The current concerns about proposed Federal Anti-Discrimination legislation have echoed some of the concerns surrounding a bill before the Tasmanian Parliament to amend its Anti-Discrimination Act.

The two major area’s ACL has concerns  with relate to:

1. Extending the “offence to offend” component of the current Act to encompass pretty much any characteristic e.g. age, political affiliation, sexual orientation etc. Currently such terminology is limited to 7 gender specific attributes linked to sexual harassment prohibition.

2. Changes to exemptions for faith-based schools that would threaten the ability of religious schools to maintain their ethos through selective enrolment. The suggested changes would allow schools to apply for an exception if the school was at capacity on a case-by-case basis. Such requirements, we believe, are onerous and not applicable to the majority of faith-based schools who are not fully enrolled.

ACL has been lobbying for the “offence to offend” component of the current Act to be unchanged and the school exemption clause to be a general one i.e. just as single-sex schools can positively discriminate in selecting students of one sex, schools which are set up to serve a particular faith community must be allowed to uphold the purpose and intent of their schools by selecting students of a particular faith, should they choose to do so.

In November the school exemption portion of the amendment bill was voted down (by the Liberals and Greens - for very different reasons) in the lower house while the “offence to offend” changes were passed. The Upper House will debate the bill early in 2013.

The Liberal Party has been very supportive of both of our positions on these proposed changes – particularly on the school exemption question. They agreed that the proposed exemption was not the best option for any of the faith-based or independent schools in Tasmania and would have actually been worse than the current situation for many of those schools (removing the current ability for all schools to apply for an exemption for a defined period).

The Liberals support a general exception for all faith-based schools (removing the need to apply for an exemption) – as currently exists in every other state and will move for the general exception to be made a part of this Bill when debate begins in the Upper House next year.