Tanya Plibersek: Labor has no plans to stop gay teachers from being fired

The federal Labor party has declared that it has no plans to introduce protections that would prevent LGBTI people being fired from their jobs if they work for a religious organisation.

Deputy Leader Tanya Plibersek made the declaration in response a pre-budget submission released by the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC).

In their submission the NCEC said it was important that religious freedom to be reflected in schools’ teaching, employment and enrollment practices, especially in light of the recent passing of the same sex marriage legislation.

Currently in some states, including Western Australia, religious organisations such as schools can fire teachers if they are gay.

The provision in anti-discrimination laws means that a teacher who works for a religious based school could lose their job if they took advantage of the recently passed marriage laws.

The laws don’t just apply to teachers but any employee, whether they be gardeners or after-hours cleaners. The same provisions also allow students to be expelled from their school if they have gay parents.

Speaking to The Guardian, Tanya Plibersek said Labor had “no plans to change anti discrimination law at schools at the moment, we think the balance is about right”.

LGBTI rights advocates in Western Australia have been pushing for the anti-discrimination laws to be reviewed on a state level.

Long term rights advocate Brian Greig has been leading the campaign, with several community groups throwing their support behind calls for the anti-discrimination laws to be changed at a state level.

The Same Sex Parents Association, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) and Rainbow Rights WA have all voiced support for change. The Greens have also stated that the laws should be changed.

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan has referred to issue to the state’s Attorney General John Quigley, but the AG says he can’t look at the state’s laws until the federal government’s review is completed.

The review into religious freedoms in Australia was ordered by the Turnbull government during the debate over marriage equality legislation. Former Howard government minister Philip Ruddock has been appointed to head the panel.  Last week it was revealed that submission to the panel will be kept secret.

During the marriage postal survey the Catholic Church warned parishioners that it would sack staff who entered into matrimony with a person of the same gender. Labor’s Deputy leader says she can’t see this happening.

“What I would say is that most Catholic schools are very thoughtful about keeping the very best staff,” Plibersek said. “I don’t expect to see a spate of people sacked because of their sexuality.”

Last year OUTinPerth revealed that a relief teacher in Perth had been let go by his employer after they became aware that he was in a same sex relationship. In that case, the school involved praised the teacher they were letting go as someone of great integrity and honesty.

Craig Campbell was told he could no longer teach at the school after students noticed an image on his Facebook page where he recreated an album cover from singer Belinda Carlisle.

The school’s principal Rob Mitchell defended his decision to remove Campbell from the school, saying that by posting the image he had created interest in his sexuality.

“Young people are naturally inquisitive,” Mitchell told The West Australian. “The image he posted created interest in his personal life, including his sexuality. I shared with him that, at present, there is an inconsistency with his beliefs on sexuality and the college’s beliefs.”

Christian Schools Australia voiced support for the school to have the power to remove the teacher.

“Kids are great at picking up hypocrisy. They’ll know if a teacher is saying one thing and not living up to what they’re saying, and we want to avoid that kind of incongruity.” said Mark Evans, Christian Schools Australia’s Chief Executive.

OIP Staff

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