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Media release: Vote on discrimination act allows for 'better alternative', says church

Church hopes for "full and patient public debate" on proposed amendments to Sex Discrimination Act

December 4 2018The Anglican Church in Melbourne is relieved that the Labor Party’s proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act failed in Federal Parliament yesterday (Monday 3 December) as this allows a better alternative.

The Church supports the intent of the amendment to protect school students from discrimination on grounds of sexual identity, but the proposal rejected yesterday was unbalanced, according to the chair of the church’s Social Responsibilities Commission, the Revd Dr Gordon Preece.

Dr Preece said the “prudent alternative” was to release the Ruddock report into religious freedoms and the government’s proposals this week, then to have a full and patient public debate, as promised when the Gay Marriage Bill was passed late last year.

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Australia, Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier, along with other church and community leaders, has urged the Government to release the Ruddock report, which it received in May.

Dr Preece said: “The inordinate delay in releasing the Ruddock report and leaking of some decontextualised parts in October has caused increased community concern about existing exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act. This included speculation about their potential to impact sexual minority or LGBTIQ sexually oriented students at religious schools.”

He said a bipartisan effort to amend the act had broken down, making the issue a “populist political football” and threatening the interlocking connections of mutual rights, freedoms and responsibilities of individuals and institutions, and of religion and civil society.

The situation is worse in Australia, because it is almost the only democracy without a charter of human rights and responsibilities, according to Dr Preece.

He said Labor Senator Penny Wong’s intention to protect LGBTIQ students was good, and supported by most churches and religious schools.

But the Bill’s lack of consultation, hurried drafting, and loose wording could well cause disproportionate loss of fundamental freedoms of religion, conscience and voice. It could restrict the freedom of religious schools, adult colleges and religious bodies to teach, model and practice their values in any way seen by some as discriminatory against people of certain sexual orientation, relationship status or gender identity. It could lead to costly and long complaints and lawsuits.

Dr Preece says Parliament needs a positive proposal recognising the rights of groups, leaders, families and employers to embody their faith or values and expect staff to publicly reflect them in their behaviour, at least on the job or at school.

“Such rights of association, faith and value affiliation, and public behaviour expectation are something religious bodies, clubs, unions and business groups share, which Labor recognises.”

Read the Revd Dr Gordon Preece's viewpoint here.