View Australian Labor Party of Victoria Responses

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Public Christianity

1. Equal Opportunity – inherent requirements test

Of the inherent requirements test in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010, chief executive of the Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Helen Szoke said, "Religious schools or religious charities ... will have to show how belonging to a particular religion is relevant to the job they are trying to fill". Will your Party support the removal of the inherent requirements test from the EO Act, which creates uncertainty for faith-based schools and service-providers?

Australian Labor Party of Victoria

The Brumby Labor Government introduced changes to the Equal Opportunity Act which create greater certainty and which better balance the right of individuals to be free from discrimination, with the right to religious freedom. The changes:

  • Narrow the scope of the current religious exceptions to ensure that religious groups can no longer discriminate on the grounds of race, disability, age, physical features, political belief or activity, and breastfeeding.
  • Enable religious groups to continue to discriminate on other grounds, including religious belief or sexuality, if it is in accordance with their religious beliefs or is necessary to avoid injury to religious sensitivities.
  • Where religious groups do wish to discriminate in relation to employment, they will need to show that conforming with religious beliefs is an inherent requirement of the job on offer, taking into account the religious context of the employer organisation.

The position on the religious exceptions was developed after careful consultation with Churches of all faiths, the community and other stakeholders. Labor believes the amendments preserve the rights of religious bodies and schools to follow their religious doctrines while more tightly prescribing the circumstances in which discrimination is allowed. Labor will not be removing the inherent requirements test, which it believes is necessary to the integrity of the remaining exception. The new Act will still allow religious bodies to employ people of a particular faith and to require staff to adhere to the values of the organisation.

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2. Equal Opportunity – VHREOC own-motion powers

The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 grants the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission unprecedented and wide-ranging powers to initiate an investigation into any matter relating to the operation of the Act without receiving a prior complaint. Does your Party support the removal of this extraordinary prerogative from the VHREOC?

Australian Labor Party of Victoria

The Brumby Labor Government reformed the role of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to:

  • Take a proactive approach to inequality, with an emphasis on education, training, facilitating dispute resolution and assisting compliance by working with business to prevent discrimination and develop healthy and positive work and service environments.
  • Move away from relying on individual complaints as a way of tackling systemic discrimination to an approach which creates a positive duty on employers, schools and other providers and acknowledges the wider impact on groups of people who might be experiencing discrimination – for example, if an organisation systematically fired every worker who became pregnant, or who revealed they were a Christian.
  • For the Commission to initiate an investigation, it must be a serious matter, it must involve a possible contravention of the Act, and it must involve discrimination against a class of people. While safeguards will apply to the conduct of investigations, the focus of the Commission will be on education and helping businesses to comply.

Labor will retain this extended role for the Commission, as it believes it is an important step in addressing entrenched discrimination and encouraging social inclusion. While these reforms are significant, they are by no means radical or unprecedented. Various equal opportunity commissions in other jurisdictions have similar investigatory powers and, in fact, Labor did not adopt a recommendation from the initial review to allow the Commission to conduct own motion inquiries. Labor also rejected the recommendation to give the Commission search and seizure powers.

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3. Religious vilification

The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 had as its stated objective the promotion of racial and religious tolerance. However the Acts' civil provisions remain contentious, as evidenced by the notorious 'two Dannies case'. Will you commit to a review of the RRTA to re-examine the need for the civil provisions which encourage individuals to take legal action against people of other faiths?

Australian Labor Party of Victoria
  • A review of the Act was conducted in 2005, and amendments made to clarify and support the right of people to engage in robust discussion, provided it does not vilify others.
  • Labor is aware that the ACL participated in the Eames Hate Crimes Review, in which the RRTA was considered, and takes this opportunity to thank the ACL for its input.
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4. Role for the Church

Christian charities and churches play an important public role in Victoria in the provision of services in the areas of education, welfare and health. What has your Party done to foster good relationships with religious communities, and how does it plan to work with them during the life of the next parliament?

Australian Labor Party of Victoria
  • Labor knows that the Churches, Christian people, and Christian values have played –and are still playing, and will continue to play – a vital role in making Victoria a stronger, better, and fairer community.

Victoria today is a diverse, multicultural, and multifaith society and Labor believes in encouraging the voices of faith to be heard. That’s why Premier John Brumby has regularly met with religious leaders of all traditions, including the Christian Churches. It’s why we hosted the Parliament of the World’s Religions late last year. It’s why since 2006, Labor has invested over $6.1 million in our Promoting Harmony initiative, which includes grants for multifaith community projects.

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