ADDITIONAL COMMENTS BY THE AUSTRALIAN GREENS
The Australian Greens believe in equality for all. Equality is about
ensuring that individuals and groups are treated fairly and equally so that
everyone can access opportunities and essential standards of living, such as
access to adequate health, education and housing, to participate fully in
society and live life to their full potential. We believe that this is not
only right but it is good for all of us.
Equality means treating all people with dignity and respect and not
distinguishing or treating people unfavourably because of their background or
personal characteristics such as sex, race, age, sexual orientation,
disability, religion, housing or social status.
And so, having long championed protection from discrimination on the
basis of a person's sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, as
well as protections against discrimination for same-sex de facto couples, the
Australian Greens welcome the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual
Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 (the Bill), for
establishing those protections.
However, this Bill is equally significant in what it fails to protect,
and we consider that the Bill should abolish the provisions of the Sex
Discrimination Act 1984 (Sex Discrimination Act) that exempt religious
bodies from anti-discrimination law.
Further, we believe the new exemption, stating it is lawful to request
information or keep records that allows an individual only to be identified as 'male'
or 'female', should be subject to a sunset clause after 3 years.
Freedom of religion is an important human right, but religious bodies
should not have a blanket exemption from anti-discrimination law. The present
sections 37 and 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act provide broad exemptions
from anti‑discrimination law for religious bodies, and educational
institutions set up for religious purposes, respectively. These exemptions
offend against the principle that people should be treated equally, with
dignity and respect, so that they can access opportunities and services such as
health, education and housing.
Submissions to this inquiry raised issues about the practical impact of
these exemptions. The Public Interest Law Clearing House's submission noted
they mean a religious hospital can refuse to employ a gay doctor, a religious
school can refuse to enrol a bisexual student or hire a lesbian administrator
and a faith-based homelessness shelter can refuse to accept a transgender
resident. The submission of Dr Tiffany Jones cited research showing
there are students with protected attributes in every education system in
Australia, including religious educational institutions, and that these
students continue to experience homophobic abuse. Systemic discrimination makes
it much harder for a tolerant, rights-oriented culture to flourish. The
religious exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act do not strike the right
balance between freedom of religion and protection from arbitrary
The Bill should remove the exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act
1984 from anti-discrimination law for religious bodies, and religious
Exemption for data collection
The Australian Greens oppose Item 60 of Schedule 1, allowing a request
for information, or the keeping of records, to require that a person be
identified as either male or female. Submissions to this inquiry noted the
difficulties people face in employment, housing, credit and welfare matters
because the associated requests for information, and records kept, do not
accommodate their sexual identity.
The Australian Human Rights Commission's 2009 report about the legal
recognition of sex in documents and government records recommended that where
possible, sex or gender should be removed from government forms and documents.
A further recommendation, that the federal government should develop
national guidelines concerning the collection of sex and gender information
from individuals, has been implemented, and we understand that the draft 'Australian
Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender' will be adopted,
commencing from 1 July 2013, envisaging that all agencies will progressively
align their business practices accordingly by 1 July 2016. Accordingly, instead
of an enduring exemption for all organisations who wish to require any
individual to identify as male or female, the Australian Greens would suggest
that this exemption be subject to a sunset clause, ending on 30 June 2016.
Item 60 of Schedule 1, introducing an enduring exemption allowing
requests or maintenance of information to require that a person be identified
as either male or female, should be subject to a sunset clause, ending on 30 June 2016.
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