For release: March 22, 2010

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today expressed alarm at the prospect of laws being rushed through the Victorian Parliament which would give unprecedented powers to the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to launch investigations without the pretext of even a single complaint.

ACL Victorian Director Rob Ward said stakeholders were given only a short time to comment on the complex Equal Opportunity Bill 2010 despite its huge implications for civil liberties and religious freedom.

“The Government’s intention to arm the Goliath-like and largely unaccountable Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission with powers to launch discrimination investigations at whim shows it has learnt nothing from the costly and protracted ‘two Dannies’ case which arose after the Commission sent people to a seminar to be offended,” Mr Ward said.

“The proposed extension of powers to enable the Commission to investigate possible discrimination without even a single complaint being lodged is both excessive and unwarranted. It could see an ideologically-motivated Commission forcing small businesses, religious organisations and other employers to do battle with them over problems that don’t even exist.”

Mr Ward said that after examining the legislation, the ACL is also concerned that it imposes on religious bodies and religious schools an ‘inherent requirements’ test whereby the organisation is only able to insist on employing people who share its beliefs and values if it can prove that this is “an inherent requirement of the particular position”. Media comments by Rob Hulls and Helen Szoke make it clear that this clause will be interpreted in a way which would restrict religious
freedom.

“We welcome the retention of exceptions from discrimination laws for religious bodies and schools in the new bill but are concerned about the ‘inherent requirements’ provision which will lead to uncertainty for religious organisations in their employment processes,” he said.

“Ironically, no such test applies for political parties wanting to employ people. It seems that the Labor Party will be free to employ a receptionist who they insist be a member of the Party and discriminate against anyone who is not, while a Christian school may not have the same freedom to employ a receptionist who is a Christian – complete freedom for political parties but not for Christian schools?”

Mr Ward urged all parliamentarians to take a close look at the bill and to
eliminate provisions which would give unnecessary and excessive power to the Commission, and to also remove the bill’s ‘inherent requirements’ test.

“This complex and far-reaching bill goes too far, imposes too much, and is being rushed through Parliament without meaningful consideration,” he said.

Media Contact: Rob Ward on 0408 348 352 or Glynis Quinlan on 0408 875 979.