Advocates say A-G office statement on religious discrimination ‘untrue’

LGBTQIA+ advocacy group Just.Equal Australia have drawn attention to a statement from Attorney-General Michaela Cash’s office about the impact of the Religious Discrimination Bill on schools.

Published on the website of Network 10’s panel show The Project, Senator Cash’s office was responding to Citipointe Christian College in Brisbane discriminating against LGBTIQ+ students.

The statement from the AG’s office says “It (the Religious Discrimination Bill) does not affect religious exemptions in existing Commonwealth state or territory anti-discrimination law”, which Just.Equal say is “misleading and untrue”.

Spokesperson for Just.Equal, Rodney Croome, said the Attorney’s office’s claim that the Federal Bill does not affect religious exemptions in existing federal, state and territory laws is not true.

“Section 11 of the Religious Discrimination Bill gives the Commonwealth Attorney-General explicit power to override existing state and territory laws that provide discrimination protections for teachers and staff in religious schools.”

“This is relevant in Queensland because Section 25 of its Anti-Discrimination Act allows less discrimination against faith-school staff than the Religious Discrimination Bill.”

“In effect, the Attorney-General can use the Religious Discrimination Bill to override the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act and strip away existing rights from teachers and other workers in religious schools, including Citipointe,” Croome said.

Just.Equal, along with a number of advocacy groups, have long been pushing for clarity on the Religious Discrimination Bill’s potential effects on state and territory law – perhaps most prominently in Tasmania where anti-discrimination legislation is considered ‘gold standard’.

Croome said it is extraordinary that the Attorney General’s office would misrepresent one of the most hotly discussed features of the Religious Discrimination Bill.

“This controversial aspect of the Federal Bill has been the subject of considerable public debate during two recent parliamentary inquiries,” Croome says.

Croome is also concerned the Attorney-General’s statement is misleading because it does not address what the college was likely attempting to do.

“This school seems to be dressing up discrimination against LGBTIQ+ kids as discrimination on the basis of the school’s religious belief, and not on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. But the result is the same – LGBTIQ+ kids are excluded.”

This week, the Queensland Human Rights Commission stated that this attempted discrimination is likely to be unlawful under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act. The Queensland Act does not allow discrimination on the basis of religious belief beyond the point of enrolment.

“This means that even dressing up anti-LGBTIQ+ policies in the garb of ‘upholding religious beliefs’ is not legal when it comes to existing students”, Croome continued.

“However, the federal Religious Discrimination Bill contains no such limitation because it allows religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of religious belief not just at enrolment, but throughout their entire education.”

“This means the Religious Discrimination Bill provides an alternative avenue for religious schools to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ students, so long as they do it under the guise of religious views and not directly on the basis of sexual and gender identity.”

Croome and Just.Equal Australia say that if the Religious Discrimination Bill is passed in its current form, allowing discrimination on the basis of religious belief through a student’s whole education, some schools will choose to circumvent existing state and territory protections by discriminating under the camouflage of ‘religious belief.’

Two separate parliamentary committees have examined the bill over the past few months, the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. Both collectives are due to deliver reports to the Senate in the coming weeks.

OIP Staff

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