South Australia considering removal of religious exemptions

Si Gladman / 04 April 2023

The South Australian government is considering amendments to the state’s Equal Opportunity Act 1984 to remove religious exemptions for religious bodies, the Attorney-General has confirmed.

In response to questions in the state’s upper house, Attorney-General Kyam Maher confirmed that the Malinauskas government would consider amendments to the Act and examine similar changes made in other states.

After the state election last year, the Rationalist Society of Australia put the issue on Mr Maher’s radar and urged him to revive the former Liberal government’s proposal to remove the ability of faith-based service providers to discriminate on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

In 2020, the Marshall government held a public consultation on a draft Equal Opportunity (Religious Bodies) Amendment Bill, which sought to prevent discrimination in staffing practices and service provision for clients in the areas of children’s education, health care and disability support, aged care, emergency accommodation, public housing, foster care placement and children’s residential services.

In mid last year, Mr Maher told the RSA that he would “give further consideration” to the matter.

In the state’s Legislative Council in November, Greens member Robert Simms asked Mr Maher what the government’s process would be for removing the religious exemptions that apply to equal opportunity laws.

Mr Maher told the parliament that the Labor Party “certainly doesn’t have a policy in relation to the matters” and was not familiar with the former government’s public consultation and proposals.

In February this year, Mr Maher told Mr Simms that the former government’s Bill had not been introduced to parliament. 

“I have had representations from a number of stakeholders regarding possible amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984,” he said.

“I am considering these proposals, as well as recent reforms in Victoria, and recently proposed or recommended reforms in Queensland, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Western Australia. We have also been working in the background on this issue, and will continue to do so.”

The RSA has been lobbying states to remove religious exemptions to their anti-discrimination laws. Last year, we urged Western Australia’s Attorney-General John Quigley to show courage and follow the lead of other states, such as Victoria, in committing to take action on the religious exceptions issue.

In August, Mr Quigley announced that the McGowan government would address the religious exceptions issues as part of an overhaul of the Equal Opportunity Act.

In 2021, the RSA applauded Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes for her government’s decision to stop faith-based institutions from sacking staff on the basis of their marital status, parental status or sexuality.

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Image: Kyam Maher MLC (Facebook)

All the more reason.