Something very big is happening this week. The Senate and the House of Representatives are due to debate and vote on amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, which will see protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status for the first time at a federal level.
Hopefully, the Bill will also include provisions for the protection of people from discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and gender status in religious-run aged care facilities. Currently religious organisations are excluded from having to comply with anti-discrimination legislation under NSW law. During debate in the House of Representatives provisions for protections in aged care facilities were not included in the Bill, however during debate in the Senate they have been included and the Bill amended. The amendment removes aged care facilities that are run by religious organisation from the list of exempt bodies, and brings them under the same laws as all other organisations that receive government funds.
Public debate around the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, which was proposed last year, has largely been bogged down in the issue of freedom of speech. While passage of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 would have been our preferred option for several reasons, including the fact that it recognises the intersectional nature of discrimination, the SDA amendments are an important step forward.
This week is the final sitting week of Parliament before the government goes into caretaker mode, and the last opportunity for this government to pass this legislation. By the time this column goes to print we will know the outcome of the vote in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. The NSW GLRL has, along with our partner organisations, been working very hard behind the scenes for the removal of aged care services from the list of exceptions.
The NSW GLRL has consistently been lobbying politicians for the removal of religious exemptions to anti-discrimination legislation, which also extends to schools, and adoption agencies. You can read our submission at http://glrl.org.au/index.php/Take-Action/Current-Campaigns/. Whatever the outcome of the vote this week, we will continue to fight for the protection of all gay men and lesbians across all organisations that receive government funding.
Lainie Arnold, NSW GLRL