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Legislative exemptions that allow faith-based educational institutions to discriminate against students, teachers and staff

29 November 2018
 

On 21 November 2018, the Law Council made a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee regarding its inquiry into ‘Legislative exemptions that allow faith-based educational institutions to discriminate against students, teachers and staff’.

It called for the Ruddock Religious Freedoms Review report to be released, noting the difficulties inherent in contributing to the inquiry without this report. It further reinforced that any anti-discrimination reforms should be in a comprehensive rather than piecemeal manner, calling for a consolidated anti-discrimination act and a human rights charter to overcome the current fragmented approach to rights protection.

This would include increased federal protection against religious-based discrimination. The submission noted that while freedom of religion was an absolute human right, the manifestation of religious expression was subject to limitation and should not be protected at the expense of other rights and freedoms, including the rights of the child and of equality and non-discrimination.

The Law Council recommended that Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) exemptions applying to religious institutions regarding students should be repealed, given the harm caused for LGBT children. It further considered that if religious school exemptions regarding employees or contractors were to be maintained, there should be consideration by Parliament as to whether this is justified, necessary and proportionate, querying whether sufficient justifications existed for the likely harms caused.

In the latter context, it emphasised the need for consistency across the full suite of relevant legislation, noting that staff/contractor exemptions interact with similar federal provisions, and that any amendments or repeal of the SDA exemptions required careful consideration of this broader interaction. The Law Council is grateful for the contributions it received from Constituent Bodies and committee members within the particularly urgent inquiry timeframes.

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