AG Mark Dreyfus confirms religious discrimination legislation this term

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has confirmed to media that the government will introduce religious discrimination legislation this term of Parliament.

Speaking on ABC’s RN Breakfast with Patricia Karvelas, Dreyfus said Labor will introduce a Religious Discrimination Bill reflecting Labor policy that says the party “will prohibit discrimination against LGBTQA+ students and teachers in faith-based schools.”

Labor policy also says religious schools will still be able to preference people of their faith in staff selection.

LGBTQIA+ advocates have raised concerns about the legislation following in the footsteps of the Morrison Government who first proposed the legislation without success.

Just.Equal Australia spokesperson, Brian Greig, said this caveat sets up a contradiction.

“Labor’s policy on teachers in faith-based schools continues to jeopardise the employment of LGBTQA+ staff,” Greig said.

“Our fear is that while Church authorities may not be able to sack existing LGBTQA+ employees, they may still be able to reject new applicants.”

“This situation will allow faith schools to rid themselves of all LGBTQA+ staff over time.”

“We have written to Mr Dreyfus explaining our concerns, calling on the new Government to ensure all teachers and other staff members in faith-based organisations are hired on the basis of their qualifications, not screened out because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Greig said Just.Equal Australia will oppose any Religious Discrimination Bill that infringes on LGBTQA+ human rights.

“We hope Labor will introduce a conventional Religious Discrimination Bill that will prevent discrimination rather than allow more of it, as Scott Morrison’s bill did.”

“But the fact is Labor voted for the Morrison Bill in February, including provisions that overrode existing LGBTQA+ discrimination protections.”

“We will scrutinise every section of Labor’s bill to ensure it does not erode hard-won rights.”

National LGBTIQ+ group, Equality Australia, is also urging the government to avoid the mistakes of its predecessor, and to prioritise the protection of LGBTQ+ people in religious organisations.

“Our laws should protect all of us, equally, no matter who we are, whom we love or what we believe,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.

“Labor must avoid the mistakes of the previous government that instead introduced a Religious Discrimination Bill that would have wound back protections for women, LGBTIQ+ people, people with disability and people of faith, undermining inclusive workplaces and access to judgement-free healthcare.”

The Attorney-General made the remarks on ABC’s RN Breakfast earlier today. Prior to the election, Labor committed its support to the “extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework to ensure that Australians are not discriminated against because of their religious beliefs or activities,” but it remains unclear what form the protections may take.

“While Labor’s statements prior to the election are a welcome indication it is committed to ensuring protections for people of faith don’t result in discrimination against others, the government must ensure any reform raises the standard for everyone and doesn’t override existing protections,” said Brown.

Equality Australia pointed to recent public examples of discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and teachers by religious schools as evidence of the urgent need to protect LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. The group called on the government to introduce laws to remove outdated exemptions to relevant laws in its first hundred days.

“Labor must first act swiftly to fill gaps in protection for LGBTQ+ students and teachers in religious schools and extend those same protections to all staff working in any faith-based organisations, and LGBTQ+ people accessing services from religious providers,” said Brown.

“In 2013, the Labor Government removed religious exemptions from the aged-care sector, and faith-based providers embraced the opportunity to promote inclusion. It’s time to ensure that all goods and services are delivered without discrimination and that staff in these services are protected at work.”

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