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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 27 November 2018) . . Page.. 4885 ..


limitations must be proportionate and only go as far as is absolutely necessary to achieve a legitimate objective. The protection of the right to religious freedom was considered very carefully in drafting this bill. We did not simply remove all exceptions relating to religious educational institutions, as we recognised that the right to religious freedom entitles parents to send their children to a school that conforms to their religious beliefs.

While many faith-based schools are, in fact, open to all, some parents may choose to send their children to a faith-based school that is part of a homogenous religious community where staff and students share a certain religious conviction. Where it is made clear in publicly available policies that this is how a school is intended to operate, then it may be reasonable for schools to discriminate in terms of the admission of students and the selection and employment of staff. But only—I repeat, only—on the grounds of the religious conviction of the student or staff member, not because of other protected personal attributes.

In practice, this would mean that a school that is conducted solely for students of a particular religion can choose to admit students of that religion. For example, a Jewish school may only accept Jewish students if that is their policy. However, such a school could not discriminate against a student because they come from a same-sex family, as that would be discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and association. For teachers and other staff, schools will still be able to discriminate on the grounds of the religious conviction of the staff member, if this is in their policies, and if the discrimination is to enable or to better enable the institution to be conducted in accordance with its doctrines, tenets and beliefs or teachings.

Some concerns have been raised by religious organisations regarding the effect of these amendments on churches or other religious bodies that might, for example, run Sunday school classes or bible study groups as part of their broader activities. So let me be clear; it is not intended that these activities would be affected by the amendment. This amendment relates to religious educational institutions. “Educational institution” is defined in the Discrimination Act to mean a school, college, university or other institution at which education or training is provided. This definition would cover institutions like schools, colleges and universities that have the primary function of providing education or training to students.

It is not intended that a church should be considered an educational institution because of the ancillary activities that it might conduct. I note that a separate exception is provided in section 32(b) of the Discrimination Act for the training or education of people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order. That will not be affected by the bill.

Madam Deputy Speaker, we recognise that we are moving quickly—quicker than the Prime Minister, who said he would move even quicker than us—to rectify this issue of public concern. But I make no apology for acting swiftly to reassure our ACT community that discrimination against students and staff on the grounds of sexuality and other personal protected attributes will not be accepted in Canberra.


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