Youth minister’s comments highlight need for McGowan govt to address religious exceptions, says RSA

Si Gladman / 12 October 2022

A West Australian government minister has called out religious organisations for wanting to maintain a legal right to discriminate for numerous reasons while also criticising the actions of the Essendon Football Club in the Andrew Thorburn saga.

In an interview on ABC Perth radio last week (listen from 1:57:10), Minister for Youth Dave Kelly (pictured) said an irony of the debate was that religious organisations expected to maintain special exceptions under equal opportunity laws that allow them to discriminate widely in their employment practices

Rationalist Society of Australia president Meredith Doig says the comments highlight the need for the McGowan government to move in a timely way to address the issue of religious exceptions.

The state’s attorney-general, John Quigley, has pledged to narrow the ability of religious schools to discriminate under proposed new anti-discrimination laws. Currently, the Equal Opportunity Act allows for discrimination in religious schools where it is done “in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.

In August, Mr Quigley said new legislation would be introduced to “strengthen equal opportunity protections for LGBTIQA+ teachers and students in religious schools.” The legislation is yet to be released.

On ABC radio last week, Mr Kelly said it was ironic that religious organisations complaining about the treatment of Mr Thorburn were among those “small sections” of the community that wanted to continue to discriminate in their employment practices on reasons no longer accepted by society.


“We no longer accept that organisations can discriminate on the basis of gender. There was a time in Australia where women were discriminated against in the workplace. There was a time when it was okay to discriminate on the basis of race. That’s no longer the case. For the overwhelming proportion of the Australian community, it’s no longer okay to discriminate on the basis of sexuality. Unfortunately, for some small sections of the community, they still want to be able to do that,” he said.

“I suppose one of the ironies in this debate … is that some of those religious organisations, for example, run schools and they expect to have the right to terminate staff who are gay, terminate staff who live in same-sex relationships, terminate staff who live in defacto relationships. To have an abortion would be grounds for termination.

“These religious organisations who hold these views want to be able to self-select their staff on that basis. But, when the Essendon Football Club makes a similar decision, all of a sudden they cry foul. Now, those sorts of issues in relation to schools is one of the things that we’re considering as part of changes to the Equal Opportunity Act to make sure that those sorts of things can’t take place.”

Mr Kelly also said that homophobic views – such as held by Thorburn’s church – cause real harm in the community, especially for LGBTI youth.

“I deal with a lot of young people. They find … religious views about homosexuality to be really quite damaging,” he said.

“Most religious people are quite accepting and don’t have an issue with young people who are members of the LGBTIQA community. But the small minority of religious organisations who do preach quite hurtful things – that people who are gay will go to hell or are doing the work of the devil; all those sorts of things – are really quite hurtful, And they have a real impact on young people – in particular, their mental health.

“These comments aren’t just an expression of religious freedom; they actually do cause pain and hurt for people.”

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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

All the more reason.