In 2011, the Vic State Government sought to change the Equal Opportunity Act in order to give more rights to religious bodies to discriminate against job applicants on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Attorney General Robert Clark, a social conservative, wanted to make it legal and easier for religious schools to refuse to employ a LGBTIQ teacher, gardener or office assistant. It extended further to include faith based welfare service providers to be legally allowed to say ‘no’ to employing a LGBTIQ social worker or case manager.
In other areas, such as accommodation, local government or state schools, such discrimination is illegal. An exception or exemption is required to make it legal to discriminate.
The exception sought in this case was the most serious attack on our rights that we had seen in years. Changing the Equal Opportunity Act in this manner would take our fight for equality and the removal of all forms of discrimination backwards at a rapid pace.
The Lobby prepared a position paper, which was sent to targeted MPs, met with a number of supportive MPs and set about informing our members and the community about these draconian changes. No reply to our request to meet was received from AG Clark. The Lobby also supported the work of Sue Hackney in setting up the website http://www.equalrightsvictoria.com.au/ and directed hundreds to sign the petition.
The vote was held in parliament in May 2011. As the Liberal National Coalition has a narrow majority, the bill was expected to pass, despite fierce opposition. BUT, in extraordinary circumstances in Parliament, MP Mary Wooldridge missed the vote and the bill was lost.
Standing orders of parliament state that if a bill is lost, it can’t be bought back unless it is substantially different. The Liberals argued that Wooldridge’s intent was clear – that she had intended to support the bill – so therefore they should be allowed to have another go.
This involved changing the long standing laws of parliament, which they did. They changed the law in order to have this bill pass.
When the bill was bought back the following week, debate lasted well into the night (hansard link coming!) with the Labor party and the Greens outraged that the Baillieu Government were so intent on pushing through such a backward, discriminatory bil. The second vote was successful.
This issue also bought to light the appalling homophobia of the Member for Frankston Geoff Shaw when responding to an email from a young constituent.
Where to from here??
Separate to the religious exemptions issue, but occurring around the same time, was the four yearly review of the Human Rights Charter by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee. The Lobby’s submission can be seen in Submissions.
Worrying, the Chair of the SARC was another ultra conservative, Ed O’Donohue, who has been a critic of the charter. However, Baillieu has indicated he’d like it to stay.
This is not set in stone yet, and the Lobby urge the Victorian Government not to further wind back our rights by scrapping the Charter.