Greens WA call on state government to address religious exemptions

The Greens spokesperson for Sexuality and Gender Identity Alison Xamon is urging the WA government to act on the immediate issue of religious exemptions.

The MLC is also calling for the McGowan Labor government to commit to a comprehensive response to addressing discrimination in Western Australia, following the release of the Equal Opportunity Commission’s Annual Report – which showed a drop in the Commission’s ability to undertake its responsibilities.

“While I welcome the Attorney General’s recent announcement that the Law Reform Commission will review the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 (WA), it is not enough to have good laws if you do not appropriately resource the body you task with addressing unlawful discrimination,” Xamon said.

Xamon says the Greens believe a review of the Equal Opportunity Act was long overdue, and it is important that the government acted swiftly to update the Act to remove outdated discrimination.

“It is essential that our laws reflect current community expectations, and the general community is very clear about this; they want less discrimination against LGBTIQ people, not more.”

In June this year, Xamon introduced a bill to amend the Equal Opportunities Act to prevent religious schools from legally discriminating against employees, students and their families on the basis of sexuality or gender identity.

Xamon is calling on the government to support her proposes changes to the Act as a minimum.

“However, in doing so the government also needs to appropriately resource the Equal Opportunity Commission – the very body that is charged with promoting the Act and addressing and conciliating discrimination and harassment complaints.”

“The Equal Opportunity Commission’s most recent Annual Report details concerning trends including loss of twelve positions since 2014. This is simply unacceptable as these reductions are impacting service delivery and the Commission’s ability to undertake outreach activity. Furthermore, the length of time taken to resolve complaints within 6 months and 12 months has increased due to the complexity of issues and a reduction in number of conciliation officers” said  Xamon.

“At the same time as we have had these reductions in service, the number of complaints made to the Commission has gone up 10 per cent from last year. Notably, these figures include a doubling in the number of sexual harassment complaints.”

“We know, of course, that only a relatively small number of incidents are formally complained about so these figures do not reflect the true scale of the prevalence of discrimination in our community.”

“The Commission’s core tasks of preventing and providing redress for unlawful discrimination across Western Australia’s diverse and widely dispersed population are monumental, yet we seem to be expecting more and more of them from an ever decreasing pool of resources – it is simply not sustainable,” Xamon continued.

“Undertaking a review is crucial however it does not detract from the need to pass my Equal Opportunity (LGBTIQ Anti-Discrimination) Bill 2018, or from the need for sufficient resourcing of the Equal Opportunity Commission to undertake its fundamentally important work.”

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