RSA calls on McGowan government to commit to removing exceptions

Si Gladman / 15 August 2022

The Rationalist Society of Australia has called on the McGowan government to commit to removing most religious exceptions from its anti-discrimination laws.

With the West Australian government considering its response to a review of the state’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984, the RSA has written to Attorney-General John Quigley (pictured) to urge the government to act on the exemptions issue.

In a letter to Mr Quigley, RSA spokesperson for Western Australia, Vicki Caulfield, said the McGowan government should show courage and follow the lead of other states, such as Victoria, that have recently removed religious exceptions from their anti-discrimination laws.

The Law Reform Commission of Western Australia has completed its review of the state’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984. The final report is still to be published and tabled in parliament.

In a submission to the LRCWA last year, the RSA argued that the current laws in Western Australia allowed religious institutions to harm the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

“In the submission, we also argued that the religious exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act appear to ignore the fact that religious bodies are routinely funded from the public purse to provide services on behalf of government,” Ms Caulfield told Mr Quigley. 

“Thus, allowing church-based service providers the right to discriminate while non-religious/secular providers cannot is unfair and unreasonable.

“We strongly believe the rights of religious bodies to discriminate causes much harm in the West Australian community and are no longer appropriate for our modern society.”

The RSA has also recently put the issue of religious exemptions on the radar of new South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher, who, in response, said he would be giving “further consideration” to the matter.

Much of the public debate in Western Australia has focused on exemptions in religious education institutions that has enabled discrimination against staff and students based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In her letter, Ms Caulfield told the Attorney-General that the views of religious lobbyists and church leaders wanting to continue such discrimination were out of step, not only with mainstream Australia but also their own congregations.

She pointed to the work of social researcher Neil Francis, who, in his comprehensive Religiosity in Australia series, showed that most Australians oppose religious schools having the legal right to expel students or sack staff on the basis of sexual orientation or relationship status. 

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Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at sigladman@rationalist.com.au or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman

Photo: John Quigley (Facebook)

All the more reason.