Advocates say SA Libs expose WA Labor “furphy” on religious exemptions

LGBTI advocates in Western Australia are asking why the Liberal Government of South Australia is moving forward to scrap religious exemptions while the WA Labor Government says that it can’t.

Maxine Drake, local spokesperson for national lobby group just.equal, said WA Attorney General John Quigley had repeatedly said he could not progress legislation in this area without first deferring to the Commonwealth.

“The real question now, is how come a Liberal State Government has introduced legislation on this issue without first checking-in with Christian Porter, but the WA Labor Government says that it can’t do the same?”

Drake said Premier Steven Marshall and the South Australian Liberal Government had shown that any state can in fact introduce legislation to end special religious exemptions under its own steam.

Submissions are now open for South Australia’s Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Billwhich seeks to strengthen anti-discrimination protections for LGBTIQ+ students in primary and secondary school, and restrict faith-based organisations who seek to discriminate against LGBTIQ+ folks in foster care, health, aged care, and other areas.

“Mr Quigley has said he is mindful of the Morrison Government’s Religious Freedom Bill and that local legislation may be influenced by the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into religious schools’ exemptions.

“But as just.equal has pointed out previously, the federal Bill and Commission inquiry into religious schools have both been shelved, and state governments are perfectly entitled to draft anti-discrimination laws without any reference to Canberra,” Drake said.

Speaking on Hansard in October, Attorney-General Quigley said that “in light of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s review of religious exemptions and equal opportunity legislation, it was necessary to delay Western Australia’s review of equal opportunity legislation to ensure any findings made by the Commission were not supplanted by Commonwealth developments on this subject.”

Drake said there was no legitimate reason for any state government to delay progress in this area based on federal considerations and South Australia had proven this.

“So too have Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT which have all abolished or modified religious exemptions without deferring to the Commonwealth. There are no excuses for WA to hold back or be subservient to the wishes of the Federal Coalition,” she said.

The changes proposed in South Australia’s Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill would introduce a ‘carve-out’ to its general religious exemptions, effectively prohibiting discrimination by religious organisations in relation to health, children’s education, disability, aged care, emergency accommodation, public housing and foster care.

This would protect both LGBTI employees and people accessing these services, including students in religious schools. However, a separate exception in the SA Act would continue to allow LGBTI teachers in religious schools to be discriminated against.

In WA it remains lawful for faith schools to refuse the enrolment of students from same-sex families, to expel LGBTI students and to sack LGBTI staff. Religious organisations can also discriminate against LGBTI people in service provision including crisis accommodation.

Drake said the best legislation in Australia codifying religious exemptions was adopted in Tasmania 21 years ago.

“Tasmania banished all this discrimination more than two decades ago.”

just.equal have written to Premier McGowan asking if the state government was still planning to defer to the Commonwealth on this matter, and urging him to adopt the Tasmanian model of reform.

OIP Staff

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