Friday, June 03, 2011

Victoria Parliament Votes To Expand Religious Exemptions To Equal Opportunity Act

After a narrow defeat last week resulting from one member of the Legislative Assembly missing the vote (see prior posting), yesterday in Australia, Victoria's Legislative Assembly passed the Equal Opportunity Amendment bill (full text). The bill creates additional exceptions to the state of Victoria's anti-discrimination law that takes effect next month.  One of the changes the bill makes is to eliminate the requriement that in order for religious bodies and religious schools to hire based on religious belief or activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity, they must show that conforming with the doctrines of the religion is an inherent requirement of the job. According to Parliament's Explanatory Memorandum:  "By removing the inherent requirements test, employment will become one of the types of action covered by the general religious exception to apply to a religious body in section 82 of the Principal Act."

The Melbourne Herald Sun reports that the debate in the Legislative Assembly was bitter.  Questions were raised as to whether it is legal to have a re-vote during the same session on a bill that was once voted down.  The government took the position that when the initial result was impacted because an MP accidentally missed the vote, a new vote is allowed by analogy to rules of Australia's federal Parliament. Opposition leaders claimed that Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge actually deliberately missed the vote last week.  Also in the debate, opponents of the bill charged that Attorney General Robert Clark, who supported the bill, was homophobic.

Following passage by the Legislative Assembly, the Legislative Council passed the bill on its first reading.