Parliament Religion

Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016

14 September 2016

Second reading

Mr WALSH (Murray Plains) — Because there is a long list of speakers on this side of the house that want to make contributions on this bill, we on this side of the house have agreed to keep our comments relatively short and give as many members as possible a chance to speak. Can I start off by saying that I just do not accept the views put forward by the Minister for Equality in his contribution. The spin he has put on this is just that: it is all spin. This is not about the things he is saying. This is about the government’s agenda to tear down the social fabric of this state. I cannot think of a more important bill that I have opposed that has come to this place. I think this is fundamental to the way a lot of our society works. The minister wanted respect while he spoke, but he cannot be bothered listening now so he is walking out. That is about the standard of this particular minister in this house. That reflects more on him than on anyone else in here, I think.

After being elected to government in 2010 one of the very good things we were able to do, along with a whole list of other things, was repeal some of the provisions in the Equal Opportunity Bill 2010 before it was enacted in this state. That was one of the things we could do before the rights of those religious bodies and religious schools were stripped away on this particular issue. If this bill does get through the upper house, as the member for Hawthorn has said, we have given a commitment that if elected to government in 2018, we will reverse this back to where it is now, to where it is that the government is trying to take it away from. We make a very clear commitment to all the people of Victoria, to the people of those religious bodies and to the people of those religious schools: we will reverse this if we are elected to government in 2018 — no ifs, no buts, no maybes. We will reverse this as we did in 2011. That is an absolute commitment now.

This is bad legislation. As I said, it is part of the Labor Party’s misguided social agenda in this state to tear down the rights of the organisations that we have been talking about and particularly to get stuck into anyone who disagrees with the Premier. The Premier talks about wanting respect and everyone being treated equal. This is about ‘Do as I say, not as I do’, because if you go to this legislation, there is still the right for political parties to discriminate in who they employ. If you go to section 78 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, the Premier can choose who he employs in his office, but he is now telling other people, ‘I’ll have a say in who you can employ’. This is a ridiculous attitude. I absolutely categorically oppose this particular piece of legislation.

After being in this place for a long time, when it comes to the Labor Party I am a cynic. I am sure they have already identified the person or persons who will apply for a job at a particular religious school knowing that they will be knocked back on that particular job and that there will be a court case in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). This is about setting this up to make sure there are some examples made so that they can run their social agenda. Someone — one, two, however many people — will apply for jobs knowing they will not get them; they will probably actively work to make sure they do not get them so they can take the issue to VCAT and put one of these organisations through the cost and the process of having to defend their right to employ who they may want to employ. Let us be in no doubt about the agenda of the other side on this particular issue. It is about their moral views of the world — a very narrow moral view of how Victoria should be in the future — not about the rights of organisations to go about their particular business in this state. I am absolutely and categorically opposed to this bill.

What does this legislation do? It strips away faith‑based exemptions now granted to religious institutions in equal opportunity law. Churches and Christian schools will be prohibited from showing preference towards Christian‑believing job applicants unless the courts can be convinced that adherence to the Christian faith is an inherent requirement of a given job. The bill, as I said, resurrects the previous legislation passed under the Brumby government but repealed by the coalition before it could come into effect. Again, if it comes into effect and we have the opportunity and the privilege to form government after November 2018, we will repeal it again. I know the member for Essendon smiles about that. I look forward to seeing him on the opposition benches after that particular election because that will just be so sweet.

Can I just put on the record the views of a couple of people who have sent emails to me. One is from Peter and Christine Smith from the River City Christian College in Echuca, who say:

As parents, it is important to us that school is able to employ staff in keeping with this mission. We chose faith‑based education and expected the school to be able to make the best choices it could to deliver that outcome.

The email continues:

Please uphold the right of our family, and other similar constituents, to choose an education in keeping with our faith.

That is what we are doing in our opposition to this bill, and our commitment to repeal it if it is passed and if we get the opportunity in government in 2018. The email continues:

Religious freedom is not only important for those people of faith. It is a highly significant principle of human rights and should not be lightly tampered with.

I think that is what this bill does. It does tamper with those particular rights of those people.

Can I also quote Rabbi Shimon Cowen, son of Sir Zelman Cowen. He says:

Here the government moves into religious schools and restricts the ability of schools to educate their students in the values and ethos of their faith. It is a freedom of parents, guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Australia is a signatory, to raise and educate children in their own beliefs. Very simply, children are raised in their religion not only by what they are told (by a religious studies teacher), but also through their environment, the school environment and its ethos. If personnel of the school, who are not religious studies teachers, express values, beliefs and flaunt lifestyles which are contrary to the religious beliefs of the school, this negates and undoes the religious values, which the school has the task to impart to its students. The bill works to undermine the ethos and environment of religious schools.

I think that is at the nub of what we are talking about with this particular piece of legislation. As I said, we oppose it. We will repeal it in the future if it is passed.

Can I just come back to that last thing again to finish off: under section 74 of the Equal Opportunity Act the Premier and all those members on the other side of the house as a political party have the right to discriminate in who they employ. They are taking this right away from religious bodies and religious schools, and I think that is just wrong. It reflects so badly on the Premier, it reflects so badly on the Labor government, it reflects so badly on the Labor Party in general that they would actually propose something like this, and I hope and pray that this bill will be defeated in the upper house.


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