Govt urged to pursue all options to secure protections for staff and students in religious schools

29 May, 2024 – Equality Australia has called on the Federal Government to work across the parliament to secure support for reforms that will protect students and staff in religious schools. 

“There are a number of pathways through parliament for their bill, with or without the Coalition’s involvement, and we urge the government to pursue any way it can of delivering these important reforms,” said Equality Australia CEO Anna Brown. 

“Every day the government delays is another day more harm is being done because religious schools are allowed to discriminate against staff and students who are gay, trans, pregnant, divorced or unmarried. 

“If the government fails to pass laws this term of government, they will have broken their election promise to our community and betrayed all the vulnerable students and teachers around Australia who will continue to lose their jobs or hide who they are.” 

Equality Australia this week launched a nationwide advertising campaign designed to show the Australian public the discrimination that is legally happening in schools around the country. 

One in three students and almost two in five staff are enrolled or employed in private schools, most of which are religiously affiliated. 

“People are genuinely shocked to discover a religious school can fire a woman for falling pregnant outside of marriage or expel a student because they are gay,” Ms Brown said. 

“Yet carve-outs in our laws allow these schools to play by their own rules with little accountability or oversight and in a manner that is manifestly out of step with community expectations.” 

Six people are featured in the ad, all of whom are unpaid and sharing their own personal stories of discrimination. The ad campaign will run over four weeks across broadcast, catch-up TV and digital platforms. 

In this year’s federal budget, it was announced that public school funding would rise 15.1 per cent over the next four years to $12.78 billion in 2027-28. Over the same period funding to private and Catholic schools will increase to $21.05 billion, according to media reports. 

“Australians believe in fairness and equality and that we should all have an equal right to be free from discrimination but these schools, which rely on billions of dollars of public funding, are legally allowed to fire a gay teacher or deny them a promotion while students can be held back from leadership roles or even denied enrolment,” Ms Brown said. 

“The law urgently needs to change.”  

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Media Contacts: Mike Hitch, mike.hitch@equalityaustralia.org.au, 0426 812 115 

Emily Mulligan, emily.mulligan@equalityaustralia.org.au, 0411 207 633