Less than a week after a tardy MP denied the Baillieu Liberal Government the numbers to pass a bill stripping back protections in the Victorian Equal Opportunities Act, the Government has brought the bill back for a second vote and passed it.

Under the rules of the Victorian Parliament a bill cannot be voted on more than once in a session of Parliament.

However the Government set procedure aside and brought the bill up for another vote despite outcry from the Victorian Opposition.

Victorian Attorney General Robert Clark pointed to the different rules used in the Federal Parliament regarding missed votes.

“It’s clearly recognised by the commonwealth parliament that in cases where there is a misadventure, where there is a missed vote, it is appropriate for the question to be again put.”

GLBT activists had appealed to government MPs to vote with their conscience but in the end the bill was passed unanimously by Coalition members in a vote of 43-42.

It is unclear at this stage whether putting the bill up for a vote in this manner could be subject to court challenge.

Speaking on the Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill in Parliament last week, Prahran MP Clem Newton-Brown said the exemptions apply to staff recruitment only.

“Faith-based schools need to be aware that existing staff have the full protection of their contract of employment and any applicable award or collective agreement, as well as protection under unfair dismissal,” he said.

“No faith-based schools are entitled to terminate employment in breach of these rights.”

The Liberal MP said the Government was fulfilling an election commitment to faith-based schools in removing the inherent requirements test and that it was also ensuring balance so that other organisations (including GLBTI groups) have the ability to exercise employment discrimination in appropriate circumstances.

“It cuts both ways … a gay counselling service should be able to discriminate to employ only gay counsellors if they wish and the Act makes provisions for this.”

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (VGLRL) co-convenor Sarah Rogan said Newton-Brown was attempting to hide the true nature of the amendments.

“Putting faith-based organisations on notice does not provide any comfort to our community at all,” she said.

“Perhaps Mr Newton-Brown does not realise that should a gay counselling service wish to employ a gay counsellor, the service would need to go to VCAT to have an exemption granted on a case-by-case basis — something very different from this blanket exception.

“The VGLRL does not see the ‘balance’ [he] is referring to. The Act is weighted entirely in favour of faith-based organisations, with no regard paid to the individual GLBTI job or service-seeker.”

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