Religious Discrimination Bill will be here soon; Victorian schools bill introduced to parliament

The long-delayed Religious Discrimination Bill will be here soon, if the briefing meetings the Attorney-General Michaelia Cash is holding with Christian groups is any guide. Eternity understands that the meetings have been initiated by the AG.

One insider tells Eternity that the recent announcement by the Australian Christian Lobby that there will be an “Israel Folau” clause protecting religious speech may have been premature. But it is likely that clause will be in the bill. One issue will be determining what employers might require in work hours, and what happens after hours – such as in the Folau and Jereth Kok cases.

The extent to which a religious body can preference members of their faith in employment will be a key issue, which may feature in this bill – the former AG, Christian Porter had referred the issue of the framework of religious exceptions in anti-discrimination law to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). If that referral deadline remains at twelve months after the Religious Discrimination bill passes parliament which is what AG Porter set it at, that issue will need to be dealt with in the next parliament.

Other key issues in the last draft that became public were defining the test a court applies in determining whether somebody is acting in accordance with their faith. A court would need to consider “whether a person of the same religion as the religious body or person could reasonably consider the act to be in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of that religion.” This means courts would not have to determine what the tenets of a particular faith are.

A number of high profile Christian leaders are involved in the discussions with the AG, and some details may emerge shortly.

Victorian Schhols Bill

A bill that will limit the ability for religious schools to hire staff based on their faith has been introduced to the state parliament today.  The Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 will limit the ability of religious organisations and schools to discriminate against an employee or potential employee on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity.  

In effect, this means schools for example will have to demonstrate an ‘inherent requirement’ of a position in order to insist that the person to be hired matches the school’s faith. Further, they will need to show that  “it is reasonable and proportionate to discriminate in all the circumstances” in hiring a person of faith.

Training or appointing ministers of religion, as pastors is not affected by the bill, the government says.  the full Bill will be available tomorrow.

Other provisions in the bill provide that:

•      a religious body that receives government funding to provide goods or services will not be able to refuse to provide those goods or services to people based on their sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status, or gender identity

•      religious schools will not be able to discriminate in the course of establishing, directing, controlling or administering the educational institution with regards to people based on their sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status, or gender identity; and

•      there will be no general exception available to individuals (rather than religious bodies or schools) to discriminate on the basis of religion.