Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

Written on the 3 February 2017

6 December 2016


Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

GEORGIE CROZIER (LIB - Southern Metropolitan)


I am very pleased to be able to rise this afternoon and make a contribution to the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016. I have been sitting in the chamber listening to some of this debate, and I have just heard the contribution by Ms Patten. I want to address some of the concerns she raised in her contribution. I was listening to Ms Bath's contribution as well, and in relation to some of her commentary, I thought she presented a very good, practical case from her own experience as to why this bill is flawed.

As others from the opposition have said, we will not be supporting this bill, because there is actually no need to have this bill in the first place. It goes further to this government's ideological bent that it has taken right across the state in a number of areas. We have seen that in a number of areas, including in the Peter Mac decision, which was a disgraceful decision purely based on an ideological bent, and also the Safe Schools program.

Just to look at this bill, though, this bill amends section 82 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, which provides for exceptions to unlawful discrimination by religious bodies in certain circumstances. In accordance with section 13 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, an exception is a defence to discrimination, and the person or body seeking to rely on it has the burden of proving that it applies. This, as other speakers have said when they have talked about the history of the Equal Opportunity Act, came about during the 1970s under a former Liberal government, the Hamer government, which actually initiated the Equal Opportunity Act.

Others have also spoken about the history of how that act has been amended over the period of time. I believe it came in in 1977, and at that point in time it was a very big step because equal opportunity was fairly unknown, but it was what the intent of equal opportunity was all about. I think we can all be very proud to say that we have moved on since that time and that a lot of those discriminations and issues that were around in the 1970s are happily not around today. It is my understanding that it was further amended in 1984 under the Cain government that also provided that the act include race, religion, ethnic origin, political belief and de facto spouse status. It also went on further to be amended in 1995 under another Liberal government, the Kennett government, to include attributes such as aged carer's status, disability, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status, physical features, pregnancy, race, religious beliefs and activities, sex and personal association.

From those beginnings in 1977 to 1995 there are a very large range of attributes that come under the Equal Opportunity Act in law. As others have also rightly stated, it was further amended under the Brumby government in 2009 when the Brumby government committed to legislate to insert an inherent requirements test into the act, and that is what this bill is about. As has been previously stated by other speakers, the former coalition government, then led by Premier Baillieu, was not going to support such an extension of this act with this requirement.

What this bill does is that it actually lawfully discriminates in the area of employment only when conformity with the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion is an inherent requirement of the particular position being considered and the person's religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity means that the person does not meet that inherent requirement.

We are in this Parliament debating this bill, and we are very fortunate that we are in a democracy that allows us to do so. Part of our parliamentary democracy allows for freedom of thought, worship, speech and association. Many of us might have issues in relation to some of those areas, especially with people demonstrating or objecting. For example, when the Occupy Melbourne group sat in Treasury Gardens for quite some time, we did not have powers to move them on, and the former coalition government introduced move-on laws. They had the right to demonstrate. They had the right to seek to express their views in the way they did, but they became a nuisance, and that is why the former government introduced those laws.

Nevertheless, we live in this democracy where these sorts of views are expressed, and we can see that even at a national level, where some people get completely hysterical at the way political correctness is going and what you can and cannot say. It is concerning that we are restricted in many instances and there is a lack of freedom of expression and what our democracy is all based on.

When speaking on this bill, Ms Patten was actually speaking about my former school. I went to the local primary school, so a public school, and I went to the local high school, but then I went away to boarding school. She spoke about my former headmaster and my former maths teacher in her contribution this afternoon. She also spoke about religious organisations that covered up child abuse.

I was interjecting quite a bit during her contribution to the debate because I took this situation very seriously when I was on the committee that looked into this issue. We looked into all organisations religious organisations, sporting clubs and other groups that had covered up historical accounts of abuse. I think we have come a long way, but the frolic that Ms Patten went on in her contribution was a case of her just bunching all religious schools into the one group.

There are so many good people in these religious-based schools that do so many good things, teaching children, providing guidance and support and giving so much to so many children. I think it is very important that we maintain that ability for parents to choose and maintain freedom of religion, whether that is in independent schools, in worship-based institutions or in other areas. We are very tolerant. We are a multicultural society, and we should be tolerant and enable that to occur.

I felt Ms Patten was just speaking about all religious schools. Certainly they are two individuals that I knew personally and very well. Like others, I was shocked by what had gone on during the time that I was being taught by that particular master. I find it a little concerning that we are just going off on that tangent in this debate, whereas this is looking at one's ability to discriminate against another person because of their religious beliefs. As Ms Bath pointed out, she sat down with her potential future employer to speak about whether they would be a good match and she decided the answer was no, and they did not go ahead. She had the choice and the school had every choice to express what it wanted in relation to its expectations of people who were coming into that school community and how they would teach.

There are many independent schools in my electorate of Southern Metropolitan Region. They range from Baptist to Methodist, Church of England, Catholic, Jewish and other independent schools, and they all provide terrific educational facilities and outcomes for Victorians, as do our public schools. That is something that we should embrace, encourage and enable to occur.

However, what is expected in one religious school in terms of that school's outcomes may not be quite the same as another school's expectations. I think it is absolutely right to ensure that this bill does not then discriminate against all of those independent schools that want to have people working for them who understand their philosophies, their own cultural and community identities and beliefs so that they can actually have the people that they want.

Ms Patten Which they can.

Ms CROZIER Well, they can, but it is a bit ironic because, as I think others have pointed out, the Labor Party and other political parties like yours or the Greens choose people that they want to have working in their organisation that have similar beliefs and views. That is what we are talking about. The Labor Party is not going to hire my staffer, is it? And I am certainly not going to hire any of its staffers. But this is about beliefs and organisations being able to have conformity to their own doctrines. This would ensure that there can be lawful discrimination in the area of employment when that conformity of doctrines does not apply.

I think this is another ideologically driven bill by the Andrews government, which has indicated its strong ideological drive in a number of areas that I have already highlighted. It is incredibly dangerous for the state of Victoria to follow such a narrow view of many areas. I am not sure that all the Labor Party members would actually agree with this bill. In their heart of hearts, do the Christians that are in the Labor Party really believe in this? I am not sure that they do. They are toeing the line, as obviously they have to because of the political doctrine that they have, but I am sure there was a debate in their party room. I am sure that occurred, because I know there are some strong Christians in the Labor Party who have strong beliefs, and I am sure they would probably have difficulty with many aspects of this bill.

I will not go on for too much longer, but the shadow Attorney-General in the Legislative Assembly highlighted the opposition's case extremely well. The contribution to the debate by Ms Bath that I heard here also highlighted her concerns and recounted her real-life experience to illustrate how this bill could essentially be brought into being where a school had no ability really to decide for itself. It could just employ anyone who had any beliefs and just see how that worked out, and then goodness knows where it would end up if the matter was taken to Fair Work Australia or any other legal entity for some consideration. Even though the second-reading speech made mention of those so-called unintended consequences, the reality is that they could actually occur. With those few words, like other members of the opposition, I will be opposing this bill.



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