Catholic Church demands answers from Minns government over equality bill

Si Gladman / 24 June 2024

The Catholic Church has used its membership on the new New South Wales Faith Affairs Council to demand answers from the state government as to why it has allowed equality legislation to progress in parliament.

Documents obtained by the Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) under freedom of information laws show that Monica Doumit, Director of Public Affairs and Engagement for the Archdiocese of Sydney, asked the Faith Affairs Council to question the government in regards to its handling of Independent MP Alex Greenwich’s proposed legislation.

Mr Greenwich’s Equality Legislation Amendment (LGBTIQA+) Bill 2023 – known as the ‘equality bill’ – was due to lapse at the end of last year. On the second-last day of the setting calendar, the parliament supported a Greenwich motion to extend the time for debate on the bill until mid March 2024. 

In a letter obtained by the RSA, Ms Doumit (pictured) clarified for the chair of the Faith Affairs Council what she had requested at an earlier meeting of the Faith Affairs Council.

“I requested that the Government provide a response to the Faith Affairs Council as to why it gave an extension of time to this bill (it was due to lapse in December), gave it priority for debate and committed to a vote being held on the bill before it lapsed, even if it meant debate was truncated,” she wrote. 

“I think this is important because it provides an action item for the government ahead of the next meeting.”

The parliament has since given Mr Greenwich’s legislation a further extension of time – until August this year – and sent it to a committee inquiry. The committee handed down a report earlier this month.

Ms Doumit also requested the Faith Affairs Council seek answers from the government in regards to public comments by Premier Chris Minns and Deputy Premier Prue Car in support of a same-sex student at a Catholic school.

In October, a Year 12 student at St Ursula’s College, Kingsgrove, attracted thousands of signatures to a petition calling for the school to reverse its decision to ban same-sex couples from the Year 12 formal.

Ms Doumit told the Faith Affairs Council that the government leaders’ comments were problematic because no one from the government had spoken to the school, Sydney Catholic Schools, or the archdiocese prior to making them.

She also said that the comments could indicate that the right of schools to make such policies, as protected by the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, could be in jeopardy, and warned that the equality bill would remove such rights.

“We have been verbally told that the government does not intend to support the Greenwich changes to anti-discrimination laws, but its prioritisation of the Greenwich bill, along with the comments from the Premier and Deputy Premier, indicate the complete opposite,” she wrote.

“As you might appreciate, this is not just a matter about one formal at one school, but a general approach to faith-based schools. I would like a response from the Government and for it to be on the agenda at the next meeting.”

The Minns government excluded non-religious and ex-religious voices when it established the Faith Affairs Council late last year.

The Rationalist Society of Australia had warned that, if it excluded non-religious and ex-religious voices, the government would be privileging the already powerful voices of religious leaders even further in policy making.

For more articles about what documents obtained under freedom of information laws have revealed about the Faith Affairs Council, see the following:

Si Gladman is Executive Director of the Rationalist Society of Australia. He also hosts ‘The Secular Agenda’ podcast.

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Image: Screengrab, Freedom For Faith (YouTube)

All the more reason.