Advocacy groups welcome Victorian bill aiming to tighten anti-discrimination laws

If the bill is passed, the state’s anti-discrimination laws will be narrowed to ensure religious organisations can’t fire or turn away people who identify as LGBTQ+.

LGBTIQ+ flag.

The activist was detained in Lebanon. Source: AAP

Advocacy groups have welcomed new proposed laws introduced by the Victorian government that would prohibit religious organisations from discriminating against their stakeholders. 

The Victorian government on Wednesday introduced the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 to state parliament, which would narrow the scope of discrimination in the current laws.

"Our extensive consultation has been crucial to making sure these laws recognise the important needs of faith communities and protect Victorians from discrimination based on who they are," Victoria's attorney general Jaclyn Symes said.


As it currently stands, religious organisations have the freedom to make employment decisions on staff and applicants based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or parental status. 

It also means that any Victorian organisation can refuse to provide their services to LGBTQ+ people who seek assistance, including safety refuges or food banks. 

Equality Australia says this has left people from the LGBTQ+ community turned away from jobs or sacked from their existing roles at faith-based services, irrespective of whether their roles relate to the respective religious beliefs.

"Not only do LGBTQ+ people experience the injustice of being turned away from a service or losing their job because of who they are, but the very existence of these laws causes harm," CEO of Equality Australia Anna Brown told SBS News. 

"We live in fear of discrimination and are more likely not to disclose our gender identity or sexual orientation, or simply choose not to access services at all," she said. 

But Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) says the bill places unfair strain on religious schools which provided a commitment to its fee-paying parents that their staff would act as ambassadors for the religion’s values. 

"A Christian school should be able to insist their staff are advocates for the value of the schools and the parents expect that of the school," ACL deputy director Dan Flynn said.

"It’s an extraordinary attack on religious freedom in Christian schools - right when schools are doing it tough, just out of lockdown … the government should not be dictating to a Christian school who it can employ or in what roles," he said.

Ms Brown highlighted the intersectionality of the issue, saying "there are people out there who are gay, or bisexual or transgender, and they could be devoutly Christian and it shouldn’t have to be a choice."

While the bill is celebrated by Equality Australia, it still allows non-government funded organisations to refuse their services to LGBTQ+ people - something the group is lobbying to change.

The proposed reforms are set to be debated in parliament in November, where advocacy groups like Equality Australia hope it will be met with bipartisan support.

3 min read
Published 29 October 2021 at 8:18pm
By Rayane Tamer
Source: SBS News