30 August 2016 | Author: Mark Spencer
In a media release earlier today (see here) the Victorian Premier announced that the Government would introduce into the Victorian Parliament the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016 to reinstate the inherent requirements test under the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (VIC).
Schools will remember that the Bracks Government introduced the inherent requirements test against the recommendation of a Parliamentary Committee Report in 2009, announcing the move on the eve of the AFL Grand Final. After a successful campaign in the following Victorian election the newly elected Coalition Government removed the requirement before it cm into effect.
According to the media release - 'The inherent requirements test will limit the ability of a religious body or school to rely on a religious defence to discriminate in the area of employment because of a person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status or differing religious beliefs.'
While said to provide a 'greater balance' and a 'fairer balance' to the Act these claims do not stack up with the recommendations of the comprehensive review of the legislation undertaken by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee during the previous Labor Government. These changes would also put Victorian legislation out of step with the majority of other States and Territories and with Commonwealth legislation.
The clear attack on religious freedom is revealed in comments attributed to the Minister for Equality, Martin Foley who indicates that 'equality is not negotiable' - clearly he and the Government believe that religious freedom is very much negotiable and of far lesser importance.
The CEO of CSA, Stephen O'Doherty, said CSA was seeking meetings with MPs to ask them to vote against the Bill.
"With this Bill the Andrews Government crosses the line that should not be crossed - where the State directly restricts the free exercise of religion," Mr O'Doherty said.
"Freedom of religion includes the freedom to teach the beliefs, tenets and traditions of the faith in schools established by the faith community.
"This includes the right to hold, teach and require all staff to model the moral teachings of the church.
"The Andrews Government wants to take away that right, and effectively give a state instrument - the Equal Opportunity Tribunal - the right to impose a different ethical and moral framework over the top of the school's underlying religious beliefs.
"We object as a matter of principle. This is an attack on religious freedom. For this reason we will be vigorously opposing this Bill," Mr O'Doherty said.