PIAC has welcomed the findings of the Senate Inquiry into Anti-Discrimination Exceptions for Religious Schools, handed down today.
‘The Committee’s report is another step forward in making schools free from discrimination’, said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor. ‘In particular, we welcome the Committee’s recommendation that the Sex Discrimination Act be changed to protect students in religious schools against discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.’
Importantly, the Committee adopted PIAC’s recommendation that the changes to the Sex Discrimination Act be kept simple. The Committee did not support changes to the test for indirect discrimination, which formed part of proposed Government amendments that were leaked to the media in October, and were opposed by PIAC, the Human Rights Law Centre and a wide range of anti-discrimination academics and practitioners.
‘However, it is disappointing that the Committee stopped short of recommending changes to ensure LGBTI teachers and other staff are protected from discrimination, calling only for “further consideration” of this issue’. ‘As PIAC argued before the Inquiry, there should be a consistent approach to students and staff that demonstrates a genuine commitment to equality, rather than endorsing discrimination in some areas,’ said Jonathon Hunyor.
The Senate Inquiry also includes a recommendation that: ‘consideration be given to inserting in law a positive affirmation and protection of religious freedom in Australia that is appropriately balanced with other rights’ (Recommendation 5). While PIAC supports the introduction of religious belief as a protected attribute in anti-discrimination laws where it is not currently protected (Commonwealth, NSW and South Australia), we caution against any changes that would permit an expansion of discrimination against others, including LGBTI people.
‘It’s time for Parliament to step up and urgently pass legislation to end discrimination by religious schools. While PIAC believes that change for both students and teachers is needed and achievable, there is an overwhelming consensus for ensuring LGBTI students are protected from discrimination.’
‘With 7 sitting days left until the end of the 2018 parliamentary year, Parliament knows what it needs to do to ensure students can start the 2019 school year free from the fear they will be discriminated against on the basis of who they are,’ added Jonathon Hunyor.
Read PIAC’s submission here.