Rodney Croome labels AG John Quigley’s statements as “nonsense”

Western Australian Attorney General is unable to say if the McGowan government will support proposed changes to the state’s Equal Opportunity Act because the results of the federal government’s review into religious freedom in Australia has not yet been released.

Yesterday The Greens MP Alison Xamon put forward a bill to amend the Equal Opportunity Act to remove the loopholes that allow religious based organisations to terminate the employment of staff because of their sexuality.

The bill would also stop religious based schools from expelling students because of their sexuality, or the sexuality of a family member.

A spokesperson for Attorney General John Quigley has said that the McGowan government has a strong record removing discrimination against LGBTI people, highlighting last year’s apology for historical convictions.

“Last year, the state government introduced the Historical Homosexual Convictions Expungement Bill 2017 (WA), demonstrating the state government’s commitment to addressing issues of discrimination against the LGBTIQ community and ensuring fairness and equality for all Western Australians,” the spokesperson said.

“The Premier also offered an apology on behalf of the State Parliament to those impacted by the old laws.”

The government said it is however unable to formulate a position on whether the Equal Opportunity Act should be updated because it does not know the results of the federal government’s Ruddock Review into religious freedom in Australia.

“The state government is currently awaiting the outcomes of the Commonwealth Review into Religious Freedoms, chaired by the Hon Phillip Ruddock, as the provisions in state legislation mirror those of the Commonwealth.” the spokesperson said.

“In respect of the Bill as moved by the Hon Xamon today the State Government will consider the legislation and provide its response in due course.” the spokesperson said.

Last year OUTinPerth highlighted the case of school teacher Craig Campbell whose employment was discontinued after he shared information about his sexuality with his supervisor at the school he worked at.

At the time the Attorney General said he was seeking legal advice on the issue, but later said the issue the would have to wait until the outcomes of the federal government’s review were known.

The discriminatory nature of the provisions in the Equal Opportunity Act is an issue that LGBTI rights advocates in Western Australia have been highlighting for many years.

At an election forum hosted by OUTinPerth last year Maylands MLA Lisa Baker acknowledged that the Labor Party did not have a policy in this area, but shared that her personal belief was discrimination of this kind was not acceptable.

Rodney Croome, leader of LGBTI rights organisation just.equal said the Attorney General’s ‘wait and see’ position was nonsense.

“Confused and plain wrong is how I would describe the WA Attorney-General’s excuse for not getting behind a bill to stop religious schools discriminating against LGBTI people.” Croome told OUTinPerth.

“He doesn’t have to wait for the Ruddock Report because that report is about the Marriage Act, not state discrimination law.”

“It’s also legal nonsense for him to say state discrimination law should mirror federal law.”

“In my home state of Tasmania there are no exemptions allowing religious organisations to discriminate against LGBTI people. That has been the case for twenty years, and not once has anyone suggested it should be rolled back to ‘mirror’ the exemptions in federal law.”

Croome said the Tasmania provides the perfect example of how changing the law would have little affect on the operation of schools and businesses.

“Religious schools have been operating in Tasmania just fine without the right to discriminate against LGBTI people, and WA religious schools will too.”

“The real barrier between the WA LGBTI community and legal equality is not federal law, it is state Attorney-General, John Quigley.”

The final recommendations from the Ruddock review were received by the Turnbull government over a month ago, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has asked federal Attorney General Christian Porter to formulate the government’s response.

Today a spokesperson for the federal Attorney General said the report was being considered, but there was no date set for when a response would be made public.

Speaking to OUTinPerth yesterday morning, ahead of the bill being submitted to the Legislative Council, Alison Xamon said she didn’t know how the bill would be received by other parties, but she hoped the Labor party would be supportive.

“They like to say that they are allies of the LGBTI community, which they should be – in fact everybody should be. Really it’s about them showing if they are dinkum about that.” Xamon said.

Asked what she’d say to parents who want there children to be taught a particular set of values by attending a religious based school, Xamon had a simple response.

“I don’t think that affording human rights to LGBTI people, whether its the teachers, or the students or the parents of those students is an affront to upholding values.”

“What we’ve attempted to do with this bill, is to reserve some religious exemptions. for example – we’re allowing schools to continue to discriminate on the grounds of religion so Jewish schools will continue to be Jewish, Islamic schools can continue to take in Muslim students and Catholic students can continue to go to Catholic schools.” Xamon said.

“Where people are employed for a religious purpose, such as being a priest or an Imam or a pastor, then we have allowed those schools to continue to discriminate according to the tenets of their faith.

“But what we are saying is that when someone is employed for another purpose whether its to teach, or to tend to the gardens, or do the administration, there is no grounds to discriminate.

Xamon said adopting the legislation would simply bring Western Australia into line with other states.

“Tasmania has already had similar laws for the last twenty years and in that time there has been no politician or religious group who has sough to overturn them. The word has not come to an end, religious schools have continued to operate.”

“What we are doing is bringing what is still outdated legislation in Western Australia inline with the modern world.” Xamon said.

Western Australian LGBTI rights campaigner Brian Greig said he was delighted that Alison Xamon was showing leadership on the issue.

“I’m delighted to see Alison step up and show the leadership on the issue that has sadly been lacking from other parties on this issue. It’s long overdue.

“We now have the extraordinary situation where the state government makes a point of saying its a strong ally of our community but then it hasn’t fully demonstrated that.

Greig said Western Australians could see the awful illustrations of how this legislation played out in the community.

“We have the example of a seven year old girl effectively being chucked out of her school because she had gay Dads, last year a gay history teacher was sacked for being gay.

“Overlaying that we have the really strong Western Australian result in the marriage postal survey, stronger than the national average, and a similar sentiment for repealing this discrimination – but no action from the state government.

Greig said he hoped the introduction of the legislation start the debate, create momentum and give the Western Australian government “the kick it needs” to get the laws changed.

How have the other parties responded to the proposed legislation?

The national spokesperson for the Australian Conservatives, Lyle Shelton, said the issue was not about the discrimination against LGBTI people, but the freedom of religious organisations.

“This is not about discrimination, it is about freedom of association. Many religions have different views about sexuality & it is not ‘hate’ towards anyone to wish to be free to live out those different views in community. That is what freedom means.” Shelton posted to Twitter.

Shelton, who headed to ‘No’ campaign against marriage equality, said the proposed legislation was an example of the undefined consequences of allowing same sex marriage to be passed. The Australian Conservatives however currently hold no seats in the Western Australian parliament.

A spokesman for the Liberal leader Dr Mike Nahan said the party did not currently have a position on the issue and would consider the legislation once they had seen the full details of what was being proposed.

Similarly the Nationals would like to see greater detail before formulating a position. A spokesperson for leader Mia Davies said they would consider the proposal in their party room and consider a position.

“Our Attorney General spokesperson Martin Aldridge will be seeking a briefing from Alison and consult with others before finalising a position.” the WA Nationals said.

Aaron Stonehouse, the sole member of the Liberal Democrats in the Western Australian parliament said his party was supportive of both equality and religious freedom.

“The Liberal Democrats support both religious freedom and the principle of equality before the law.” Stonehouse told OUTinPerth.

“I will be looking at the proposed amendment to the Equal Opportunity Act very closely, and I will announce my position in due course.”

Graeme Watson

OUTinPerth contacted Pauline Hanson’s One Nation and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party and asked if they would support the legislation. No response was received at the time of publication.  Originally published under the title: McGowan government claim they are hamstrung by Ruddock review.


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