University staff fear discrimination laws could lead to more homophobia
As the Liberal Party amps up its opposition to Labor’s proposed consolidation of federal anti-discrimination laws, the union representing staff across the nation’s universities has said the laws do not go far enough to protect the LGBTI community from discrimination and, if passed in its current guise, will actually legislate for homophobia.
The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) said that the exemptions on offer to religious groups under the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 were an “offence to human rights” as it allowed such groups to legally discriminate against LGBTI people and others such as single mothers and pregnant women.
“It’s a terrible irony that a bill designed to eliminate discrimination could end up entrenching it, especially for employees of religious organisations,” NTEU National President Jeannie Rea said.
The union, which represents over 27,000 academic and general staff in the Australian higher education sector, had this week also written to Attorney-General Nicola Roxon outlining its objections to religious exceptions that will allow workers of diverse sexualities and genders to be treated unfairly in church-run hospitals, schools, universities, charities, employment services and retirement homes.
“As a union we must emphasise that the religious exceptions in the draft bill represent a fundamental undermining of workers’ rights, since they allow discrimination on the basis of individuals’ status as workers.” Rea said.
“In the case of universities, discrimination of any kind is contrary to principles of free enquiry and academic freedom, which this government has legislated to protect. The acts establishing the Australian Catholic University in the various states, for instance, prevent discrimination towards students on the basis of religion.
“The effect of the Bill would be to prevent discrimination towards students at the university, but permit discrimination towards staff.”
Meanwhile, Shadow Attorney-General George Brandis has poured scorn on the entire Bill, claiming the laws which will see sexual orientation and gender identity as protected grounds for the first time were actually a law to prevent freedom of speech.
“When you drill down into this bill, what it really amounts to at its extreme reach is a law against controversy,” Brandis told ABC Local Radio.
“What this bill says is that if I claim to be offended by something somebody else says, I have a legal right to take them to court.
“What I think we see in this bill is a very deliberate and ideological attempt by Nicola Roxon, who is the ultimate nanny-state politician, to impose a code of conduct on Australians ... which goes way beyond where anti-discrimination law ever went before.”
In its submission to the Bill, Victoria’s Liberal Government joined counterparts in the NSW Government in arguing against its introduction as it would override the states’ own laws governing discrimination.
“The Victorian Government considers that the Bill should not be introduced into the Commonwealth Parliament until authoritative legal advice has been obtained and considered by all relevant parties regarding the implications and consequences of the proposed legislation and until the draft Bill has been considered and discussed in detail by Commonwealth, State and Territory Attorneys-General at the next meeting of the Standing Council on Law and Justice,” the submission reads.
Of the public submissions to have been received by the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, almost 600 submissions, to date, have been published.
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