Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Sittings . . . . PDF . . . . Video

Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 27 November 2018) . . Page.. 4887 ..

religion. This groundbreaking change in the ACT means that members of religious groups who might be affected by people inciting hatred, revulsion, serious contempt or severe ridicule towards them because of their religion can make a complaint of vilification to the ACT Human Rights Commission. If not able to be resolved by the commission, these cases can be considered by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal and compensation can be awarded. Serious vilification is made an offence under the Criminal Code.

We now also specifically recognise in our Discrimination Act the special significance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and spiritual practices, observances and beliefs. We now explicitly protect cultural rights under the attribute of religious conviction.

These important changes were brought about as the result of a detailed review of the Discrimination Act by the Law Reform Advisory Council, LRAC, in 2015, chaired by Professor Simon Rice OAM. LRAC made a range of recommendations and some, such as the new protected attributes and protection from religious vilification, were able to be implemented as discrete reforms in the implementation of the first tranche of recommendations in 2016.

However, there are still aspects of our Discrimination Act that require further consideration and reform to ensure that our legislation properly protects and supports our diverse and inclusive community. These include the range of exceptions from discrimination that are currently provided in the act. The Discrimination Amendment Bill reforms an overly broad exception that applies to religious educational institutions. The leaked recommendations of the Ruddock review drew attention to the existence of such exceptions that are included in the commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act and in most state and territory laws, including our own.

This exception could potentially be relied upon by religious educational institutions to discriminate against staff or students on the basis of any protected attribute, including sexuality, gender identity and intersex status. This exception may seldom be relied upon in our ACT schools, and many faith-based schools have been appalled by the suggestion that they would expel a gay student or fire a transgender teacher. Nevertheless, the existence of this broad exception is not consistent with our values as an inclusive community or with the objects of our Discrimination Act, which include eliminating discrimination to the greatest extent possible and promoting and protecting the rights of equality before the law under the Human Rights Act 2004.

This bill has been developed to address this issue of public concern in a way that is swift and decisive but also measured and consistent with our obligations as a human rights jurisdiction. It follows the approach taken in the Tasmanian anti-discrimination legislation, which has operated effectively and concurrently with commonwealth laws for many years.

The bill will protect students and teachers from discrimination in religious educational institutions on grounds other than their religious conviction. It will still allow a degree of autonomy for religious educational institutions to admit students and employ staff who share a particular religious conviction, provided that the institution publishes a

Next page . . . . Previous page . . . . Speeches . . . . Contents . . . . Sittings . . . . PDF . . . . Video