Victoria’s GLBTI community has vowed to fight parts of the Brumby Government’s Equal Opportunity Bill that allow religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity.
The Greens sided with the Government last Friday to pass the bill 21 votes to 17.
ALSO Foundation chief executive officer Crusader Hillis said increasing the scope of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate cases of “systemic discrimination” would be a positive for the community. But he said the bill still contained “a number of negatives”.
“What you’ve got is a two-tiered system where, on the one hand, [the exceptions are] saying it’s okay to discriminate for some, but for others it’s not,” Hillis told Southern Star.
“[The bill is] working in the right direction, but it’s still refusing to take on religious organisations.”
Hillis said ALSO would push the issue of religious exemptions while on the Attorney-General’s GLBTI ministerial advisory committee.
Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby spokesman Dr Anthony Bendall said the provisions for religious exemptions should have been narrowed.
“The exemptions are now better than they were in that the onus of proof seems to have been reversed,” he told Southern Star.
“When religious groups want to discriminate they will now need to show it’s a necessary part of their religious beliefs which wasn’t in there before.”
Bendall said the extent to which religious bodies can “prove” that sexuality or gender identity interferes with their religious beliefs was still “too vague”.
“It will certainly be easier for the queer community to assert their rights so that’s why, on balance, we still see it as an improvement,” he said.
“But certainly in future we’ll be pushing for those exceptions and exemptions to be removed, or certainly further narrowed.”
Greens MLC Sue Pennicuik told Southern Star she was “disappointed” a number of Greens amendments were rejected, but said the “proactive” new powers of the VEOHRC were welcome.
“If we hadn’t supported the bill, the bill wouldn’t have passed and if that had been the case, then the existing legislation would be in place, which has even worse exceptions in it,” she said.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the legislation provided a “fair go for all Victorians”.
The Opposition said the bill was an attack on freedom of speech and vowed to overturn it, if in government.

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