The Australian Law Reform Commission has now released a Consultation Paper for its current reference on “Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws”. The paper, while formally acknowledging the importance of religious freedom and parental rights, will be a serious disappointment to those involved in religious schools and colleges. It effectively recommends the removal of protections enjoyed by religious educational institutions which have been designed to safeguard the ability of these organisations to operate in accordance with their religious beliefs. The “fences” protecting these bodies from being forced to conform to majority views on sexual behaviour and identity (and hence losing their distinctiveness as religious bodies) are to be knocked down, the ALRC says. But the paper offers no convincing reasons for this wholesale demolition of a structure which has served the diversity and plurality of the Australian community for many years. Rather than supporting “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion”, the paper’s recommendations would require a compulsory uniformity which would undermine the reasons for the existence of faith-based educational institutions.
ALRC Schools and discrimination inquiry
ALRC inquiry into Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws
The Commonwealth Attorney-General has announced that the Australian Law Reform Commission will be conducting an inquiry into the general area of “Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws”. Detailed information about the inquiry can be seen at their home page.
Readers may recall that the ALRC had previously been given a wider inquiry by the former government: the web-page notes that
The Terms of Reference replace a previous Inquiry into religious exemptions in anti-discrimination legislation that has been on hold since March 2020.
This new inquiry, while narrower in terms of being limited to religious educational institutions, comes with a number of assumptions that some may find problematic:
The Terms of Reference describe the Government’s commitments as ensuring ‘that an educational institution conducted in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed:
- must not discriminate against a student on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy;
- must not discriminate against a member of staff on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy;
- can continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion as the educational institution in the selection of staff’.
The Commission has indicated that it will have regard to submissions made to the previous inquiry, but that it also “will undertake further consultations”. Organisations and individuals who are interested in making submissions to the inquiry (when public submissions are called for) can “subscribe” to email updates from the ALRC here. Given that the inquiry has quite a tight timeline (it is due to report on 21 April 2023) I suspect that submissions may need to be put together fairly quickly over the Christmas/New Year period.
The ALRC has now released a consultation timetable (which can be seen here) which indicates that they will be releasing a discussion paper for general comments on 27 January 2023, to which responses need to be provided by 24 February 2023.