College the right to exclude a student from the College who no longer adheres to the College’s doctrinal precepts including those as to biological sex, which constitute an important tenet of the College’s Christian religion (emphasis added).’

Now, it is highly likely that Citipointe’s actions would be unlawful under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, not just because that legislation does not allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of gender identity, at all, but also because neither does it allow them to discriminate against students on the basis of religious belief beyond the point of initial enrolment.

Therefore, even if the school was successful in arguing this was indeed discrimination on the ground of religious belief about gender identity, it still couldn’t lawfully discriminate against existing trans and gender diverse kids.

Unfortunately, the same safeguard does not exist in the Religious Discrimination Bill, which allows religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of religious belief not just at the point of enrolment, but throughout their education.

And this right will exist, even if Liberal moderates are successful in amending the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) to remove specific exceptions allowing religious schools to discriminate under that law.

Which means, if the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed in its current form, religious schools will continue to discriminate against LGBT students, ‘under the guise of religious views’, rather than sexual orientation and gender identity.

But the outcome will still be the same: LGBT kids mistreated because of who they are.

Above all, the attempted actions by Citipointe on this issue are not an outlier – in fact, multiple religious organisations at the Senate hearings told us this is what they would do.

For example, there was this exchange involving Mr Mark Spencer, Director of Public Policy, Christian Schools Australia:

Senator Andrew Bragg (Liberal): Finally – I’m just conscious of time – on the issue of children in schools, I understand that there was some discussion earlier about the different clauses that may or may not be considered by this parliament. My question is really more on the principle here, which is: do you want to have a right in the law to expel gay kids?

Mr Spencer: Again, you’re making a sweeping statement there that needs a bit more nuance. For a start, you talk about gay kids. Are you talking about same-sex attracted kids who might be committed to living a biblical authentic life? Are you talking about young people who may be, by their behaviour, not meeting the conduct standards of the school? There are a whole range of difference scenarios in there that you need to be unpacking and considering. The short answer is: no, no child has been, and no child do we want to sack simply because they might be same-sex attracted.

Senator Bragg: So your answer is no?

Mr Spencer: The answer is: no child do we want to expel simply because they’re same-sex attracted (emphasis added).

Translation: Christian Schools Australia reserve the right to discriminate against, and even expel, any gay student who is not ‘committed to living a biblical authentic life’. Which means affirming statements like ‘homosexuality is intrinsically disordered’, and pledging to be celibate for life.

In other words (or my words in fact): If a gay kid hates themself enough, they can stay. But if they do not believe who they are is inherently wrong, they can be lawfully mistreated.

Or this exchange with Right Reverend Dr Micheal Stead, Bishop of South Sydney, Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney:

Senator Bragg: I guess the question is: should you be allowed to discriminate against someone based on their sexual preference if they are teaching in accordance with the ethos of the school?

Bishop Stead: No – sorry, I may have misunderstood your question. None of the religious bodies are arguing for the right to discriminate on the basis of sexuality or gender. What we’re arguing for is the right to be able to discriminate on the basis of religious belief. If it happens that somebody’s religious belief also reflects their sexuality or their gender in a way which is inconsistent with the belief of the organisation-

Bishop Stead: Yes. The religious institutions are not seeking the right to discriminate on the basis of sexuality, gender or any of the other protected attributes-

Senator Deb O’Neill (ALP): Race, disability, age-

Bishop Stead: Thank you. They’re looking for the right to, in the wrong language, ‘discriminate on the basis of religion’. We would say ‘to preference on the basis of religion’ – to act in accordance with their religious belief. It’s only at the point at which somebody’s religious belief has changed to reflect their sexuality or gender that makes it inconsistent with the school that we’re into this area of intersectionality (emphasis added).

Again, they might say it’s discrimination on the basis of religious belief (or ‘preferencing’, to use their term), but it’s clear that in practice LGBT students and teachers will be the victims.

Or this exchange with Mrs Moira Deeming, Researcher, Church and Nation Committee, Presbyterian Church of Victoria:

Mrs Deeming: There are gay Christians and teachers – I am a teacher – who are Christians first and the way that they deal with whatever their sexuality feels like is expressed in a Christian manner. It’s about religious freedom and it’s about religious association. It’s not about finding out if someone is gay and cutting them out. It’s about working out: are you like minded with us? If you are like minded, join with us. Then there shouldn’t be an issue.

Senator Bragg: That wasn’t my question, but I know I am out of time. On notice, can you come back with exactly what your position is because, frankly, it’s a bit murky.

Mrs Deeming: Would you mind restating your question clearly just one more time?

Senator Bragg: The question is: do you want to be able to discriminate based on sexual orientation or preference in the hiring of your staff?

Mrs Deeming: That’s a corollary to preferencing based on religious belief. We’re not targeting anybody- (emphasis added)

All three witnesses appear to be saying: we reserve the right to discriminate against LGBT people, we’ll just call it discrimination on the basis of religious belief.

Which is exactly what Citipointe Christian College was trying to do with its contract. Fortunately, that was unlawful because of the much stronger anti-discrimination laws in Queensland.

But, discrimination protections for students and teachers under the Religious Discrimination Bill are much, much weaker, because of the excessive and extreme exceptions provided to religious organisations under this legislation, allowing them to lawfully discriminate.

As a result, there will be plenty more Citipointes around the country in future. And that’s not ‘murky’, it’s perfectly clear.

2. Workers from minority faiths are left unprotected by the Bill

The excessive and extreme religious exceptions contained in the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 don’t just affect LGBT people.

In fact, one of the groups who stand to lose the most are workers from minority faiths. This is because large, usually-Christian, publicly-funded service delivery organisations – including hospitals, aged care facilities, accommodation providers and disability service providers – will be able to lawfully discriminate on the basis of religious belief in employment. 

That means hiring (and firing), and providing (or denying) training, promotion, and other benefits, on the basis of faith rather than ability. Workers who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, agnostic and atheist can be treated less favourably than Christians, just because of who they are.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Mr Surinder Jain, National Vice President of the Hindu Council of Australia, explaining the Bill’s impact on his community:

‘We have a lot of Hindus who work in aged-care services and disability services, predominantly being run by religious organisations. We have doctors working in private hospitals. We have IT people. Their jobs would be questionable. There is another category of people who are new migrants, who come here and who are desperately looking for a job and they find a job in a religious organisation. There is unsaid pressure on them that they should adapt to the religion of the organisation that they are in. This way the religious freedom [Bill] would actually be taking away their freedom of ideology and religion in declaring their faith and practising their faith and in not being pressured into adopting another faith.’

In short, the Religious Discrimination Bill privileges larger faiths at the expense of smaller ones, and especially employees of the latter.

3. A ‘mask off’ moment revealed what the statement of belief provision is really about

Through much of the hearings, and especially during the appearance by the Attorney-General’s Department on the Friday afternoon, defenders of the Bill attempted to downplay the impact of the unprecedented statement of belief override of all other Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws that protects religiously-motivated comments that offend, humiliate, insult and ridicule others.

They tried to make it seem like it was all very reasonable, rather than an extraordinary legal privilege to allow people to make demeaning and derogatory comments about women, LGBT people, people with disability and people of minority faiths in all areas of public life.

Well, not all of them – one witness on the Thursday afternoon let the ‘reasonable’ mask slip, confirming the statement of belief provision will provide a platform for transphobia: Mrs Moira Deeming, Researcher, Church and Nation Committee of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.

I’ll reproduce the relevant part of the transcript below, but for context, remember that Greens Senator Janet Rice’s late wife was a trans woman:

Senator Janet Rice (Greens): We’re talking about, particularly, clauses 11 and 12 of this bill and, particularly, the statements of belief. The Australian Human Rights Commission say that statements of belief that will be legal under this legislation, which will override state and territory legislation, are currently considered discrimination, and they will no longer be considered discrimination.

Mrs Deeming: Multipartisan support – let’s get a controversial statement. ‘Trans women are men’. Would you consider that, in and of itself, a discriminatory statement that should never be uttered?

Senator Rice: If that were being stated in a workplace to a trans woman, absolutely.

Senator Rice: Do you believe that’s not discrimination?

Mrs Deeming: I just think it’s a statement of belief, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a religious belief.

Senator Rice: And, if it’s offensive to that trans woman, you that it’s acceptable?

Mrs Deeming: I think-

Senator Rice: It’s deeply offensive and potentially causing that trans woman to have severe mental health illness… to not be accepted in their gender identity.

Chair: Senator Rice, I’m just going to ask you to pause here.

Senator Louise Pratt (ALP): But, in the same workplace, someone won’t have the right to call the person who said that a bigot.

Chair: Senator Pratt, I’m just going to ask you to pause as well. Senator Rice has put a question to Mrs Deeming. Mrs Deeming, please answer the question. I don’t want any witness being interrupted, please.

Mrs Deeming: I pose that question because it’s obviously the most controversial one at the moment. It’s not specifically a religious view that biological sex cannot be altered. It’s not. There are many, many people – lesbians, in fact, and homosexual men and people from across the political spectrum, people in every single party here – that would agree with the statement that trans women are, by definition, male. They wouldn’t be making it on the basis of hate. What I’m interested her is finding out whether you’re going to try and take statements like that and class them as inherently harmful, where no offence was intended. It’s just a difference of belief. It’s a belief we don’t subscribe to.

Senator Rice: A difference of belief?… In that sort of instance, in a workplace, if that statement has been given to a young person who is attempting to affirm their gender, it leads to severe mental unwellness and severe impact on them – not being able to affirm their gender. It leads to suicidal ideation. It leads to potential suicide. That is the reality for trans and gender diverse people. So I put it to you that that is, in and of itself, a discriminatory and hateful statement if it is being made to those people.

Mrs Deeming: And I put it to you that it is psychologically abusive to coerce students and other people to say things that they do not believe, especially about the nature of biological-

*****

There’s a lot to take in there obviously, but some things stand out:

  • Deeming pro-actively chose to raise the statement ‘trans women are men’ – during an exchange with a Senator whose late wife was a trans woman
  • She argued that it’s ‘just a statement of belief’, and therefore should be legally protected
  • She did not agree with Rice’s comments about the harm caused by such statements to trans and gender diverse people
  • Instead, Deeming claimed it is ‘psychologically abusive’ to require students and other people to effectively treat trans and gender diverse people with respect.

In this exchange, Deeming confirmed that the statement of belief provision is not about providing protection for people who simply state ‘marriage is between a man and a woman’ – it is instead really about allowing people to make deeply transphobic comments to others, even to fellow employees in the workplace who are simply trying to do their job.

4. ‘The limit does not exist’ to the religious freedom agenda

There was another development over the course of the hearings which reveals a helluva lot about the ever-growing demands of the ‘religious freedom’ movement – and how it will continue to strip away the rights of others, with little care for the consequences it creates.

This relates to proposals to redraft clause 12 of the Bill – which is the ‘statement of belief’ provision – ostensibly to ensure it is constitutional. These changes were put forward by Professor Nicholas Aroney, who had previously served as a member of the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review (which helped to create the mess we are now in).

Anyway, from Mr Aroney’s submission to the Committee:

‘To maintain this policy objective while addressing any doubts about the effectiveness of clause 12 under section 109 of the Constitution it would be sufficient to amend the clause so that it reads:

(1) A statement of belief, in and of itself, does not constitute discrimination for the purposes of this Act.

(2) Notwithstanding any of the following State of Territory laws, it is not unlawful to make a statement of belief, in and of itself:’

The redrafted amendment then lists all four of the Commonwealth anti-discrimination Acts (Racial, Sex, Disability and Age), and each of the primary state and territory anti-discrimination laws (such as the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977).

Now, I am not a constitutional lawyer, so I can’t tell you whether it has made the provision more, or less, constitutional.

However, I am an expert on the Religious Discrimination Bill and I can tell you that with this drafting Mr Aroney has made sure the ‘statement of belief’ clause would explicitly override section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

As well as all state and territory anti-vilification provisions found in their primary Acts (like the prohibitions on racial, homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977).

This is because his version of clause 12 overrides all parts of these laws (by using the general phrase ‘it is not unlawful’), whereas even the current version of the Religious Discrimination Bill applies to discrimination only (it uses the phrase ‘does not constitute discrimination’ instead).

I can’t speak for Mr Aroney, so I don’t know whether this drafting is deliberate – and he meant to ensure religiously-motivated comments that breach laws like s18C should be protected – or whether it is simply careless.

But even if it was the latter, I think it is symptomatic of the overall ‘religious freedom’ agenda – and that is it is only ever concerned with securing more, and more, and more, rights for religious fundamentalists, like the right to be a bigot towards women, LGBT people, people with disability and people of minority faiths.

And rarely, if ever, do religious freedom advocates bother to step back to consider what is being stripped away from other groups in society. Such as, in this instance, racial minorities.

My view is reinforced by the fact, on Thursday 20 January, multiple witnesses, from a variety of different religious organisations, were asked whether they supported Mr Aroney’s changes. Those that offered their support for his drafting include:

  • Mr John Steenhof, Principal Lawyer, Human Rights Law Alliance
  • Mr Mark Sneddon, Executive Director, Institute for Civil Society
  • Professor Patrick Parkinson, Director, Freedom for Faith
  • Right Reverend Dr Michael Stead, Bishop of South Sydney, Anglican Church Diocese of Sydney
  • Reverend Christopher Duke, Convener, Church and Nation Committee, Presbyterian Church of Victoria
  • Pastor Michael Worker, General Secretary and Director, Public Affairs and Religious Liberty, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Australia, and
  • Pastor Mark Llewellyn Edwards, Australian Christian Churches.

Again, I have no idea if they each consciously support overriding s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), and other state and territory anti-vilification laws. But they absolutely supported amendments that have this practical effect. And at the very least it seems nobody even stopped to think about who was going to lose out as a result.

That is the insatiable religious freedom agenda in action. And you had best believe that, even if the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed, it will not stop eating away at the rights of others to live their lives free from discrimination.

5. Government Senators still haven’t grasped the full dangers of the Religious Discrimination Bill

It is fair to describe the Religious Discrimination Bills as complex, particularly because it contains a number of unique provisions that do things no other Australian anti-discrimination law has ever done before (like clauses 11 and 12, which specifically override, and undermine, anti-discrimination protections in other jurisdictions).

Nevertheless, it was disheartening when, on the final afternoon of two Senate hearings – which followed another three days of hearings into the Bill by the Joint Committee on Human Rights – the Chair of the Committee (Senator Sarah Henderson), was involved in the following exchanges, demonstrating she still hadn’t fully understood one of the Bill’s main problems:

Chair: Do you have to believe that it’s part of the doctrines and tenets of that religion? There has got to be a factual basis for that. You can’t just subjectively believe that.

Mr Walter [from the Attorney-General’s Department]: It’s a test of whether the individual believes it or not…

Chair: Does it have to be genuinely held in relation to you’ve got to factually be able to demonstrate that what you hold as your genuine belief reflect the doctrines and tenets of that religion? Your so-called relationship with God can’t be separated from, or not connected with, the doctrines and tenets of that religion. In other words, you can’t just make something up.

Senator Rice: You can. If you genuinely believe that your religion says so, you can.

Chair: That’s what I’m seeking to clarify. There’s been a genuine concern that many have expressed during these two days of hearings.

Mr Walter: Yes. What it doesn’t do is it doesn’t apply an objective text of saying, for example, ‘I believe X’…

Chair: Just to give you an example, could someone who is pro-euthanasia and has made some comments in relation to that issue genuinely consider that such a position is in accordance with the doctrines and tenets of Catholicism, for instance? The concern is that when you start to rely on the individual’s-

Senator Rice: It’s how it’s drafted.

Chair: genuine belief, which might not be connected in any way with the doctrine or tenet of that particular religion, isn’t there an issue with an objective test not applying?

Mr Walter: In that particular example, in theory, yes. However, that person needs to establish that they genuinely believe that. You’re going to be looking for a pattern of evidence that they’ve held that belief for a long time or they’ve expressed it in many ways-

Chair: Surely that doesn’t make sense, because that’s not consistent with the Catholic doctrine. How can they genuinely believe that that’s part of a tenet of that faith when it clearly, on its face, does not accord with the doctrines or tenets of Catholicism? How could that-

Senator O’Neill (ALP): That’s before we get to the religions that are new and don’t have such a body of evidence.

Senator Rice: Exactly.

Chair: That’s what makes this very complicated. Is there not a difficulty because there’s not an objective text; it’s a subjective test?

*****

At the very end, Senator Henderson was finally at least starting to ask the right question – because yes, there is a massive difficulty in that the definition of statement of belief is entirely subjective (with clause 5 of the Bill stating that only the person making the statement needs to ‘genuinely consider’ it to be in accordance with the religion).

That’s why this provision will protect an almost unlimited array of fringe beliefs – including white supremacist speech, as long as the person making it ‘genuinely considers’ it relates to their particularly-warped views of Christianity. It would not matter if every single church in Australia disagreed with them.

And the Attorney-General’s Department’s response – You’re going to be looking for a pattern of evidence that they’ve held that belief for a long time or they’ve expressed it in many ways – only makes things worse.

Apparently, if you can show you’ve made white supremacist comments, dressed up as religious belief, many times before, then it makes it more likely your comments will be protected from discrimination claims under Commonwealth, state and territory law.

The statement of belief provision is a mess. The whole Religious Discrimination Bill is a mess. And it must be rejected.

Conclusion

The above are just five of the issues which arose during the two days of hearings by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee into the Religious Discrimination Bill. There were many more I could have chosen to highlight here.

Despite this, based on media reports this morning, it seems likely that both Liberal and Labor Senators will recommend that the legislation be passed.

Which gives us just a matter of days to help stop this extreme, radical and unprecedented assault on the human rights of everyday Australians.

The best thing you can do at this point is to:

And if you need any further convincing of why this legislation should be defeated, try this: Why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be rejected (in 1,000 words or less).

The Religious Discrimination Bill might have been introduced by PM Scott Morrison, but it is just as big a test for Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese: will he support legislation that takes away rights from women, LGBT people, people with disability and people from minority faiths?

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

[NB This article is written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of employers, past or present.]

Why the Religious Discrimination Bill must be rejected (in 1000 words or less)

The Morrison Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill is a serious threat to the rights of women, LGBT people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and many other Australians.

However, because anti-discrimination law is already highly technical, and the proposed Bill is both incredibly complex, and contains a range of provisions that are completely unprecedented, it can be difficult to understand exactly what is at stake.

The following, then, is my attempt to explain the major problems contained in the Religious Discrimination Bill in 1000 words or less:

*****

The statement of belief’ provision protects offensive, humiliating, insulting and ridiculing comments against women, LGBT people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and others on the basis of who they are.

It does this by taking away existing protections against discrimination under all Commonwealth, state and territory anti-discrimination laws, including targeting the best practice provisions of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

As long as they are motivated by religious belief, people will be empowered to make demeaning and derogatory comments in all areas of public life: in workplaces, schools and universities, hospitals, aged care, public transport, cafes, restaurants and shops. Everywhere.

And because the definition of statement of belief depends only on the subjective interpretation of the person making them, it protects fringe or radical views, including religiously-motivated anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and even racism.

By overriding all other anti-discrimination laws, the ‘statement of belief’ provision also denies access to justice to victims of discrimination.

This is because it effectively introduces a Commonwealth ‘defence’ to state laws, meaning state tribunals – which hear the majority of anti-discrimination cases – will be unable to resolve complaints where this issue is raised.

These cases will instead need to be heard by state supreme courts, or federal courts, at massively-increased costs to complainants.

The groups most likely to experience religiously-motivated discrimination – women, LGBT people, people with disability and people of minority faiths – will lose the most.

The ‘statement of belief’ provision also grants extraordinary powers to the Commonwealth Attorney-General to take away existing rights in other areas, by ‘prescribing’ additional laws that will be undermined.

Laws that are at risk include:

  • ‘Safe access zone’ protections covering pregnant people seeking lawful terminations
  • Bans on sexual orientation and gender identity conversion practices, and even
  • Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits racial vilification.

The ‘religious exceptions’ in the proposed Bill are just as dangerous.

While many anti-discrimination laws contain ‘religious exceptions’, the special privileges allowing religious organisations to discriminate under the Religious Discrimination Bill are far broader than any other Commonwealth, state or territory anti-discrimination law.

This is both because it adopts a much more lenient test than other laws to determine when this discrimination is permitted (only requiring that one other person of the same religion could reasonably consider the discrimination to be justified).

And because it applies to a much wider range of organisations than other laws, covering charities, hospitals, aged care facilities, accommodation providers, disability service providers, camps and conference sites and even religious organisations undertaking some commercial activities.

Unlike the Sex Discrimination Act and similar laws, the Bill does not require these bodies to have been ‘established for religious purposes’, imposing the much easier test of ‘conducted in accordance with’ religious beliefs.

The people who stand to lose most from these exceptions are Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and atheist workers denied jobs, promotions and training they are qualified for simply because of their religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

These exceptions also apply to ‘religious educational institutions’, covering everything from child-care and early learning centres, through to schools, colleges and universities.

However, unlike best practice provisions in Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and NT which limit these exceptions to enrolment only, the proposed Bill permits discrimination against students on the basis of religious belief throughout their education.

In this way, the Religious Discrimination Bill allows discrimination against children and young people, denying them their religious freedom to question, explore and develop their own faith as they learn and grow, without fear of punishment.

The same provisions could also be used by religious schools to discriminate against LGBT kids, not on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity itself, but on whether they affirm statements like ‘homosexuality is intrinsically disordered’ or ‘God created man and woman, therefore being transgender is sinful’. The outcome would nevertheless be the same: LGBT kids being mistreated because of who they are.

This means that, even if the Morrison Government finally implements its promise to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBT students, religious schools could still discriminate against them via alternative means.

The Bill also allows discrimination against teachers and other employees of religious educational institutionsmeaning they can be hired and fired on the basis of their faith, not their skills.

In addition, it grants extraordinary powers to the Commonwealth Attorney-General, allowing them to take away existing rights from teachers under state and territory anti-discrimination laws.

This includes recently-passed laws in Victoria which only permit discrimination where it is an inherent requirement of the role, and ‘reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances’, as well as similar laws in operation in Queensland for two decades, and in Tasmania and the ACT.

As with students, these provisions could also provide an alternative means to permit discrimination against LGBT workers ‘under the guise of religious views’. LGBT teachers and other staff are potentially at risk in Victoria, Queensland, Tasmania and the ACT.

Finally, the Bill includes a range of other significant problems:

  • Removing the ability of qualifying bodies to take appropriate action about harmful ‘statements of belief’ made by professionals outside the workplace (for example, protecting repeated homophobic and transphobic comments by a doctor in a small town, even where this makes it unsafe for LGBT people to access essential healthcare)
  • Providing an unprecedented ability for religious organisations to make discrimination complaints in their own right, including allowing faith bodies to take legal action to prevent Commonwealth, state and territory governments from requiring organisations that receive public funding not to discriminate against LGBT people
  • Preventing local governments from passing by-laws to address harmful anti-LGBT ‘street preachers’
  • Introducing a totally unnecessary amendment to the Charities Act to ‘protect’ charities advocating a ‘traditional view of marriage’ (and those charities only), and
  • Expanding ‘religious exceptions’ in the Marriage Act to allow religious educational institutions to deny the use of their facilities for LGBTI-inclusive weddings, even where these facilities are offered to the public on a commercial basis.

Overall, the Religious Discrimination Bill promotes rather than prohibits discrimination. It must be blocked.

(999 words)

*****

The above summary does not even cover all of the many problems created by the Religious Discrimination Bill. If you would like to know more of the technical details, I encourage you to read the public submissions made by:

  • the Public Interest Advocacy Centrehere;

and

  • the Australian Discrimination Law Experts Grouphere

to the two Parliamentary committees (Joint Committee on Human Rights, and Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs) which have been holding inquiries into this legislation over summer.

Both Committees are due to table their final reports to Parliament on Friday 4 February, meaning the Religious Discrimination Bill could be debated, and passed, in the sitting weeks beginning on Tuesday 8 February.

There is, however, still time to stop this extraordinary and extreme, radical and unprecedented – and downright dangerous – law, but only if you make your opposition to it known right now.

There are a number of actions you can take, today:

  • Contact the following list of moderate and/or lesbian and gay Liberal MPs and Senators, expressing your serious concerns about the Bill and asking them to cross the floor to protect the rights of all Australians (using their contact details from Parliament House):
    • Angie Bell (Member for Moncrieff)
    • Dave Sharma (Wentworth)
    • Katie Allen (Higgins)
    • Fiona Martin (Reid)
    • Trevor Evans (Brisbane)
    • Tim Wilson (Goldstein)
    • Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney)
    • Warren Entsch (Leichhardt)
    • Bridget Archer (Bass)
    • Andrew Bragg (Senator for New South Wales)
    • Richard Colbeck (Senator for Tasmania), and
    • Dean Smith (Senator for Western Australia).

Together, we can ensure the Religious Discrimination Bill is rejected, for the benefit of women, LGBT people, people with disability, people of minority faiths and many, many other Australians whose rights would be at risk if this divisive law was allowed to pass.

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

[NB This article is written in a personal capacity and does not represent the views of employers, past or present.]

A Pride Flag for NSW

Today (26 March 2021) marks exactly ten years since the election of the NSW Liberal/National Government.

In that decade, and especially in their early years, they have passed a few important LGBT law reforms, including the long-overdue abolition of the homosexual advance defence (or ‘gay panic’ defence) in 2014 and establishing a scheme to expunge historical criminal records for same-sex intercourse in the same year.

However, the pace of reform has slowed markedly in recent times. The last new LGBTI laws were both passed in 2018, with the removal of ‘forced trans divorce’ (although this was necessitated by the passage of marriage equality in Commonwealth law, while NSW failed to seize the opportunity to amend identity laws more generally) and the introduction of an offence for publicly threatening or inciting violence against others, including on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status (although it replaced existing criminal vilification offences on the basis of homosexuality and transgender status, and as far as I am aware has not been enforced since it commenced).

Indeed, with this week also marking the halfway point of the Liberal/National Government’s third term, there have been no new laws passed addressing LGBTI issues since then, and none appear to be on the horizon.

This is not because the job of LGBTI law reform in NSW is complete. Far from it. As I have written previously, NSW now has the worst LGBT laws in Australia, and is only saved from that title with respect to intersex issues because some other jurisdictions are similarly appalling.

At least part of the problem is that many people, both inside and especially outside our communities, erroneously believe the struggle is over. Which is where my idea for a pride flag for NSW comes in.

From my perspective, the pride flag is inherently political. A symbol of our strength and resilience in overcoming anti-LGBTI prejudice and abuse, as well as a reminder to continue fighting until all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people are truly ‘free and equal’.

With that in mind, here is what I think the six colours of the ‘traditional’ pride flag[i] could stand for in NSW today, as a way of bringing attention to at least some of the essential reforms which are still yet to be won here.

Red: Ban conversion practices

Anti-gay and anti-trans conversion practices (sometimes described as ‘ex-gay’ or ‘ex-trans’ therapy) continue in Australia today. Several jurisdictions have already taken steps to ban these practices, with general prohibitions, including in religious environments, now law in Victoria and the ACT, and a more limited ban, only covering health settings, in Queensland. Other states, including Tasmania, are actively considering their own legislation.

To date, the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government has given no firm indication they are considering laws to outlaw these destructive practices. They need to be pressured into taking urgent action to stop them.

Amber/Orange: Protect LGBT students & teachers

By now, we are all familiar with ‘amber alerts’ in the media to draw attention to vulnerable children in danger. Well, every day in NSW there should be an amber alert for LGBT kids – because, in 2021, religious schools are still legally permitted to discriminate against them on the basis of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

That is in part because of Scott Morrison’s broken promise from 2018 to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984(Cth) to remove the special privileges allowing religious schools to abuse, mistreat, suspend or even expel students just because of who they are.

But it is also because the Berejiklian Liberal/National Government refuses to repeal the special privileges contained in its own law, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). Indeed, the exceptions in NSW are actually worse, because they permit all private schools, colleges and universities to discriminate, not just those that are religious (making NSW the only jurisdiction in Australia to do so).

Of course, LGBT students are not the only victims of such discrimination. The same provisions also allow private educational authorities to discriminate against LGBT teachers.

If we genuinely want our schools to be safe learning environments where all people are encouraged to reach their full potential, then the NSW Government must protect both LGBT students and teachers from discrimination.

Yellow: End coercive intersex surgeries

As I have written elsewhere, the worst human rights abuses currently affecting any part of the Australian LGBTI community are coercive medical treatments, including surgeries and other interventions, on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.

These egregious human rights violations carry lifelong consequences which is why they must be deferred until intersex people can consent, or not consent, to them. Some jurisdictions, including Tasmania and the ACT, appear to be moving in that direction. As yet, there is no sign of similar progress in NSW.

[NB The yellow comes from the intersex pride flag, which is yellow and purple.]

Green: Improve birth certificate access

NSW now has the equal worst birth certificate laws in Australia, alongside Queensland. 

Under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995 (NSW), trans and gender diverse people must undergo ‘a surgical procedure involving the alteration of a person’s reproductive organs… for the purpose of assisting a person to be considered a member of the opposite sex’ before being allowed to update their birth certificate to reflect their gender identity.

This requirement is both unnecessary and inappropriate, especially when some people may not wish to undergo such surgeries, while others cannot afford to do so given the prohibitive costs involved.

NSW has fallen behind the majority of other Australian jurisdictions which have updated their birth certificate laws to allow access based on self-identification only (which is best practice), or at least without physical medical interventions. It is time the Government gave the green light to trans and gender diverse people here to access birth certificates without any medical gate-keeping.

Blue[ii]: Trans discrimination law reform

Trans and gender diverse people in NSW are also let down by confusing and outdated anti-discrimination protections, as amply demonstrated by the controversy surrounding discriminatory efforts to prevent trans women who have not undergone surgery from accessing McIver’s Ladies Baths in Coogee.

On one hand, there is a definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ in section 4 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) which some people might, mistakenly, try to use to justify limiting access on the basis of surgery:

‘recognised transgender person means a person the record of whose sex is altered under Part 5A of the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1995[iii] or under the corresponding provisions of a law of another Australian jurisdiction.’

Except the substantive protections against transgender discrimination apply irrespective of whether the person has had surgery. According to section 38A:

‘A reference in this Part to a person being transgender or a transgender person is a reference to a person, whether or not the person is a recognised transgender person

(a) who identifies as a member of the opposite sex by living, or seeking to live, as a member of the opposite sex, or

(b) who has identified as a member of the opposite sex by living as a member of the opposite sex…

and includes a reference to the person being thought of as a transgender person, whether the person is, or was, in fact a transgender person’ [emphasis added].

Which means discriminating against transgender women who have not had surgery would probably be found to be unlawful.

Given this, the misleading definition of ‘recognised transgender person’ should be removed from section 4.

However, that would still not address a far bigger problem, including with the broader definition in section 38A: it likely only applies to people with ‘binary’ gender identities, because of its use of the outdated concept of ‘opposite sex’.

In other words, non-binary people in NSW are not explicitly covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977. The NSW Government must remedy this by replacing ‘transgender’ with ‘gender identity’, potentially based on the definition in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth):

‘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’.

Lavender/Purple: Bisexual discrimination law reform

The definition of transgender is not the only outdated terminology in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW). The other protected attribute covering (some parts) of the LGBTI community is currently ‘homosexual.’ Section 4 of the Act defines that term to mean ‘male or female homosexual.’

That narrow definition means NSW’s anti-discrimination laws are the only such laws in Australia that fail to protect bisexuals against discrimination.

This omission is truly appalling. It is well beyond time for the NSW Government to update the Anti-Discrimination Act to cover sexual orientation generally, in line with other jurisdictions including the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984:

‘sexual orientation means 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.’

[NB The lavender comes from the bisexual pride flag, which is pink, lavender and blue.]

The six issues discussed above are of course not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of other LGBTI laws and policies which also need to be amended by NSW to provide genuine equality to its citizens irrespective of sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.[iv]

But, in my opinion, these are some of the most essential reforms in order for people to feel pride that we are making real progress in overcoming homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and intersexphobia.

I started this article by highlighting the fact today is the 10th anniversary of the election of the NSW Liberal/National Government.

Coincidentally, today also marks 100 weeks until the planned opening ceremony of World Pride 2023 in Sydney.

That means Premier Gladys Berejiklian has exactly 100 weeks to deliver on each of the six issues identified here.

If her Liberal/National Government fails to make these long-overdue and much-needed changes in that time, then I suggest we fly this ‘pride flag for NSW’ at half-mast during that opening ceremony to acknowledge the damage inflicted and pain caused by their ongoing inaction.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you can sign up to receive updates about this and other issues from this blog, via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus [NB Given the events of the past month – with this website being blocked by Facebook for being ‘news’ – it is more important than ever to sign up if you want to receive updates, especially with the possibility of further disruptions].

Footnotes:


[i] I also personally support the newer ‘Progress’ version of the pride flag, incorporating both elements of the trans flag, and black and brown stripes to represent people of colour.

[ii] The blue here could either represent part of the trans pride flag – which is blue, pink and white – or the blue of the Pacific Ocean at McIver’s Ladies Baths.

[iii] Which, as we have seen, only allows the granting of new identity documentation following invasive surgeries.

[iv] Indeed, the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) also needs to be updated to include a new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ covering intersex people, and to remove the general exception in section 56(d) which allows a wide range of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT employees and people accessing their services.

What for art thou Albo?

Anthony Albanese became Leader of the Australian Labor Party in May 2019. It’s now March 2021, and we still don’t know where he stands on key issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) community.

In his 22 months as Opposition Leader, Mr Albanese (commonly referred to as ‘Albo’), has only explicitly referred to LGBTIQ rights once in Parliament. On 2 July 2019, he made the following statement:

‘In an article in the NewDaily and in a number of other articles reporting on that article, it’s been suggested that I supported watering down Labor’s commitment to LGBTIQ rights. As someone who in their first speech in parliament mentioned removing discrimination on the basis of sexuality and is a strong advocate for the rights of gay and lesbian people, that is not true; it did not happen.’

Despite this, and unfortunately for LGBTIQ Australians, that article foretold what appears to have occurred in the period since.

As happens every term, the Labor Party is engaged in updating its National Platform, the document setting out its core principles.

As part of this process, Albo has expressed a clear desire for the Platform to be streamlined. The current draft, which will be considered at an online Special Platform Conference on 30 and 31 March 2021, stands at 111 pages – compared to 268 pages of policy detail in former Leader Bill Shorten’s 2018 version.

Based on that level of reduction, you might expect that LGBTIQ policy commitments would have decreased by a similar ratio (to be two-fifths of the previous document).

However, the axe seems to have fallen disproportionately on issues affecting our communities. From 46 separate mentions of LGBTIQ issues in 2018, there are just nine in the 2021 draft Platform.

Admittedly, that is a somewhat superficial criterion. Nevertheless, looking at the substantive policy commitments in closer detail, and the cuts are just as bad. Worse, in fact, with Labor’s Platform now missing in action on some of the most important challenges we face.

That includes what I consider to be the worst human rights abuses affecting any part of the LGBTIQ community today: coercive medical interventions, including surgeries, on children born with intersex variations of sex characteristics.

The 2015 and 2018 ALP Platforms included clear commitments to address these abuses. From the 2018 version:

‘Parents of intersex children can be pressured to hormonally or surgically intervene on their children if they don’t receive medically correct advice, information or support about how to parent an intersex child. Labor will ensure deferral of non-necessary medical intervention on infants and children with intersex variations until such time as the person concerned can give their informed consent is supported. Labor commits to promote and support a human rights-based patient consent model for accessing lifetime medical treatments and procedures. Labor will prohibit modifications to sex characteristics undertaken for social rationales without informed consent and ensure intersex persons’ right not to undergo sex assignment treatment is respected.’

In contrast, the draft 2021 ALP National Platform is completely silent on this issue. That is simply not good enough.

Another important policy commitment from 2015 and 2018 that has disappeared relates to the out-of-pocket costs which far-too-frequently prevent trans and gender diverse people from being able to access gender-affirming health care. Again, from the 2018 Platform:

‘Labor acknowledges the right of all Australians, including transgender and gender diverse people, to live their gender identity. For many, this includes accessing specialist health services and for some people can involve gender affirming medical technologies. Cost should not be a barrier to accessing these services. Labor commits to removing, wherever possible, barriers to accessing these services and consulting with experts in government. This should materialise in a focus on creating fair, equal and affordable access to medical care and treatments relevant to trans and gender diverse Australians.’

In 2021, Labor has so far found no room in its core principles document to address one of the biggest challenges affecting the everyday lives of trans and non-binary Australians.

A third major omission from the draft Platform is HIV – and that omission is total. If passed in its current state, the 2021 Australian Labor Party Platform would be the first in at least a generation not to even mention the term HIV.

I would argue the middle of a global pandemic is possibly the worst time to abandon commitments relating to another epidemic that, despite popular misconceptions, remains far from over. Instead, I believe the Platform should (at a minimum):

  • Highlight that lessons learned from HIV have assisted Australia in dealing with COVID-19
  • Emphasise the fundamental importance of working in partnership with affected communities, including people living with HIV and those at risk, and
  • Recommitting to ending the HIV epidemic in Australia, and globally.

The fourth and final major problem I would like to focus on is the lack of clarity around much-needed improvements to LGBTIQ anti-discrimination and anti-vilification protections. On this issue at least the draft 2021 Platform includes some detail:

‘Labor will work closely with LGBTIQ Australians to develop policy to:

(a) ensure they enjoy equality before the law and have access to public services without discrimination; [and]

(b) strengthen laws and expand initiatives against discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, sex characteristics and queer status’.

However, these commitments do not go nearly far enough. It is possible (although by no means certain) that para (a), above, means Labor will remove anti-discrimination exceptions which allow religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. But there is no equivalent commitment to protect the employees of religious organisations, including teachers and other staff in religious schools.

As with the other three areas identified earlier, these anti-discrimination principles are also a significant step backwards from their 2015 and 2018 equivalents. There is no longer a commitment to introduce a stand-alone Commissioner for LGBTIQ issues within the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Nor is there a policy to introduce long-overdue LGBTIQ anti-vilification protections in Commonwealth law (despite the draft 2021 Platform twice committing to address religious vilification). Or a commitment to finally include gender identity and sex characteristics as protected attributes in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) on the same basis as sexual orientation.

There are plenty of other problems with the draft Platform – perhaps most notably a policy to ensure schools are ‘welcoming and supportive environments for all’ which has removed previous explicit references to gender identity and sexuality, and added a qualifier (‘initiatives… as selected by schools’), thus rendering it close to meaningless.

Nevertheless, if the ALP wishes to demonstrate it is still committed to improving the rights of LGBTIQ Australians then I suggest the four main issues described above (ending coercive surgeries on intersex children; reducing out-of-pocket costs for gender-affirming health care; including policies addressing HIV; and improving commitments to LGBTIQ anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws) would be a good place to start.

The defence of the Australian Labor Party to these criticisms has been to reiterate that the draft 2021 National Platform is intentionally a high-level, principles-based document, and to explain that more-specific LGBTIQ policies will be released closer to the election.

The problem with that defence, from my perspective, is that the clear message the ALP sent to all stakeholders back in 2019 was that all policies were under review, that in effect ‘everything is up for grabs’. Since then, as far as I can ascertain, there have been exactly zero policy announcements explicitly relating to LGBTIQ issues.

At the same time, the rights of LGBTIQ Australians have come under sustained attack at both Commonwealth level (including through the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill which Labor has not, to date, unequivocally opposed) and in the states and territories (including Mark Latham’s own ‘Religious Freedom’, and anti-trans kids, Bills in NSW).

In this context, it is only natural for the LGBTIQ community to closely examine the words and actions coming from the Leader of the Opposition and the Party he represents. So far, the only substantive document which we can scrutinise is the draft Platform and, particularly when compared to its 2015 and 2018 iterations, it is a disappointment.

The good news is that its deficiencies can still be fixed. The Special Platform Conference is not for another nine days, and the Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Ministers and conference delegates all have the opportunity to reinsert genuine commitments around intersex surgeries, trans health costs, HIV, and anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws.

The bad news is that, more broadly, time is running out. We are nearly two years into a three-year term. Indeed, Prime Minister Morrison has the option of holding the next election as early as August, just five months away. There is little time left for Albo and the ALP to show us where they stand on key issues affecting the LGBTIQ community.

And I use that phrase deliberately – show us your current policies, don’t tell us about your past public positions.

Which brings me back to Albanese’s statement to Parliament in July 2019. It is interesting that, in defending his approach to LGBTIQ rights as Leader, he directly referred to his first speech which he gave on 6 May 1996.

To be fair, Albo’s comments then (‘The bigots who criticise programs aimed at the special needs of sections of our community ignore the fact that there is not equality of opportunity across class, gender, sexual preference and ethnicity’) were undoubtedly progressive for the time.

But times change. As does terminology (thankfully), as well as the needs of the LGBTIQ community which are much more complex and diverse than a general commitment to ‘equality of opportunity’.

Frankly, I am far less interested in what Anthony Albanese said as a new backbencher 25 years ago than I am in what he has to offer the country as its alternative Prime Minister for the next three years.

From my position as an advocate for LGBTIQ rights, I believe it’s time for Albanese to outline what a Government he leads would do for our community. Clearly, and in detail.

It’s time for him to answer the question ‘What for art thou Albo?’ Because, as of today, I and other LGBTIQ Australians genuinely don’t know.

Caption: It’s great that Albo is a regular participant in the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade, including this year’s event (pictured). It would be even better if he could articulate, clearly and in detail, what he will do for LGBTIQ Australians if he becomes our Prime Minister for the next three years.

If you have enjoyed reading this post, you can sign up to receive updates about this and other issues from this blog, via the right-hand scroll bar on desktop, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus [NB Given the events of the past month – with this website being blocked by Facebook for being ‘news’ – it is more important than ever to sign up if you want to receive updates, especially with the possibility of further disruptions].

Submission re: South Australia’s Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020

22 November 2020

Attorney-General’s Department

Legislative Services

GPO Box 464

Adelaide SA 5001

Via email: LLPSubmissions@sa.gov.au

To whom it may concern

Submission re: Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission on the draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020.

I do so as a long-term advocate for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community, and as someone with particular expertise in anti-discrimination legislation, including comparative analysis of LGBTI anti-discrimination protections across Australia.[i]

First, I welcome the intention of the draft legislation, which is to narrow the scope of the excessive and extreme religious exceptions currently found in section 50 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA). These exceptions allow religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTI South Australians in a wide range of everyday situations, causing direct and significant harm to a vulnerable population.

Second, I particularly welcome proposed section 50(1)(c)(ix), which would have the effect of protecting LGBTI students in religious schools against discrimination on the basis of who they are. This protection is long overdue, with change in South Australia made necessary because of the failure of the Morrison Government to deliver on his October 2018 promise to prohibit such discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).[ii]

However, while passage of this legislation would represent an improvement in terms of the rights of LGBTI South Australians to participate in public life without fear of discrimination, I would like to highlight three major problems with the Bill as drafted:

  1. The scope of areas where LGBTI people will be protected – or not

The draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 effectively creates a ‘carve-out’ from the general religious exception found in section 50(c)[iii] of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) so that it does not apply in relation to certain areas of public life.

This approach appears to be based on section 37(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), which provides that the general religious exception in section 37(1) of that Act does not allow aged care services operated by religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people accessing those services (although, disappointingly, it continues to allow religious aged care services to discriminate against LGBT employees).

It is encouraging that the draft South Australian Bill extends this carve-out to a wider range of areas of public life, including:

  • Children’s education
  • Health care and disability support
  • Aged care
  • Emergency accommodation
  • Public housing, and
  • Foster care placement.

In another welcome development, the carve-out also applies to employees in these areas (other than in relation to educational institutions, an issue which is discussed further below).

However, the carve-out approach has inherent limitations. In particular, the boundary between areas of public life where LGBTI people will be protected, and those where they will not, may appear arbitrary and difficult to justify.

For example, while proposed sections 50(1)(c)(ix) and 50(1)(c)(x) mean that religious pre-schools, primary schools and secondary schools will not be able to discriminate against LGBTI students, the absence of a similar carve-out for tertiary education means that religious universities will nevertheless still be able to discriminate against LGBTI students.

In an environment when many university-age students are exploring and ultimately affirming their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, I do not believe it is acceptable to allow religious universities to discriminate against those students simply because of who they are (and especially where religious universities use public funds to do so).

In a similar way, while it is pleasing that emergency accommodation services operated by religious organisations will not be able to turn away LGBTI people in need of their assistance, it seems arbitrary that other essential service providers (such as food services or other forms of welfare support)[iv] will be able to reject people on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.[v]

Finally, proposed section 50(1)(c)(i) would ensure that religious foster care agencies will not be able to discriminate against LGBTI people (including employees, potential foster carers and children being placed). However, the absence of a similar provision in relation to adoption agencies presumably means that religious organisations providing that particular service will be able to discriminate in this way.

This double-standard – where rainbow families are ‘good enough’ to be foster carers, but can still be rejected as adoptive parents just because of who they are – cannot be justified.

Therefore, if the carve-out approach is retained, in my view it should at a minimum be extended to include tertiary education, broader welfare services and adoption agencies.

Recommendation 1: If the ‘carve-out’ approach in section 50(1)(c) of the draft Bill is retained, the following areas of public life should be added:

  • Tertiary education
  • Welfare services generally, and
  • Adoption agencies.

2. The ongoing ability of religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status

I have framed the above recommendation in a qualified manner because I believe the ‘carve-out’ approach is itself problematic. That is because, in any area of public life that is not listed in section 50(1)(c), religious organisations will continue to be permitted to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status, including in terms of who they employ and who they provide their services to.

This will obviously have a negative impact on LGBTI South Australians by restricting their ability to participate in public life without fear of discrimination. And it falls well below the best practice approach to religious exceptions, which has been adopted in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas), and in a more limited way the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT).[vi]

The Tasmanian ‘gold standard’ allows religious organisations to discriminate – but only on the basis of religious belief or activity, and not on other grounds, such as sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics.

For example, section 51 allows religious organisations to discriminate in employment in the following way:

(1) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment if the participation of the person in the teaching, observance or practice of a particular religious is a genuine occupational qualification or requirement in relation to the employment.

(2) A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to employment in an educational institution that is or is to be conducted in accordance with the tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices of a particular religion if the discrimination is in order to enable, or better enable, the educational institution to be conducted in accordance with those tenets, beliefs, teachings, principles or practices.

Section 51A then allows discrimination on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to enrolment at religious educational institutions (although not after the point of admission), while section 52 allows discrimination by religious organisations on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to ‘participation in religious observance’.[vii]

From my perspective, this is a fairer way in which to allow religious organisations to prioritise people from their own faith, while not infringing upon the rights of others – including LGBTI people – to live their lives free from discrimination.

I strongly urge the South Australian Government to improve the proposed Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 by moving to a model where religious organisations are only allowed to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity, and not in relation to other protected attributes, including gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status.

Recommendation 2: The South Australian Government should consider adopting the Tasmanian best practice approach to religious exceptions, allowing religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of religious belief and activity, but not in relation to other protected attributes including gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status.

3. The ongoing ability of religious schools and universities to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff

The final, and arguably most important, problem with the Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 is something it does not do – it does not remove the ability of religious education institutions (including schools and universities) to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff (which is currently permitted under section 34(3) of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA)).

In my view, this exception is unacceptable, for several reasons.

First, it is unfair on LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff. They may be the best qualified person for a job, but they can be denied employment (or, where they already work for a religious school or university, fired), on the basis of something which has no connection to their ability to perform the role. This is especially egregious given the large amounts of public funding provided to these institutions.

Second, it is unfair to students generally – who are denied being taught by the best possible teacher or lecturer for their class.

Third, it is unfair on LGBTI students in particular. Not only are they denied positive role models, they are also enrolled in an educational institution which has adopted a hostile attitude towards LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff, something which will inevitably influence the broader culture of the school or university.

Fourth, I do not believe the supposed ‘safeguard’ contained in sections 34(3)(b), (c) and (d) – which requires educational institutions wishing to rely on this exception to have a written policy stating its (discriminatory) position, that is provided to employees and potential employees, and on request to students, their families and members of the public – is sufficient.[viii]

Transparency doesn’t make prejudice any less real, or any more acceptable. LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff members can still be denied employment simply because of their gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex status – attributes which have absolutely nothing to do with their ability to perform the role.

Further, and even more damagingly, LGBTI students at these institutions who are aware of such policies will be acutely aware their presence there is only ‘tolerated’ because the institution is legally prohibited from discriminating against them (in other words, they would discriminate against these students if they could). They will know that they will never be truly accepted for who they are.

This last reason alone justifies removal of the exception for religious educational institutions in section 34(3) of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) and instead prohibit all religious schools and universities from discriminating against LGBTI employees.

Recommendation 3: The exception allowing religious education institutions to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff in section 34(3) of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA) must be repealed, with these institutions prohibited from discriminating against employees on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and intersex status.

In conclusion, I should reiterate that, despite the problems identified above, the draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill 2020 would, if passed in its current form, still significantly improve the rights of LGBTI people in South Australia to go about their lives free from discrimination.

In particular, I welcome the commitment of the South Australian Government to protect LGBTI students at religious schools against discrimination. This is much needed, and would have an immediate and appreciable benefit for vulnerable students across the state.

Nevertheless, I firmly believe the proposed legislation can be substantially strengthened, including by extending the scope of areas in which LGBTI people are protected to include tertiary education, welfare services and adoption agencies – or, even better, to adopt the best practice Tasmanian approach to religious exceptions (as discussed earlier).

Above all, I strongly encourage the South Australian Government to remove the ability of religious educational institutions to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, lecturers and other staff members, so that these places can become welcoming and inclusive places for all people seeking to learn, or impart knowledge, irrespective of their gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex status.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of this submission. Please contact me at the details provided should you wish to clarify any of the above, or for further information.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

Footnotes:


[i] See: A Quick Guide to Australian LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Laws.

[ii] For more information, see: Scott Morrison’s Broken Promise to Protect LGBT Students is Now Two Years Old

[iii] ‘This Part does not render unlawful discrimination in relation to- 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.’

[iv] In many cases, these services will be using local, state and/or Commonwealth funding to do so. In nearly all cases, they will be relying on tax exemptions supporting them to carry out this work.

[v] Intersex status is the protected attribute currently included in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (SA). However, I support the replacement of intersex status with ‘sex characteristics’, as called for by Intersex Human Rights Australia, as well as intersex advocates in the March 2017 Darlington Statement.

[vi] The ACT has adopted the Tasmanian approach in relation to religious schools (only allowing discrimination on the basis of religious conviction, and not on the ground of sexuality, gender identity or sex characteristics), but not for other religious organisations.

[vii] Noting that section 52(d) of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas) is quite generous: ‘A person may discriminate against another person on the ground of religious belief or affiliation or religious activity in relation to- (d) any other act that- (i) is carried out in accordance with the doctrine of a particular religion; and (ii) is necessary to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of any person of that religion.’

[viii] Even if, in some circumstances, it may be useful in applying external pressure on religious educational institutions whose employment practices fall short of community standards.

Queensland Election 2020: LGBTI Anti-Discrimination Questions

The Queensland state election will be held on Saturday 31 October, 2020.

One of the primary issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community that, in my opinion, should be on the agenda is modernisation of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

As my previous article examining this legislation explains, there are (at least) five major problems with Queensland’s Anti-Discrimination Act, including:

  • A narrow definition of gender identity that excludes non-binary people
  • The lack of any protection for intersex people
  • The ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ approach to LGBT teachers and other staff at religious schools
  • The working with children exception allowing discrimination against transgender people, and
  • The assisted reproductive technology exception allowing discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people.

Given the upcoming election, I have sent the below questions to representatives of all parties currently represented in the Queensland Parliament, as well as the Independent Member for Noosa, asking them to outline their commitments to reform the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

Any answers received prior to the election will be published at the end of this post.

**********

The Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 is now almost 30 years old, and in 2020 does not provide adequate protections against discrimination for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

With the upcoming state election now only eight weeks away, I would appreciate your/your Party’s responses to the following questions, which focus on five of the major problems with this legislation:

  1. The definition of ‘gender identity’ in the Anti-Discrimination Act’s Dictionary currently excludes non-binary people. Will you update the definition of gender identity to ensure non-binary Queenslanders are protected against discrimination and vilification?
  2. Intersex people are not currently covered by the Anti-Discrimination Act. Will you introduce a new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ and ensure intersex Queenslanders are protected against discrimination and vilification?
  3. LGBT teachers and other staff at religious schools are currently subjected to an inappropriate and ineffective ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ framework (section 25). Will you amend the Anti-Discrimination Act to ensure all teachers and staff, in all schools, are protected against discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity?
  4. Under sub-section 28 of the Anti-Discrimination Act, employers are currently permitted to discriminate against transgender employees where their ‘work involves the care or instruction of minors’. This provision is abhorrent in 2020. Will you repeal the ‘working with children’ exception relating to transgender employees?
  5. Under sub-section 45A(1) of the Anti-Discrimination Act, discrimination on the basis of sexuality is currently permitted in relation to assisted reproductive technology. Such discrimination against rainbow families cannot be justified. Will you repeal the ‘assisted reproductive technology’ exception relating to lesbian, gay and bisexual Queenslanders?

I look forward to your/your Party’s responses to these questions. Please note that, if received, your answers will be published on www.alastairlawrie.net, and at ‘No Homophobia, No Exceptions’.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

**********

Update 29 October 2020:

I have received the below response from Greens MP Michael Berkman. As you can see, the answers to my questions are encouraging, particularly if the Greens are in a balance of power position after 31 October.

Disappointingly, with only two days left until the Queensland State election, I am yet to receive a formal response from either the Labor Party or Liberal-National Party. I will post any correspondence I receive before Saturday here.

28 October 2020 

Dear Alistair, 

Anti-Disrcrimination Act 1991 

Thank you for your email of 5 September 2020, seeking the Queensland Greens’ policy positions ahead of the 2020 Queensland election. 

The Queensland Greens are committed to an inclusive society free from discrimination. I have addressed your questions with corresponding numbers below. All statements are complementary to statements by the Greens’ spokespeople, including myself, and other policy documents which are on the public record. 

The Greens are committed to: 

  1. Updating the definition of ‘gender identity’ in the ​Anti-Discrimination Act 1991​ (Qld) (the Act) to ensure non-binary Queenslanders are protected against discrimination and vilification. 
  2. Introducing a new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’ and ensuring intersex Queenslanders are protected against discrimination and vilification. 
  3. Eliminating the exemptions from anti-discrimination law which currently operate to deny protections LGBTIQA+ teachers and other staff at religious schools under anti-discrimination law. 
  4. Repealing the ‘working with children’ exception relating to employees under section 28 of the Act. 
  5. Repealing the ‘assisted reproductive technology’ exception at section 45A of the Act. 

I hope that this information is of assistance. Please do not hesitate to contact my office … if you would like to discuss this matter in more detail. 

Kind regards, 

Michael Berkman MP 

Will Premier Palaszczuk and/or Opposition Leader Frecklington make election commitments to modernise the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 to better protect LGBTI Queenslanders against discrimination and vilification?

Northern Territory Election: Anti-Discrimination Questions

[Update: For a response from the re-elected Labor Government, please scroll to the end of the post]

The Northern Territory election will be held on Saturday 22 August 2020. One of the many issues that could be affected by the outcome is the future of the Anti-Discrimination Act (NT), which commenced on 1 August 1993.

This legislation is now out-dated, and does not offer appropriate protection to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community. For more information on its problems, see: What’s Wrong With the Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act?

While the Northern Territory Department of the Attorney-General and Justice conducted a public consultation on modernisation of the Act in 2018, no reforms have been proposed or progressed prior to the current election campaign.

In this context, I have sent the below questions to the leaders of the three main parties contesting the election: Territory Labor; the Country Liberal Party; and the Territory Alliance. If I receive answers from any Party prior to the poll, they will be published below.

**********

8 August 2020

The Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Act is now more than a quarter of a century old, and does not offer appropriate protections against discrimination for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.

If your Party forms government after the election on 22 August 2020, will you commit to, as a matter of priority:

  • Update the definition of ‘sexuality’ to be consistent with the definition of ‘sexual orientation’ in the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)?
  • Introduce a new protected attribute of ‘gender identity’, to ensure all trans and gender diverse people are protected against discrimination?
  • Introduce a new protected attribute of ‘sex characteristics’, to ensure all intersex people are protected against discrimination?
  • Amend section 37A(a)(ii) to remove the ability of religious schools to discriminate against teachers and other staff members simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT)?
  • Remove the ability of religious organisations to discriminate against LGBT people in relation to accommodation under section 40(3)?
  • Introduce new prohibitions against vilification, including on the basis of race, as well as in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics?

Please note that, if received, your answers will be published on www.alastairlawrie.net, and at ‘No Homophobia, No Exceptions’.

Sincerely,

Alastair Lawrie

No responses were received from Territory Labor, the Country Liberal Party or Territory Alliance prior to the election on 22 August 2020.

**********

The below response was received from Labor Attorney-General Selena Uibo on 5 October 2020. It is disappointing in two key ways. First, most obviously, they did not comment in time for NT voters to consider ahead of the 22 August election.

Second, and more importantly, it abdicates responsibility for fixing the outdated NT Anti-Discrimination Act, preferring to wait until after the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to complete its review of religious exceptions at Commonwealth, state and territory law.

However, as I have written previously, that review has been delayed until 12 months after the Commonwealth Religious Discrimination Bill has been *passed* by Commonwealth Parliament, which a) hopefully will not happen and b) if it does, won’t be until the first half of 2021 – meaning the ALRC will not report until 2022 at the earliest.

There is absolutely no justification for the re-elected NT Government to postpone taking urgent action to provide LGBTI Territorians with essential protection against discrimination and vilification. Anyway, here is the short response from Minister Uibo:

Dear Alastair,

I refer to your correspondence dated 8 August 2020 in relation to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991.

The Territory Labor Government is committed to making changes to modernise the Territory legislation based on feedback received.

The Commonwealth Government have referred a number of recommendations following the Federal Report into Religious Freedoms to the Australian Law Reform Committee [sic]. Given the impact that Commonwealth legislation can have on the Northern Territory, we have been awaiting their report, before any changes are considered. This Report was originally due in April 2020; however, this date has now been extended to allow passage of the Federal Religious Discrimination Bill. It is expected that the Law Reform Committee [sic] Report will be returned sometime in 2021.

Thank you for taking the time to write to me regarding this important issue.

Yours sincerely,

Selena Uibo

Untitled design (1)

Chief Minister Michael Gunner (Territory Labor), Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro (Country Liberal Party) and Territory Alliance Leader Terry Mills.

The Religious Discrimination Debate is a Test for the States and Territories

The Religious Discrimination Bill, released in late August by Attorney-General Christian Porter, would be the biggest reform to anti-discrimination law in Australia in at least 15 years, since the passage of the Age Discrimination Act 2004.

 

In fact, it is potentially the most radical change to our federal anti-discrimination system since, well, the beginnings of anti-discrimination law in this country.

 

That’s because it fundamentally undermines one of the key concepts of this framework: concurrent Commonwealth, and State/Territory, jurisdictions.

 

Since the passage of the Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975, NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, and similar laws elsewhere, these laws have operated effectively alongside each other, without directly interfering with each other.

 

Where conduct was prohibited under laws at both levels, the victims of such discrimination were able to choose where to lodge their complaint. Successive Commonwealth Governments haven’t sought to cover the field, or explicitly override the provisions of State and Territory anti-discrimination laws.

 

But this is no longer the case. The Religious Discrimination Bill dramatically, and unprecedentedly, upsets Australia’s anti-discrimination applecart.

 

Section 41 provides that ‘statements of belief’ do not constitute discrimination for the purposes of any anti-discrimination law – including each of the Racial, Sex, Disability and Age Discrimination Acts at Commonwealth level, and all equivalent state and territory laws.

 

The Apple Isle has even more to lose than the others – with section 17(1) of their Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 singled out by name as being specifically overruled.

 

This is undoubtedly because it offers the most effective form of protection against conduct that ‘offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules’ a wide range of groups, including LGBTI people, women, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and people with disability, among others.

 

But all State and Territory Governments should be alert and alarmed at this unwanted and unwarranted intrusion, not least because of the proposal that the Commonwealth Attorney-General be allowed to override even more laws by future regulation, without needing the approval of federal Parliament (and with Senate numbers making it extremely difficult for these regulations to be disallowed).

 

It is not just the principle of federalism that is offended by this hostile takeover. It is the fact the Religious Discrimination Bill makes it easier to offend the rights of vulnerable groups in each and every Australian jurisdiction that makes its contents so disturbing.

 

This makes the current religious discrimination debate a major test for State and Territory Governments around the country. Will they stand up to the Commonwealth Government’s decision to undermine their anti-discrimination laws?

 

More importantly, will they stand up for the communities in their respective states and territories – LGBTI people, women, single parents, people in de facto relationships, divorced people and people with disability – who stand to lose the most as a consequence of the Religious Discrimination Bill?

 

There is another, related challenge for State and Territory Governments from these developments. At the same time as the Attorney-General was releasing his exposure draft Bill, the reporting date for the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of ‘religious exceptions’ was pushed back to December 2020.

 

This is the inquiry that was established earlier this year to examine whether provisions which allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, and teachers, should be amended, or repealed entirely.

 

The delay means any legislation arising from this inquiry will likely not be passed until the second half of 2021 – and therefore won’t be in place until the 2022 school year at the earliest.

 

This is incredibly disappointing given Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s broken promise, in October 2018, that he would ensure LGBT students were protected before the end of last year. Effectively, this will now be delayed by more than three years.

 

The contrast with the Religious Discrimination Bill is also revealing. On one hand, the Morrison Government wants to pass a stand-alone Religious Discrimination Bill before the end of this year – a substantial, and radical, change to our federal anti-discrimination regime, with just one month of public consultation.

 

On the other, it refuses to make what are modest, straight-forward changes to protect LGBT students and teachers in religious schools for several years. It has decided to vacate that field, and consequently to vacate their responsibilities to vulnerable kids.

 

In the meantime, LGBT students and teachers will continue to be subject to abuse and mistreatment, simply on the basis of who they are, in schoolyards, classrooms and staff-rooms around the country.

 

And so it is now up to State and Territory Governments to show the leadership that the Commonwealth Government won’t. For NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia to pass urgent changes to protect LGBT students. And for all jurisdictions other than Tasmania and the ACT to cover LGBT teachers.

 

Because all kids deserve to grow and learn in a safe environment. And they don’t deserve to wait until 2022 to know what that feels like.

 

Berejiklian Andrews RD Bill

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian at Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras, and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at Midsumma. Will they stand up against the Religious Discrimination Bill which will make it easier to discriminate against LGBTI people in their respective states?

 

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

What Happens Now for LGBTI Rights?

It is two weeks on from the Federal election, in which the Liberal-National Coalition was surprisingly (some might say shockingly) re-elected. It was a disappointing result from an LGBTI rights perspective, given Labor had adopted the most progressive major-party platform on LGBTI issues in history.

 

The Morrison Government’s position on a range of topics that affect our community is a lot less clear. Now that the dust has settled after the May 18 poll, what does the future hold for LGBTI rights in Australia?

 

  1. Threat

 

The most immediate issue that confronts the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community is the potential threat of a Religious Discrimination Bill.

 

I write ‘potential’ because it remains unclear exactly what type of legislation the Government is proposing to implement its commitment arising from the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review.

 

On one hand, it could be a Religious Anti-Discrimination Bill, which would add religious belief, including lack of belief, as a protected attribute to Commonwealth anti-discrimination law. This would be welcome, given religious minorities in particular should be protected against discrimination simply because of who they are (something LGBTI Australians have much empathy for).

 

Indeed, that is what was promised by Attorney-General Christian Porter, in his joint press conference with Prime Minister Morrison in December 2018, when they announced the Government’s response to the Ruddock Review:

 

“The architecture for discrimination legislation is well-known, it’s not overly complicated. An attribute is defined – such as age or race or sex or disability or, in this case, the adherence to a religion or the right to not adhere to a religion – and then certain prohibitions are placed on people in terms of their treatment of other Australians based on that attribute. So you are protected from discrimination because of that attribute and then there are certain exemptions drafted as is appropriate. I don’t think that that would be a very contentious bill, necessarily, it follows a very standard architecture. But what the Ruddock Report said, is that there is a need for such a bill.

 

“I would put it to you all this way. In Australia at the moment, if you’re invited to a function at Parliament and at entry to the room of that function, you were denied entry because of the fact that you had a disability or because of your race, or because of your age, or because of your sex, that would be unlawful. But if you were turned away because of your religion, that would not be unlawful in Australia. So this, if you like, is the fifth and final pillar of an overarching architecture that prevents discrimination for Australians, directed to Australians, based on attributes which should never be the basis for discrimination.”

 

On the other hand, the Government could instead introduce a Religion Pro-Discrimination Bill, which further entrenches the special privileges of religious organisations to discriminate against others, including (but not limited to – see below) LGBTI Australians.

 

This discriminatory type of legislation was this week publicly-supported by Government MPs Barnaby Joyce and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells (‘Folau’s Law: Coalition MPs push for bolder action in a ‘new dawn’ for religious freedom, Sydney Morning Herald, 29 May 2019). It is also being advocated for by religious fundamentalist groups like the Australian Christian Lobby, while backed by a campaign from The Australian newspaper.

 

A Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill would present the greatest threat to LGBTI rights in Australia since criminalisation. It is entirely natural for us to feel threatened by this possible development. Indeed, the Government has created the vacuum allowing this fear to arise, given it would not reveal the contents of its proposal before the election (despite Porter saying in December 2018 that: “the Religious Discrimination Bill, which we are well-advanced on the drafting of and which we would have out early next year, so that people can see it”).

 

Therefore, while it was encouraging that Porter pushed back on the calls from his colleagues (Attorney-General Christian Porter pushes back on ‘Folau’s law’ idea, Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 2019), we must prepare for either possibility, a Religious Anti-Discrimination Bill or a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill.

 

And we must do so as a matter of urgency, with Porter indicating that he wants to introduce the legislation – whichever it is – when Parliament resumes in July.

 

  1. Uncertainty

 

While it is almost certain the Morrison Government will proceed with a Religious Discrimination Bill (of some kind) in the near-term, the future for LGBT students in religious schools is far less clear.

 

Despite the Prime Minister himself promising to protect LGBT students against discrimination before the end of 2018, he obviously failed to do so. Instead, the day before the election was called, Attorney-General Porter referred the issue of religious exceptions to the Australian Law Reform Commission for review.

 

At this stage, “[t]he ALRC is planning to release a Discussion Paper on 2 September 2019 which will set out proposed reforms and ask questions to assist the ALRC to prepare formal recommendations. Submissions on the Discussion Paper will be due by 15 October 2019.” The final report is due by 10 April 2020 (for more details, see the ALRC website).

 

The LGBTI community must be heavily involved in this process, to ensure that our interests are appropriately considered at every step. This includes advocating for the full removal of the ability of religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), rather than allowing such discrimination to continue just under a different name. And we must engage politically (see below) to pressure the Government to finally fulfil its commitment to protect LGBT kids.

 

Unfortunately, the election result makes the removal of similar discrimination against LGBT teachers that much more difficult (although not impossible). Ditto for abolishing the exceptions that allow religious organisations to lawfully discriminate against LGBT Australians in employment generally, and in the provision of services.

 

But that doesn’t mean we give up. It just means we fight harder. Because LGBTI Australians will not truly be equal until we have the right to learn, the freedom to earn and the ability to access services without fear of discrimination on the basis of our sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

  1. Targets

 

As after any election, the personnel in Federal parliament have changed (even if perhaps not as much as many LGBTI Australians would have liked). This means we must adapt the targets of our advocacy regarding the above two issues.

 

In addition to lobbying (where possible) Prime Minister Morrison and Attorney-General Porter, we should also focus on the growing ‘rainbow’ group within the Liberal Party, with lesbian Angie Bell elected to represent Moncrieff in the House of Representatives, joining Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Tim Wilson and Senator Dean Smith, plus long-term LGBTI ally Warren Entsch.

 

The likely composition of the new Senate also means that returning Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie now wields significant power, together with the two Centre Alliance Senators from South Australia, Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff. It is not an exaggeration to say that these three Senators will hold our collective fate in their hands on a large number of Bills.

 

Finally, following Labor’s election loss, and the election of new Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese, the ALP’s positions on all issues, including LGBTI issues, is now up for grabs. We will need to make sure that they do not back-track on any of the positive positions which they took to the election, including the full removal of discrimination against LGBT students and teachers. In this push, we should also engage with Rainbow Labow MPs, including Penny Wong, Louise Pratt, Julian Hill and the newly-elected Queensland Senator Nita Green.

 

[I have deliberately not mentioned the Australian Greens here, including bisexual Victorian Senator Janet Rice, because their support on LGBTI issues can usually be relied upon].

 

Lambie Griff Patrick

Senators Jacqui Lambie, Stirling Griff and Rex Patrick will play a significant role in determining what LGBTI law reforms can be achieved – and whether a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill can be defeated.

 

  1. Allies

 

One of the main lessons of the marriage equality campaign was the vital role of allies in achieving progress on LGBTI issues. This is equally important in terms of the push to protect LGBT students and teachers against discrimination and – if necessary – to fight against a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill.

 

We have seen that the vast majority of Australians are already onside when it comes to protecting LGBT students against discrimination, with the immense public backlash against these exceptions when the Ruddock Review was leaked in October 2018 (and which prompted Morrison’s promise in the first place).

 

With regards to protecting LGBT teachers, we must work better together with education unions (including the Australian Education Union, and Independent Education Union). The same applies to building our relationship with the ACTU, and union movement more broadly, to remove all religious exceptions from employment law, including the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

 

Thinking about the potential Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill, the legislation itself presents us with natural allies – because it is not just LGBTI Australians who would be subjected to discrimination as a result.

 

A Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill could also increase discrimination against women, especially in relation to their marital or relationship status, and their ability to access reproductive health services. Unmarried/single mothers are at particular risk (alongside divorced people generally). It’s time to build bridges between LGBTI and women’s organisations to respond to this common threat.

 

Finally, perhaps the most important allies we have in this struggle are good people of faith. We simply cannot afford to let this issue be defined as ‘god versus gays’, especially because the majority of religious people support the equality of their fellow citizens – as demonstrated through the same-sex marriage postal survey.

 

Instead, our enemies are religious fundamentalist groups, like the ACL and some established churches (the formal organisations – not the followers), and any individuals who are acting in bad faith to impose their religious beliefs on others, including demanding the ability to lawfully discriminate against LGBTI people. They are who we are fighting against, not ordinary Australians.

 

This means that throughout this debate, no matter how ugly it may become, we should strive to be respectful of people’s faith, or lack of faith, in the same way we are fighting for the right to be treated fairly, with decency and respect (some might even say at this point ‘Do unto others…’).

 

  1. Opportunities

 

It may seem strange, given the current political environment in which we are operating and the threat of a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill, to talk about opportunities for progress on LGBTI rights but there are several.

 

The first is for action to (finally) be taken to stop coercive and invasive surgeries and other medical interventions on intersex children. These human rights violations continue unabated, despite a bipartisan 2013 Senate Inquiry recommending that such surgeries and/or treatments be stopped.

 

In 2017-18, the Australian Human Rights Commission initiated a new project focusing on ‘Protecting the human rights of people born with variations in sex characteristics in the context of medical interventions’, with a final report expected shortly.

 

This will be an opportunity for non-intersex LGBT individuals and for LGBT/I organisations to support the work of groups like Intersex Human Rights Australia and their campaign to end these practices once and for all (noting that there is no right-wing, or left-wing, justification for such interventions, so there is no political rationale for the Government not to intervene).

 

The second opportunity is on ex-gay or ex-trans therapy, with the Morrison Liberal-National Government providing the following response to Equality Australia’s pre-election survey:

 

“As the Prime Minister has said, the Morrison Government does not support LGBTIQ+ conversion therapy. The use of conversion therapy has long been discredited with no scientific or medical evidence to support its use.

 

“The Morrison Government remains committed to addressing the mental health of all Australians, including the LGBTI community, and this also relates to opposition to gay conversion therapy. The Government will work with the states, which have legal responsibility in this area, to ensure such practices are not supported or occurring [emphasis added].

 

We should take them at their word and seek to make urgent progress to end this psychological torture.

 

The other main opportunities lie at state and territory level. This includes the ongoing campaign to provide trans and gender diverse people with better access to appropriate identity documentation.

 

With Tasmania recently passing best practice laws that allow individuals to update their birth certificate on the basis of self-identification – without the need for surgery, other treatment or medical approval – we must pressure the seven other jurisdictions to quickly follow suit.

 

It also includes working towards reform of state and territory anti-discrimination laws. Because, while the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 allows discrimination against LGBT students and teachers under Commonwealth law, some states and territories have adopted preferable provisions.

 

For example, last year the ACT amended its Discrimination Act 1991 to protect both LGBT students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination. Queensland and the Northern Territory already protected LGBT students against discrimination, while once again Tasmania has best practice laws in this area (their Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 only allows religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of religious belief, and not on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex variations of sex characteristics).

 

Given the vulnerability of LGBT kids in particular, there is no reason why we should not pressure state and territory governments to amend their own laws, even before the ALRC completes its report.

 

  1. Certainty

 

I have written about the threats we potentially face, as well as some of the uncertainty that now confronts us. But there is one thing that is absolutely sure: nothing will get better unless we act to make it better.

 

The Government won’t make changes on our behalf out of the kindness of its heart. Just like with countless LGBTI law reforms in the past, the only way to improve our situation – especially for vulnerable members of our community – is to get involved and collectively force them to do it.

 

This will be especially important if the Morrison Government decides to introduce a Religious Pro-Discrimination Bill. We will need all hands on deck, including people who (completely understandably) needed to take time away after the horrific experience that was the same-sex marriage postal survey.

 

And so I would conclude by encouraging you to join one or more of the many LGBTI advocacy organisations that will be fighting on our behalf in the coming months and years. This includes:

 

NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby

 

Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby

 

Equality Tasmania

 

Transgender Victoria

 

A Gender Agenda

 

Intersex Human Rights Australia

 

Just Equal

 

Rainbow Families

 

Rainbow Families Victoria

 

PFLAG Australia

 

Equality Australia

 

(as well as plenty of others I have inadvertently omitted, including in the other states and territories).

 

You can also stay up to date with latest developments by following LGBTI Rights Australia on Facebook.

 

Finally, I will continue writing regular articles about the campaign to protect LGBT students and teachers in religious schools against discrimination, as well as key developments surrounding the Religious Anti- or Pro-Discrimination Bill. To receive these posts direct to your email, please sign up via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog, or near the bottom of the page on mobile. Thanks.

Protecting LGBT Students and Teachers Against Discrimination

Update 23 February 2019:

 

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee handed down its report on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 on Thursday 14 February 2019.

 

Although it is perhaps more accurate to say it handed down three reports. The majority report, by Government Senators, recommended that the Bill – which, as the name suggests, would protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination – not be passed. This is a broken promise, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to protect these students in October last year.

 

Even worse, Coalition members of the Committee recommended that the issue of religious exceptions be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission for another review. For context, we have already had the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review, a Senate inquiry into the issue of discrimination against LGBT students and teachers last November, and this most recent Senate review.

 

We don’t need another inquiry, review or report. We just need a Government to take action to protect LGBT students and teachers. Nothing more. Nothing less.

 

The Labor members of the Committee provided a dissenting report, which (unsurprisingly) called for their Bill to be passed. Importantly, they also rejected all five of the Government’s amendments that would allow discrimination against LGBT students to continue, contrary to the purpose of the legislation (for more, see my original submission to the inquiry below).

 

On the other hand, Labor Senators also rejected the proposed Greens’ amendment that would remove the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 exception allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers. They did restate the ALP’s commitment to protect LGBT teachers in the future, although it is unclear what form this would take.

 

We will need to keep pressure on Bill Shorten, and the ALP, to protect LGBT teachers and to ensure these protections are not undermined by provisions allowing religious schools to discriminate on ‘ethos and values’.

 

Finally, the Greens also provided a dissenting report, supporting the ALP Bill, rejecting the Government’s amendments (for the same reasons as Labor) and calling for their own amendment protecting LGBT teachers to be passed.

 

The Greens have also recommended an urgent review of provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) that allow religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

Overall, then, this was a disappointing Committee Report, with the Government’s proposed referral of the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission nothing more than a delaying tactic.

 

It’s important to remember there was always going to be resistance to this change. There will always be some religious schools that want to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers. And there will always be some politicians who want to let them.

 

It is up to us to continue with this campaign until all schools are safe and nurturing environments for all students, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Because our kids are counting on us.

 

Original submission:

 

there's no place for discrimination in the classroom-10

 

Start the new year right, by writing to support the right of LGBT students, teachers and other staff at religious schools to be free from discrimination.

 

The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is currently holding an inquiry into Labor’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018, and proposed amendments to it.

 

Full details of this inquiry can be found here.

 

The most important details are that:

 

  • This is our opportunity to call for all schools to be made free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
  • Submissions close on Monday 21 January 2019 (ie two weeks away) and
  • Once you’ve written yours, it can be uploaded here or emailed to sen@aph.gov.au

 

**********

 

If you are looking for some ‘inspiration’ about what to write, here are my suggestions:

 

  1. Personal stories

 

If you are, or have been, a student, a family member of a student, or a teacher or other staff member at a religious educational institution (including schools and universities), please share what that experience was like.

 

This is especially important if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex person, or member of a rainbow family, who has encountered homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at a religious school.

 

Remember, these examples can range from overt or outright discrimination (such as a student being disciplined, or a teacher being fired or not hired, simply for being LGBT) through to more subtle or insidious forms of mistreatment (being made to feel invisible, having LGBTI content excluded from subjects like health and physical education, or feeling unable to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity, or information about your partner, to others).

 

The more stories that we share, the louder our collective voice for change will be.

 

Importantly, if your submission is deeply personal, you can ask the committee to keep your submission private. From the aph website:

 

If you do not want your name published on the internet, or if you want your submission to be kept confidential, you should:

  • Include the word confidential clearly on the front of your submission and provide a reason for your request.
  • Make sure that your name and contact details are on a separate page and not in the main part of your submission.

Confidential submissions are only read by members of the committee and the secretariat.

Confidential information may be placed in an attachment to the main part of your submission, with a request for the committee to keep the attachment confidential.

The committee will consider your request but you need to know that the committee has the authority to publish any submission.

The committee will contact you if the committee wants to publish something you have asked to be kept confidential.

If you are considering making a confidential submission, you should contact the committee secretariat to discuss this before you send us your submission.

 

  1. Call for LGBT students to be protected against discrimination

 

Whether you have attended or worked at a religious school or not, everyone should call for the ability of religious schools to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students to be abolished.

 

Labor’s Bill achieves this outcome, because it would remove both of the existing exceptions in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which allow religious schools to do exactly that.[i]

 

In your submission, you should ask for the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 to be passed urgently, so that all students can learn in a safe and inclusive environment.

 

  1. Call for LGBT teachers to be protected against discrimination

 

One thing Labor’s Bill does not do is remove the exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act which allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff.

 

This discrimination is also wrong. Teachers should be judged according to the ability to do their jobs, not whether they are heterosexual and cisgender. The billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that is provided to religious schools each year should not be used to reject teachers and other staff simply for being LGBT.

 

Most importantly, in order for the classroom to be a truly safe environment for LGBT children, it must be an inclusive one for LGBT adults too.

 

Employing LGBT teachers means potentially having role models for kids discovering their own sexual orientations or gender identities. On the other hand, if children see teachers being discriminated against just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, they will learn the lesson that their school thinks LGBT people are somehow less worthy than other people.

 

In your submission, you should ask for the Greens amendments to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 to be supported. These amendments would remove the exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff.[ii]

 

However, you should call for the Parliament to make similar amendments to the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 as well, because that legislation also allows religious schools to adversely treat,[iii] or unfairly dismiss,[iv] teachers because of their sexual orientation.

 

Finally, you could ask the Parliament to take this opportunity to amend the Fair Work Act to protect transgender and intersex people against adverse treatment and unfair dismissal, because they are currently excluded entirely from these provisions.[v]

 

  1. Call for the Parliament to reject the Government’s proposed amendments

 

The Morrison Liberal-National Government has released its own proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018.

 

These amendments would allow religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBT students in three distinct ways.

 

First, the Government’s amendments would reinstate one of the two current exceptions that allow religious schools to expel or otherwise mistreat students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.[vi]

 

Second, the Government’s amendments would insert an entirely new provision allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students as long as it formed part of ‘teaching activity’ – where teaching activity is incredibly broadly defined as ‘any kind of instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an educational institution.’[vii]

 

Third, the Government’s amendments would change the test for whether indirect discrimination is lawful in three differently-worded alternative ways,[viii] but with all three adding consideration of whether a ‘condition, requirement or practice… imposed, or proposed to be imposed [by a religious school is] in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.’

 

The Government’s changes are unnecessary, and would introduce unnecessary complexity into the Sex Discrimination Act. None of the four Australian jurisdictions that already protect LGBT students against discrimination (Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory)[ix] include similar provisions in their anti-discrimination laws.

 

Most importantly, the Morrison Liberal-National Government’s proposed amendments fundamentally undermine the purpose of the legislation, by allowing religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBT students just under a different name.

 

You should call for the Parliament to reject all of the Government’s proposed amendments to the Bill.

 

**********

 

Every student should be able to learn in a safe and inclusive environment, free from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Every teacher and staff member should be judged on their ability to perform their role, not according to who they love or how they identify.

 

Parliament has the opportunity to make both a reality in 2019. But, as with so many law reforms before, they won’t act unless we make them.

 

So, it’s time to get writing.

 

there's no place for discrimination in the classroom-9

 

Footnotes:

[i] The Bill repeals subsection 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act which specifically allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, as well as limiting the general religious exception in subsection 37(1)(d) by adding a new subsection 37(3):

‘Paragraph (1)(d) does not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:

(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of education; and

(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment of persons to provide that education.’

[ii] The Greens amendments repeal subsections 38(1) and 38(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act that specifically allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, and contractors, respectively.

It also amends the proposed new subsection 37(3) so that it removes the ability of religious schools to discriminate both in terms of service provision (ie students) and employment.

[iii] Subsection 351(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

[iv] Subsection 772(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).

[v] For more on this subject, see Unfairness in the Fair Work Act.

[vi] The Government’s amendments remove proposed new subsection 37(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) in Labor’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 that limits the operation of the general religious exception in section 37(1)(d) of that Act. Therefore, even if subsection 38(3) is repealed, religious schools would still be able to rely on subsection 37(1)(d) to discriminate against LGBT students.

[vii] The proposed amendment reads as follows:

‘7F Educational institutions established for religious purposes

(1) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful to engage in teaching activity if that activity:

(a) is in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed; and

(b) is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings.

(2) In this section:

Teaching activity means any kind of instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an educational institution.’

[viii] See amendments KQ 148, KQ 150 and KQ 151, here.

[ix] For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.