The Law Reform Commission (LRC) recently released a Discussion Paper to progress the review of the Equal Opportunity Act 1984 ordered by the Attorney General last year.
The direction of the document is of grave concern to all faith communities. It’s tone and the 120 questions it canvasses indicates their desire to remove – or at least scale back – exemptions for religious institutions such as churches and Christian schools (Sections 72 & 73 of the Act).
For example, the report seeks feedback on whether the current exemptions should continue to apply to matters like…
The way church ministers and priests are ordained or appointed
The way religious bodies train, select and appoint religious workers
The non-teaching staff that religious schools hire such as admin staff, gardeners, bus drivers
Anything that is done by a religious body or educational institution which “… conform to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion…’
Should the state be allowed to determine issues like these for churches, Christian schools and charities?
The Greens and the left of the Labor Party, along with LGBT activists, have long been advocating that Christian schools should not have the right to sack any staff who come out as gay or trans.
Indeed, the Victorian Andrews Labor government recently announced its plans to introduce legislation that would make it illegal for faith-based organisations to sack a person or refuse them employment on the grounds of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
This threatens religious schools that have a “whole of institution” approach to religious instruction. The proposed narrowing of the exemptions fails to acknowledge that faith is not just taught but it is also modelled – and all members of staff impact on the ethos of a school.
Given the dominance of the left faction in the WA Labor caucus – and their total dominance in both houses of Parliament – there is a real possibility that WA could narrow or abolish current exemptions if the LRC makes such a recommendation.
Australia is already out of step with its international law obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The removal, or narrowing, of the above rights would put us even further out of step.