The Australian Greens acknowledge the extensive work of the Committee in
this inquiry, and thank everyone who made a public submission.
The Greens support the committee view that the issues raised by the Sex
Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018
(the bill) are of great concern to the Australian community, and agree with the
determination that many sectors of the community believe students at
faith-based schools should not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual
orientation or gender identity
However the Greens believe that the committee recommendations are flawed
in that they do not accurately reflect the overwhelming stance of the
Australian public, or the views and recommendations of key human rights and
legal experts and LGBTIQ+ organisations. Nor do they take into account the
seriousness of the continued impact of discrimination on LGBTQ+ students,
teachers and school staff in religious schools.
The Greens reject the committee view that the bill at the centre of this
inquiry has been drafted in haste, is flawed and will lead to 'unintended,
detrimental consequences' as is claimed in the Chair’s report. We believe the
bill is a pathway forward to removing legislative exemptions that permit
discrimination against LGBTQ+ students in religious schools.
Submissions from multiple submitters and witnesses broadly support the
bill as a rational and considered approach to removing discrimination on the
basis of sexuality and gender identity.
Lee Carnie, Director of Legal Advocacy at Equality Australia, informed
the committee that 'the bill’s simple and straightforward removal of existing
legislative exemptions is the most effective way to remove discrimination
against LGBTQ+ students'.
Repealing these religious exemptions to anti-discrimination law is also
overwhelmingly supported by LGBTIQ+ communities. A survey conducted by
just.equal found that 94.5 per cent of LGBTIQ+ communities supported removing
religious exemptions in relation to discrimination against LGBTQ+ students, and
92.8 per cent supported removing religious exemptions in relation to
discrimination against LGBTQ+ staff and teachers.
The Greens also reject the committee view that the unamended bill
undermines the ability of religious educational institutions to maintain their
religious ethos and teach in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or
teachings of their faith.
Stakeholders such as Equality Australia submitted evidence advising the
committee that it is 'reasonable, necessary and proportionate to prohibit
faith-based educational institutions from discriminating against students on
the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity to protect the right
to equality and the right to education for LGBTQ+ students'.
Jonathon Hunyor of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre clarified for the
There is nothing under the law, as it generally applies, to prevent
religious educational institutions from engaging in reasonable activity based
on the religious ethos of their school. We accept that. That is exactly what
religious schools should expect to do. That's why they exist: to promote their
religious ethos. We don't have a problem with that, but no changes to the bill
before parliament are required to allow schools to act reasonably to uphold
There is no question as to the harm that is currently caused under the
cover of religious doctrine and belief. A large number of submissions from
parents, students and school staff spoke to their experience of exclusion,
shame and anxiety.
The Greens believe that religious educational bodies should be free to
conduct education in ways that accord with the doctrines of their faith, but
not when this conduct conflicts with the right to live and work free from
discrimination for LGBTQ+ students, teachers and school staff.
The Australian Greens recommend that the bill be passed
The Greens reject that the proposed amendments by the government are
needed as they unnecessarily extend the scope for discrimination by religious
Equality Australia agreed with the bill’s Explanatory Memorandum that
the bill 'would not affect the operation of the indirect discrimination
provisions in the SDA, which will continue to operate in a manner that allows
faith-based education institutions to impose reasonable conditions,
requirements or practices on students in accordance with the doctrines, tenets,
beliefs or teachings of their particular religion or creed'.
Multiple witnesses raised with the committee that the amendments
circulated by the government are not only unnecessary but would create harmful
discrimination loopholes, further entrenching discrimination of LGBTQ+ students
in many areas of education in faith based schools.
Lee Carnie from Equality Australia argued that four of the government
amendments went so far as to potentially conflict with other international
Conventions that Australia is party to, including the Convention on the Rights
of the Child:
As a whole, these amendments place policies on a piece of
paper ahead of the best interests of students—contrary to the Convention on the
Rights of the Child, which requires consideration of the child's best interests
as a primary consideration determined objectively, not to a school's subjective
The Greens have particular concerns with amendment KQ149 which would
substantially expand religious exemptions relating to ‘teaching activities’. As
drafted, the broadness of scope in this amendment could cover any kind of
instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an
Again Lee Carnie from Equality Australia provides an example of how
dangerous this amendment could be:
...it would appear to allow for inferior tuition, excluding a
student from a classroom activity or program or so-called conversion therapy
being delivered in schools despite every reputable medical association
condemning this ineffective and discriminatory practice.
It is clear that the amendments proposed by the Government are not only
unnecessary but pose dire risk to the health and wellbeing of LGBTQ+ staff,
students and teachers.
The Australian Greens recommend that the amendments circulated by the
government not be passed.
Whilst the Greens believe that the bill is justified in its approach to
removing discrimination against school students, we strongly recommend
immediate action to remove discrimination against LGBTQ+ teachers and other
Further delay at achieving this reform is unacceptable, with multiple
witnesses and submitters making the case that discrimination against LGBTQ+
teachers and staff in faith-based education settings is unjustifiable and
causes untenable harm.
Mr. Rodney Croome from Equality Tasmania succinctly summarised the
inconsistency in removing discrimination against students without also tackling
discrimination against teachers and staff:
If we're looking at this issue through the prism of what's in
the best interests of LGBTI students in faith based schools, it's not in their
best interests for them to be protected from discrimination but their teachers
not to be if their teachers are also in same-sex relationships or are
transgender. That sends a terrible message to those students about their inclusion
and their acceptance.
The submission from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre made the case
that simultaneously removing religious exemptions in relation to staff and
teachers as being:
...essential to achieving an appropriate balance between religious
freedom and the right to non-discrimination. Such a change would also be an
important step towards national consistency in line with best practice as
demonstrated by the legislative schemes in Tasmania and, more recently, the
Given this, it is logical, appropriate and important that reforms to
prevent discrimination against teachers and other staff are made at the same
time as changes to the law to prevent discrimination against students in
Removing discrimination against both students and staff is justifiable
and still consistent with the ability of faith based schools to teach their
religious ethos. This is demonstrated by the fact that anti-discrimination laws
that prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and gender identity
already exist in Tasmania and Queensland.
Mr Croome from Equality Tasmania noted:
Given that in Tasmanian law over the last 20 years there has
been a clear prohibition on discrimination against LGBTI teachers and students
in faith based schools, the next question, obviously, is: what consequences has
that had? It's clear to me that the consequences have been entirely good.
The culture in Tasmanian faith based schools— particularly
the ones that I'm familiar with in the Catholic system through friendship
networks and through speaking at length with students and teachers in those
schools—has improved immensely. It's far more inclusive and far safer than it
once was. And no private schools in Tasmania—no faith based schools—have had
any reason to complain about these particular provisions.
I know of no concerns about the provisions we have in
Tasmania. I know of no prelates, no principals and no teachers who have any
issues with these particular laws. I've seen no public statements which say that
they are in any way onerous.
I have, however, spoken to quite a few principals of faith
based schools in Tasmania who have made the point that the law is a complement
to their policies of inclusion, fairness and treating all teachers and students
equally. They feel that the law is important to back up the ethos of their
school. It doesn't violate their ethos; it in fact supports their ethos. So,
given that these laws have been in place for 20 years, given that they seem to
have had positive consequences—particularly for LGBTI people but also for whole
school communities—and given that there have been no complaints about them as
far as I can see and no-one seems to be bothered by them, the question becomes:
why don't we adopt these standards nationally?
Several witnesses who supported the Greens' amendments to the Bill also
noted that some further amendments are required to the Fair Work Act 2009
to provide adequate protection from discrimination in employment.
The Greens agree that careful consideration is needed before changes to
the Fair Work Act are enacted, however this is neither a barrier to nor an
excuse from removing discrimination from the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.
The Australian Greens recommend that the amendments circulated by the
Australian Greens be passed.
The Australian Greens recommend that the Government immediately begin a
review of anti-discrimination provisions within the Fair Work Act 2009.
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