Discrimination Amendment Bill Introduced to ACT Parliament

Friday 9 November 2018 @ 1.28 p.m. | Legal Research

The Discrimination Amendment Bill 2018 (ACT) (the “Bill”) was introduced to the ACT Parliament’s House of Assembly on 1 November 2018, by Minister for Justice, Consumer Affairs and Road Safety, Shane Rattenbury, and Minister for Social Inclusion and Equality, Andrew Barr.

The Bill proposes to make amendments to the Discrimination Act 1991 (ACT) (the “Act”).

Background to the Bill

As indicated in the Bill’s Explanatory Statement (the “ES”), the Bill:

“… makes reforms to the Discrimination Act 1991 to:
  • Strengthen protections against discrimination for both students and employees/contractors in educational institutions conducted for religious purposes; and
  • Provide a limited exception for educational institutions conducted for religious purposes to discriminate against employees and contractors, and students on admission, but only on the grounds of religious conviction, and not other protected attributes such as sexuality.”

Overview of the Amendments

By inserting a new section 32(2), the Bill clarifies that a general exception for religious bodies in section 32 will not apply to employment or contracting; or the admission, treatment and continued enrolment of students; in religious educational institutions.

The Bill will introduce amendments to the Act to repeal the exceptions in section 33 of the Act that “allow educational institutions conducted for religious purposes to discriminate against students and employees/contractors in relation to any protected attribute, including sexuality and gender identity”.

The Bill’s ES indicates it also:

“… introduces a limited exception allowing religious educational institutions to discriminate in employment or contracting, only on the grounds of the religious conviction of employees or contractors. This exception does not apply unless the religious educational institution has published its policy in relation to staff matters and this is readily accessible to current and prospective employees and contractors.”

It also amends an existing limited exception in relation to students, which allows religious educational institutions to discriminate in relation to admission of a student, but only on the grounds of religious conviction of the student (or their family).

Comment on the Proposed Amendments

In his Second Reading speech, Minister Barr said:

“ … This bill will improve the protection from discrimination provided by our Discrimination Act for both students and staff in non-government religious schools … the Ruddock review into religious freedom, genuine concerns have been raised about exceptions in anti-discrimination laws at commonwealth, state and territory level that might allow students to be expelled or teachers to be fired because they are gay or because of their gender identity or other attributes protected by the Discrimination Act …”

Review of Religious Freedom

In November 2017, the Federal Government announced the appointment of an Expert Panel to examine whether Australian law (Commonwealth, State and Territory) adequately protects the human right to freedom of religion, with the Hon Philip Ruddock being appointed Chair of the Panel (the “Ruddock Review”). After receiving more than 15,500 submissions the Panel delivered its Report to the Prime Minister on 18 May 2018.

The Terms of Reference for the Review included:

  • consider the intersections between the enjoyment of the freedom of religion and other human rights;
  • have regard to any previous or ongoing reviews or inquiries that it considers relevant; and
  • consult as widely as it considers necessary.

In a Statement of May 2018, the Panel commented:

“…the Expert Panel conducting the Religious Freedom Review provided its Report on freedom of religion in Australia. This Report is the culmination of a nationwide consultation process, including a public submission process and face-to-face meetings in every State and Territory. The Report reflects the input that the Panel received throughout the life of this process, research undertaken and the individual expertise of the Panel members … Now that the Report has been delivered to the Prime Minister, the work of the Panel has been completed …”

The full report from the Ruddock Review has not yet been made public.

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