29 October 2021 – Equality Australia and the Independent Education Union Victoria Tasmania have welcomed the introduction of proposed new laws by the Victorian Government to better protect Victorians from discrimination by religious organisations and called on all members of parliament to support the Bill.  

The Government’s Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 will narrow carve-outs to the state’s anti-discrimination laws that currently allow religious organisations such as schools and service providers to discriminate against staff, students and people seeking to access services on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or parental status.  

“Every Victorian deserves to live, work and study with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or whom they love”, said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.  

“We commend the Victorian Government on its continued commitment to equality and urge Parliament to unite in support of these landmark reforms that set a fairer standard for anti-discrimination law in Victoria.” 

Faith-based schools and organisations will be able to employ people who share their beliefs in positions where religion is essential to the role, and where it is reasonable and proportionate to do so. But faith-based organisations will not be able to fire or turn away LGBTQ+ staff who can do the job required of them.  

Deb James, General Secretary of the Independent Education Union Victoria Tasmania, said: 

“Every worker should be confident that they are safe in their workplace, treated fairly by their employer, and judged only by their capacity to fulfill their role, not by their gender or sexual orientation, pregnancy, parental or marital status.”  

“Victoria’s outdated laws have robbed students of skilled teachers, who also make schools inclusive and welcoming spaces for LGBTIQ+ students. 

“The Victorian Parliament must come together to support these reforms to ensure no more of our members are sacked or treated unfairly by religious schools simply because of their gender identity, family circumstances, sexual orientation or private beliefs.”  

The new laws will also protect LGBTQ+ students from discrimination at faith-based schools, colleges and universities, meaning that religious educational institutions will no longer be able to expel students or treat them unfairly because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

The Bill will also prevent faith-based organisations who are funded by the Victorian government to provide services from denying service to people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

But Equality Australia said that the bill should be simplified by removing the ability of religious organisations to discriminate wherever they provide services to the public, not only services funded by the Victorian government.  

“Whether an organisation receives direct government funding should not determine whether or not they can discriminate. How is a person urgently seeking to access support supposed to know whether a particular organisation is funded by the Victorian Government or not?”  

The proposed laws also ensure other people are protected from discrimination, regardless of their gender, marital status, parental status or religion. Faith-based organisations will no longer be able to fire, expel or treat unfairly people who divorce, separate or have children outside of wedlock, and will have to show that their religious requirements are reasonable and proportionate to the role or service in question.    

“The reasonable and proportionate test sets a new and more principled standard for discrimination law in Australia”, said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.  

“This is an example of a law reform led by the LGBTIQ+ community which makes our laws fairer for everyone, no matter who they are, whom they love or what they believe.  The Commonwealth would be well advised to follow Victoria’s lead rather than pursue its flawed Religious Discrimination Bill.” 

Equality Australia and the IEU have launched a campaign urging all Victorian parliamentarians to support the new laws.  

For media inquiries, contact Matthew Phillips on 0408 541 717 or media@equalityaustralia.org.au  

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