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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 12 Hansard (Thursday, 1 November 2018) . . Page.. 4615 ..


and Road Safety and Minister for Mental Health) (10.31): I am pleased to co-sponsor this bill, which will improve our Discrimination Act by strengthening protections against discrimination for both students and staff in religious schools. Discrimination against students because of their sexuality, gender identity or other attributes causes lasting damage and can seriously affect mental health and wellbeing, as well as engagement and attainment at school.

No child or young person should be made to feel ashamed of who they are in an institution designed to protect and educate them. Discrimination against teachers and staff can also have a devastating impact on individuals and on students and broader school communities. Our laws are an expression of our values as a society. It is clear that discrimination against LGBTIQ students or staff is not acceptable in our diverse and inclusive territory.

Exceptions in our Discrimination Act that may permit this to occur are not in keeping with our commitment to human rights and equality. This bill makes changes to provide greater protections for the equality rights of students and staff, while not unreasonably limiting the right to religious freedom in accordance with the Human Rights Act.

The bill responds to public concerns and reflects the expectations and values of our progressive, diverse and inclusive community in the ACT. The bill will repeal the broad exceptions in section 33 of the Discrimination Act that currently allows religious schools to discriminate against students and staff in relation to any protected attribute, including sexuality and gender identity, where this is done in good faith to avoid injury to religious susceptibilities.

The bill retains, but qualifies, an existing limited exception in relation to students, which allows religious schools to discriminate in relation to admission of a student, but only on the grounds of religious conviction of the student or their family. The bill qualifies this exception by providing that it does not apply unless the religious educational institution has published its policy in relation to admissions and this is readily accessible to prospective and current students and families.

This means that it will be incumbent on schools seeking to rely on this exception to be clear and transparent about the way in which their faith influences its admission practices. We consider that this exception is reasonable to allow schools to give preference to students of the religion for which the school has been established, for example, for an Islamic school to choose to admit only Muslim students or to give priority to Muslim students.

Allowing this freedom to create a school community where students and families share a religious conviction can serve an important purpose, particularly for minority communities, in creating a space where religious needs are understood and respected. However, it is important that prospective students and families understand the enrolment criteria of the school and that these criteria are applied consistently.

This bill will ensure that once a student is admitted to a school, no discrimination will be permitted against them on any ground. This reflects our commitment to the


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