The WA Attorney General, John Quigley tabled the Law Reform Commission’s Report on its Review of the Equal Opportunity Act in the state Parliament on 16th August. It is of great concern to the Christian community that in tabling the report, the Attorney General stated that the McGowan Government had ‘broadly accepted’ its 163 recommendations.
The report does not auger well for Christian schools, nor for religious bodies. Some provisions are clearly targeted at forcing faith-based schools and religious bodies to at least partly embrace the LGBTQ+ view of the world.
For Christian schools, the biggest concern is recommendation 79 which will have the effect of removing the current right of faith-based schools to give preference to staff applicants who share the faith and worldview of the school. The LRC wants to restrict the right to ‘discriminate’ to where the faith is an ‘inherent requirement’ for the role, and a ‘reasonable and proportionate’ test, in line with the Victorian legislation. The report rejects the argument that faith-based schools should be able to require all staff to model the faith of the school to the students.
Another concern is recommendation 58, which, if implemented, would make it unlawful for a school to discriminate in the evaluation and selection of student applications. This is a frontal attack on the current right for faith-based schools to determine their own enrolment policy.
Some recommendations are of such a nature, that unless faith-based schools are given exceptions, it will prove very difficult for schools to maintain the ethos of the school. For example, it will be illegal to discriminate against a person on the grounds that they have engaged in sexual activity, if that activity was legal (39).
The proposed definition of religious conviction (Rec 51) is ambiguous and will require parties to lead complex evidence to define their religious belief before a tribunal or court.
If the McGowan Government widens the definition of ‘educational institution’ as recommended (57), to include curriculum providers, those who write curriculum could potentially fall foul of the law if they ‘discriminate’ by not teaching the LGBTQ agenda.
Until legislation is introduced into parliament, we won’t know exactly how the McGowan Government intends to implement the recommendations.
But one thing is clear: A number of the Law Reform Commission recommendations are a frontal attack on religious freedom, and violate the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 18, to which Australia is a signatory. Unfortunately, the ICCPR and similar covenants do not have any legal effect in Australia unless the Federal Parliament passes enabling legislation.
This highlights the importance of the parliament passing appropriate religious discrimination laws.