The Coalition’s religious discrimination bill could deprive states of the power to regulate the hiring practices of religious institutions, have warned equality advocates and the Independent Education Union.
Equality Australia and the IEU have said that provisions in the bill designed to allow institutions such as schools to hire staff on the basis of faith could interfere with impending changes in Victoria seeking to limit religious exemptions to the law on equal opportunities.
Federal Attorney General Michaelia Cash has yet to release the bill, which will be debated when Parliament resumes for the final two-week sitting on Monday.
Despite dropping some of its most controversial provisions on the ability of physicians to refuse certain procedures and the Folau clause on the power of employers to regulate employee speech, the bill still faces stiff resistance.
The remaining provisions include the protection of statements of religious belief and the right of schools to hire on the basis of faith, which Federal Education Minister Alan Tudge confirmed on Wednesday.
In Victoria, the Andrews government is seeking to reform religious exemptions prevent schools from discriminating against students and teachers on the basis of personal characteristics such as sexuality.
Under this bill, currently before Parliament, schools could only discriminate when “religious belief is an inherent requirement of the job”, which means that it could be a requirement for a principal in the workplace. school but not for a math teacher or cleaner.
The changes were vigorously opposed by the Australian Christian Lobby and Christian Schools Australia.
The National Catholic Education Commission has called for the bill to be passed “as quickly as possible” to ensure that the ability of religious schools to define their own ethics is protected against state law, including reforms. proposed by Victoria.
A Victorian government spokesperson said it continued to monitor the Commonwealth Bill and “will carefully examine any loopholes in Victoria’s protections after any Commonwealth legislation is passed.”
“We hope that any change will allow Victorians to continue to be free to live and work without discrimination.”
Equality Australia chief executive Anna Brown said the Victorian reform ensured that a religious organization “can only discriminate against people on the basis of religion when religion is genuinely relevant to the role.”
“This will bring Victorian law into line with the expectations of the 21st century community and the practices of many faith-based organizations which have diverse membership and seek to treat people with dignity and respect,” Brown said.
“To ignore the hard-fought protections in Victoria and other states would be an extraordinary act of overstepping on the part of the Morrison government. “
IEU Deputy Federal Secretary Anthony Odgers said it would be of concern if federal changes to religious institutions are not limited to those where faith is an inherent requirement.
“The previous bill proposed to maintain what is in Section 351 of the Fair Work Act, which is a comprehensive ability for employers to discriminate,” said Odgers.
“If what is written on the federal proposal is correct, it would erase the Victorian legislation in its entirety, it would go over it.”
The IEU strongly supports Victorian legislation.
“We are opposed to the concept that employers in faith-based schools are given some sort of preference to hire only people of that faith. We don’t think the majority of employers even seek this capability.
The bill also protects statements of belief by overriding state laws such as Tasmania’s ban on speaking that “offends, insults or humiliates” people on the basis of other characteristics such as race, status. sex, disability or sexuality.
Liberal MP Warren Entsch said he was still concerned about elements of the bill, including the potential to override state laws, saying he believed “states and territories have the right to make their own decisions “.
“I know there is an argument that Tasmanian law goes too far, but it is between them and the Tasmanian people,” Entsch said.
Entsch welcomed the changes to the bill so far and also said he was pleased that Cash made clear the government’s position on children in the letter to the Australian Law Reform Commission regarding the review. discrimination laws.
However, when asked if he was ready to cross the hall, Entsch said: “I don’t make threats, I just do what I think is right.”
“There are important steps in the right direction, but I always wonder if it is necessary in the first place.
“There are elements that I still need to explore and consult more with people for whom I have immense respect.
“I am not comfortable having spent much of my political life advocating to eliminate discrimination from certain elements of our community to sit quietly and allow others to have the power to restore part of our community. this discrimination, I’m just not comfortable with it. “
The conviction statement clause in new federal laws will include a “reasonable person” test that would allow the statement as long as it was not malicious; or would be perceived by a reasonable person to harass, threaten, intimidate or defame another person or group.
The statement of conviction will also not be allowed to incite conduct which could result in a criminal offense.