Long-overdue law reforms to ban religious organisations and faith-based schools in Victoria from refusing to hire or sacking teachers and staff for being LGBTQI came into effect Tuesday, June 14, 2022.
The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Act passed by the Victorian Parliament in December 2021 commenced on Tuesday. Victoria now joins other jurisdictions in Australia that have enacted laws to protect LGBTQI staff. Tasmania, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) already prohibit religious organisations and schools from sacking staff for being LGBTQI.
LGBTQI advocacy organisations and unions said that the Victorian government’s law reforms protect not just school staff but also students.
“This is a day to celebrate,” Debra James, General Secretary, Independent Education Union Victoria Tasmania told Star Observer. The IEU represents over 20,000 workers in non-government education in Victoria and Tasmania.
“The IEU has been campaigning for these reforms for over a decade, and we are thrilled that at long last our members working in faith-based schools are entitled to the same protections as other workers. Ultimately, it is our students that benefit when school staffing is determined on merit rather than on irrelevant factors such as marital or parental status, sexual orientation, or gender identity,” said James.
Anna Brown, CEO, Equality Australia called it a “momentous day and a huge step forward for fairness and equality in Victoria”.
‘Laws Have Been A Long Time Coming’
The Daniel Andrews-led Labor government’s Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment bill to remove religious exemptions from the state’s anti-discrimination laws was passed in December 2021.
The Bill had received the support of the Greens and cross-benchers including Reason Party’s Fiona Patten, the Derryn Hinch Justice Party’s Tania Maxwell and Stuart Grimley, the Transport Party’s Rod Barton, Sustainable Australia’s Clifford Hayes and Animal Justice Party’s Andy Meddick. The Liberal party had voted against the law both in the upper and lower houses.
“These laws have been a long time coming and it’s been a painful journey for our LGBTIQ+ community to achieve these changes – I hope today is a day they can be proud of,” Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said in a statement.
According to Minister of Equality Martin Foley, the law reforms “show how important it is to continue backing the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community in all aspects of life.”
New Law Removes Religious Exemptions
Under the new laws, religious organisations and faith-based schools will be banned from sacking or refusing to hire staff on account of their sexuality, gender identity or marital status.
Religious beliefs of staff can play a role while making employment decisions only for roles such as religious studies teacher. The law will also not encroach on the rights of religious bodies to select priests, ministers, religious leaders or their members.
Other provisions of the new law that bar religious organisations receiving government funding from refusing to provide services to people based on protected attributes will come into effect in December 2022.
Earlier this year, the former Scott Morrison-led government has tried to pass the Religious Discrimination Bill that threatened to override laws in Victoria and Tasmania that were meant to protect LGBTQI people.
‘Sky Does Not Fall In’
The federal government last week said they were committed to deliver on the Labor’s election campaign promise to protect religious people from discrimination, without affecting the rights of other vulnerable and marginalised groups.
Labor said they would “protect teachers from discrimination at work, whilst maintaining the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff.”
IEU Victoria Tasmania General secretary James said it was time for other jurisdictions in Australia as well as the federal government to follow the lead of states and territories that have removed religious exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.
“It’s time for similar protections in federal legislation – we hope that the Albanese government will see that proper anti-discrimination protections covering all workers and students don’t cause the sky to fall in,” said James.
Brown, CEO, Equality Australia, echoed the sentiments. “Regardless of where we live in Australia, every one of us deserves to live, work and study with dignity and respect, no matter who we are or whom we love.”.
“The Albanese Government should act within the first hundred days to fill gaps in protection for LGBTQ+ students and teachers in religious schools and extend those same protections to all staff working in any faith-based organisations, and LGBTQ+ people accessing services from religious providers,” added Brown.