Victoria’s Parliament on Friday passed long overdue reforms to prohibit religious schools from refusing to hire or sacking teachers and staff for being LGBTQI.  Victoria now joins Tasmania, Queensland and the ACT where faith-based schools cannot fire teachers for being gay.

The upper house passed the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 22 votes to 12.  

The Daniel Andrews’ government’s Bill to narrow down exceptions to the state’s anti-discrimination laws passed in the upper house with 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. 

Liberal Party MPs voted against the law, like they had done when the the lower house passed the Bill last month. 

Fixing The Gaps

Under the new law, religious organisations and schools will no longer be able to sack or refuse to hire people or expel students based on “protected attributes such as sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.”

The Bill protects teachers and staff, and bars schools from discriminating against them just because they are LGBTQI, divorced or had a child out of wedlock. 

Faith-based organisations and schools will still be able to employ staff based on the employee’s religious beliefs, but only when it is integral to the job, for example when they are recruiting for the post of a religious teacher or principal. 

And, religious organisations that receive Victorian government funding “will not be able to refuse to provide those services to people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” 

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said that the reform fixes the gaps in the state’s anti-discrimination laws and hoped that “with these changes all Victorians can live authentically, free of fear and in no doubt that the law has their back too.”

The new law reforms, are as many Opposition MPs pointed out, at odds with the federal government’s new draft of the Religious Discrimination Bill. Scott Morrison’s Bill threatens to override protections like the one Victoria has passed as well as laws in Tasmania. 

The Religious Discrimination Bill would allow faith-based schools, and institutions like hospitals, and aged care facilities to employ faith-based staff, provided they have publicly stated the criteria.

Attorney-general Symes had previously indicated that the state could challenge the Morrison government’s bill in the High Court.

‘LGBTQI Live Lives Of A Thousand Cuts’

Labor MP Harriet Shing, the first out lesbian member of the Victorian Parliament and the only Out LGBTQI member of the current Parliament, called out those who opposed the Bill. 

“As the only LGBTIQA+ person in this Parliament who is out, and I am here today to say that voting against this bill because you think you know tolerance and inclusion is not to know the discrimination that I face every day, that LGBTIQA+ people face every day,” said Shing. 

The MP said the LGBTQI community live  “lives of a thousand cuts in a thousand different ways”.

“The way that we are employed, the way that we are talked about, the esteem in which we are held. Our identities weigh us down in the same way that they prompt us to seek pride. We lose our families, we lose access to support, we lose a seat at the table in so many important ways, in so many specific, wonderful, celebratory ways—in grief, in mourning, in the achievement of those really wonderful landmarks that everyone ought be able to celebrate with those who they love and who love them.”

The MP also called out Morrison’s Religious Discrimination Bill that protects “statements of belief”. 

“I can continue to be told that I belong in hell, that I am a disgrace and that I am not worthy of being included in the way that others are, because for some reason religious belief trumps my identity,” she said. 

Liberal Backflip

Victorian Liberal Opposition leader Matthew Guy

Victoria’s Liberals chose to oppose the Bill, months after opposition leader Matthew Guy said LGBTQI people should not be a “political football”.

In September, soon after taking over as the new leader of the Victorian Liberals, Guy had in an interview with Joy 94.9 declared that ‘Nobody should be fired because of their sexuality’. However, the party MPs opposed the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill both in the upper and lower houses of the Parliament. 

Liberal MP  Bernie Finn on Friday termed the new law a “war on people of faith”.

Labor MP Tim Watts said the vote against the Bill was a “clear demonstration of what the Liberal Party think of equality in this state.”

“So you can imagine my shock when the opposition backflipped and voted down the bill in the lower house. While the Liberals are busy doing doublespeak on equality this Labor government is doing the real reforms to make this state a better place for all. For Labor equality is not negotiable,” said Watts. 

Momentous Day

Equality Australia said that the passing of the Bill was a “momentous day”.

“Every Victorian deserves to live, work and study with dignity and respect, no matter who they are or whom they love,” Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia said in a statement.

Brown said the Liberal party’s vote against the Bill was “deeply disappointing” and also urged the Federal Parliament to oppose Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill.

“Efforts by the Morrison Government to override these hard-fought protections in Victoria and anti- discrimination protections in other states is an extraordinary act of overreach,” added Brown.

During the debate in the upper house, Attorney-General Symes referred to a survey of around 1150 union members working in faith-based schools in Victoria and Tasmania. The survey found that 51 % of the members had reported having witnessed or subjected to discrimination based on marital, relationship or parental status.

“Every worker should be confident that they are safe in their workplace, treated fairly by their employer, and judged only by their capacity to fulfil their role, not by their gender or sexual orientation, pregnancy, parental or marital status,” Deb James, General Secretary of the Independent Education Union Victoria Tasmania said in a statement.


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