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Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 – Senate Committee hearing

14 February 2019
 

On 7 February 2019, the Law Council appeared before the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee regarding inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018.

At the hearing, Ms Kate Eastman SC, Chair of the Law Council’s Equal Opportunity Committee, highlighted that the inquiry must be based on an understanding of Australia’s relevant international human rights obligations, including the freedom to manifest religion, the right to equality and non-discrimination, and ensuring the best interests of the child as a primary consideration.

She said these rights should be protected and balanced in a coherent legal framework. Reforms in this area, which should include strengthening federal protections against discrimination on the basis of religion, should therefore occur in the context of moving towards a consolidated anti-discrimination law and a national Human Rights Act.

While preferring comprehensive rather than piecemeal reform, the Law Council generally supported the passage of the Bill, which repealed existing Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) exemptions applying to religious educational institutions with respect to students. It reiterated that children should not be discriminated against, and that laws which added to LGBT children’s trauma or stigmatised them by permitting discrimination were not in their best interests.

The Law Council’s recent Justice Project recently highlighted the harm done to LGBTI people, including young people, who experience discrimination in Australia. However, the Law Council also supported an amendment to narrow the effect of proposed subsection 37(3) in the Bill.

This would avoid its inadvertent application outside religious educational institution settings. The Law Council also queried whether there was sufficient justification to retain existing SDA exemptions concerning staff and contractors of religious educational institutions, in light of the harm caused.

However, it considered that these exemptions should be reviewed alongside other relevant federal legislation in this area, including under the Fair Work Act 2009.

The Law Council’s submission is available here.

A link to the Committee’s inquiry about the Bill is available here.

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