The IEU has a long history of seeking to strengthen anti-discrimination laws to protect staff and students.
No part of society should be left unprotected, and this has informed the IEU’s strong opposition to both the federal Religious Discrimination Bill (now withdrawn) and One Nation's so-called Parental Rights Bill in NSW (rejected by the NSW Government on 16 March).
At a federal level, anti-discrimination laws in Australia date from the Racial Discrimination Act in 1975 and the Australian Human Rights Commission has statutory responsibilities under them.
All states and territories have an anti discrimination legal framework dating from the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.
Commonwealth laws and the state/territory laws generally overlap and prohibit the same type of discrimination but there are differences, as the recently withdrawn federal Religious Discrimination Bill showed.
NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
The NSW Act covers discrimination based on race, including colour, nationality, descent and ethnic, ethno-religious or national origin, sex, including pregnancy and breastfeeding, marital or domestic status, disability, homosexuality, age, transgender status, and carer responsibilities.
Sexual harassment and vilification based on race, homosexuality, transgender status, or HIV/AIDS status are also prohibited under this Act.
Note, however, the exceptions in NSW under clause 55 Charities, clause 56 Religious Bodies or the broad exemptions for ‘private educational authorities’ for sex, marital and domestic status, homosexuality, transgender and some aspects of disability (although this may be covered by the federal Disability Discrimination Act).
There are no exemptions for race and age for ‘private educational authorities’ under the NSW Act and the IEU was successful in arguing against exemptions for carer’s responsibilities, breast feeding and sexual harassment when they came under the legislation. All of the anti vilification provisions of the Act also apply, with no exemptions in the non-government education sector.
ACT Discrimination Act 1991
The ACT legislation covers discrimination based on sex, sexuality, gender identity, relationship status, status as a parent or carer, pregnancy, breastfeeding, race, religious or political conviction, disability, including aid of assistance animal, industrial activity, age, profession, trade, occupation or calling, spent conviction, and association (as a relative or otherwise) with a person who has one of the above attributes. Sexual harassment and vilification based on race are also prohibited.
As noted above, faith-based schools have enjoyed wide-ranging exemptions to anti-discrimination laws. Specifically, the federal Sex Discrimination Act stipulates it is not unlawful for a religious educational institution to discriminate against a person on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy – if the discrimination is “in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”.
These provisions are contained in section 38 of the Act. It was last changed in 2013 when the then Labor government overhauled anti-discrimination laws to protect people from discrimination against not only marital status and pregnancy but sexual orientation and gender identity. Exemptions for religious educational institutions were changed to include those attributes.
The way forward
The IEU has a long record of campaigning for social justice and human rights and believes that any discrimination against individuals or groups is completely unacceptable.
The IEU campaigned successfully against the Parental Rights Bill in NSW and will continue to campaign against any further version of the federal Religious Discrimination Bill that allows or facilitates other forms of discrimination. We also have an enduring commitment to removing the inappropriate exemptions in both the federal Sex Discrimination Act and in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.
All staff and students should feel safe, valued and respected in their life, work and learning.