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AUSTRALIA NEEDS TO LEGISLATE FOR EQUALITY NOT RELIGIOUS EXCEPTIONALISM

Today’s announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that the religious freedom review report will be released has prompted Australia’s first LGBTQI+ legal advocacy group Equality Australia to call for stronger federal protections from discrimination.

“Attempts to protect religious freedom should not undermine the right to equality for other groups in society,” said Anna Brown, incoming Chief Executive of Equality Australia and Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre.

“No one should be turned away or mistreated because of their faith. However, we remain deeply concerned that attempts to legislate to protect religious freedom will come at the expense of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people.

“We will be carefully considering the detail of the Government’s response, but remain concerned that future legislation will enshrine state sanctioned discrimination against LGBT children and impunity for church leaders who cause harm,” said Ms Brown.

Discrimination against LGBT students and staff in schools

The Prime Minister has referred the issue of whether religious schools should be allowed to lawfully discriminate against LGBT staff and students to the Australian Law Reform Commission. A law reform commission inquiry would follow two senate inquiries into this exact issue in as many months, and numerous inquiries into religious freedoms in recent years.

“We don’t need an inquiry to tell us that kids should be protected at school,” said Ms Brown.

“Our Government needs to listen to the Australian community, many of whom have lost faith in religious institutions and their ability to keep children safe. It’s time to remove these anachronistic rules and privileges for religious organisations that allow them to bully children.

“Let’s take the misinformation out of this debate. Schools already have the ability to set reasonable rules and standards of behaviour to uphold their religious ethos. The ALP Bill simply removes an exemption that allows religious schools to discriminate against students. It’s that simple.

“We need greater transparency and legal protections to ensure that vulnerable young people are safe at school,” said Ms Brown.

Religious Discrimination Act

The Prime Minister has announced plans to take a Religious Discrimination Act to the next federal election.

“We support a Religious Discrimination Act in principle, but would need to see the detail of what the Morrison Government is proposing,” said Ms Brown.

“The Government must ensure the Act does not enshrine religious exceptionalism and wind back equality for other vulnerable groups,” said Ms Brown.

Ms Brown and Equality Australia advocate for a consolidated Equality Act which would provide a more consistent anti-discrimination framework at a national level.

“We currently have 4 separate federal laws that provide protections on the basis of race, disability, sex and age. Instead of creating more patchwork and piecemeal laws, the Australian Government should consolidate and modernise these separate laws into a single Equality Act and protect all human rights in a Charter of Rights.

“It’s ridiculous that our Government is again delaying the issue of students and teachers being discriminated against in schools.

“This is a simple and straightforward issue – remove religious exemptions which allow religious schools to treat LGBT students and staff as ‘less than’. Yet this important change is being put off for months.

“The Prime Minister made a clear promise in October, before the Wentworth election, to remove these outdated and discriminatory laws which allow schools to discriminate against students. Parents and children deserve certainty for the new year.

“No child should have to feel scared when they walk through the school gates in January that they’ll be kicked out because of who they are,” said Ms Brown.

Recommendations enshrine rejected amendments to marriage equality bill

The Government has announced its intention to accept 14 of the Ruddock review recommendations immediately and will seek to enact them in law in February as it “views them as uncontroversial”.

“The Ruddock report is highly controversial,” said Ms Brown.

“Recommendations to create new exceptions from charity laws for organisations who oppose marriage equality and interfere with education look eerily similar to hostile amendments tabled by Scott Morrison during the marriage equality debates this time last year. These caused serious public concern, before being overwhelmingly rejected by the Parliament.

“This is another attempt to enshrine unnecessary and unorthodox religious exceptions into law, which have already been rejected by the Australian Parliament,” said Ms Brown.