For release: March 26, 2010

Rob Ward

A bill which gives the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission more powers than the police to investigate and interrogate groups was rushed through the Victorian Parliament's Lower House yesterday with scant debate.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) today called on Upper House Members to reject these draconian provisions when the bill is debated there after Easter. ACL Victorian Director Rob Ward called on Greens' MLCs in particular to demonstrate their commitment to due process by using their numbers in the Upper House to block aspects of the Equal Opportunity Bill 2010 which would give the Commission more powers of investigation than the police even when there was no evidence of a problem.

“This far-reaching legislation was rushed through the Lower House on the strength of the Government's numbers with very limited scope for debate,” Mr Ward said.

“Upper House Members have a responsibility to show they are truly a house of review by looking at all the implications of this bill and eliminating provisions which would give an unjustified amount of power to the Commission.

“The Greens so often talk about their desire to prevent injustice and there can be no doubt that this bill is full of potential to lead to injustice. It allows the Commission to launch investigations without even receiving a complaint – as far as I know only the Ombudsman currently has that power.”

Mr Ward also urged Upper House Members to remove the bill's 'inherent requirements' test whereby religious bodies or schools can only insist on employing people who share their beliefs and values if they can prove that this is “an inherent requirement of the particular position”.

“This clearly has the power to restrict religious freedom – particularly for smaller religious bodies and schools who don't have the resources to defend themselves if challenged on this issue,” Mr Ward said.

“Victorian religious organisations should be able to rely on clearly written provisions rather than having to walk around minefields of political correctness. Like political parties, they should be able to get on with employing people who share their ethos and values without having to continually defend this.”

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