17 January 2013


The following article appeared in The Age on 17 January 2013, and the letters following the article are relevant to this and an earlier post. You have to ask yourself how low can this government get? Isn't it at rock-bottom yet? It must be pretty close by now!

Religious groups free to discriminate against pregnant women

By Jane Lee and Clay Lucas

The draft bill makes clearer which groups religious organisations can discriminate against lawfully.

Religious organisations, including those funded by the state government, retain their legal right to discriminate against pregnant women under a new human rights bill. The draft of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill consolidates five existing federal discrimination laws after a decades-long campaign by lawyers and human rights advocates. The draft bill makes clearer which groups religious organisations can discriminate against lawfully.

Under the draft bill, faith-based groups, including schools and hospitals, can still refuse to hire people because of a wide range of attributes that would be unlawful for any other organisation, including women who are pregnant or potentially pregnant.

When the Sex Discrimination Act - which came into force in 1984 - was drafted, a number of religious bodies argued they should be allowed to discriminate against pregnant or ''potentially pregnant'' women to avoid having to employ unwed mothers.

The Human Rights Law Centre's director of advocacy and strategic litigation, Anna Brown, said that while the bill introduced important new protections from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and removed the ability of religious bodies to discriminate on the basis of age, sex and breastfeeding, it was a ''missed opportunity'' to narrow the broad exemptions available to religious groups.

Weet-Bix manufacturer Sanitarium is a religious organisation owned and operated by the Seventh-Day Adventist church, which means it could discriminate against people with these attributes.

An online advertisement for a manufacturing team leader position with the company says: ''If you share our passion for what we do, our products and you can align with our Christian-based principles this is a great opportunity for you.''

Sanitarium spokeswoman Julie Praestiin said the company's workplace culture was ''grounded on Christian-based values of care, courage, humility, integrity and passion which are generally shared by the Australian community''.

She said Sanitarium complied with employment laws. ''We are an equal opportunity employer and have a diverse workforce which encompasses a variety of cultures and worldviews. Religious belief is not a condition of employment.''

Hugh de Kretser, executive officer of the Federation of Community Legal Centres, said that Sanitarium, which is understood to have a turnover of $300 million a year – although the church is not required to lodge Sanitarium's financial reports – should not be allowed to discriminate.

''That a large organisation with a turnover of $300 million a year is given a green light by the law to discriminate highlights the problems with these exemptions,'' he said.

''It's about balancing freedom of religion from freedom from discrimination, and getting it right as to where we draw the line. And examples like this show that the exemptions need to be wound back.''

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, said that the government had aimed to consolidate laws rather than ''embark on full-scale reform''.

Professor Triggs acknowledged that there were some tensions between how the bill protected different human rights. ''In a secular society such as Australia . . . one does not want to give any sort of particular priority to one freedom above the right of people to non-discriminatory employment.'' She said it was important ''that we don't throw the baby out with the bathwater'' as the bill was the first step towards creating a coherent federal human rights system.

Jane.Lee@fairfaxmedia.com.au ----------------------------------------------------------------------------
Letters in The Age:

A betrayal of human rights

January 17, 2013

THE Gillard government had the opportunity to create a law that prevented discrimination against workers and volunteers on the basis of certain ''attributes'' including sexuality and single parenthood. Instead it chose to exclude faith-based organisations (The Age, 16/1) from this even though they receive billions of dollars of taxpayers' money, via funding agreements with governments, to provide essential education, health and community services. Frequently they are the sole local service provider.

Imagine how it feels to know you are denigrated to such an extent that, no matter how experienced and competent you are at work, you can be sacked with no redress because your very being ''injures the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion''. What do taxpayer-funded, universal services have to do with religious sensitivities? This is a human rights issue that should involve the whole community. I am still haunted by the car stickers proclaiming ''Kill a Queer for Christ'' that I saw in the United States. Bad things happen when good people do nothing.

Lyn McKenzie, Fitzroy

Illustration: Jack Chadwick.

Enshrining bigotry

IN 1981, a friend was sacked from his teaching job at a Catholic school in Geelong after he let slip to a colleague that he was living with his girlfriend. That such action was legal in the 1980s was lamentable. Fast forward to 2013 and the legality of that bigotry is about to be enshrined in the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill. Haven't we come a long way?

Richard Aspland, Rosanna

Well, fair's fair

SO RELIGIOUS groups can refuse to hire law-abiding people they deem to be sinners. Presumably they will not get too upset if I refuse to hire someone because they are religious. Do unto others…

Andy Stewart, Coburg

Shameful legislation

FAR from being the courageous leader she markets herself as, Julia Gillard lacks a spine. She also betrays the real values of Labor and sells out a fairer Australia for base political interests. It is bad enough that she is happy to entrench discrimination against those who face discrimination in their daily lives. Worse is that Penny Wong, an openly gay person, says she is seeking ''to balance the existing law and the practice of religious exemptions with the principle of non-discrimination''. There is no balance when discrimination is legislated. Labor's move to the extreme right of politics is complete. Shame on Gillard and Wong.

Douglas Potter, Surrey Hills

But the Bible said …

RELIGIOUS groups discriminate against gays because the Bible tells them it is OK to hate them. Shamefully, the government agrees. I am looking forward to religious groups sacking menstruating women and those who eat shellfish, trim their beards and wear clothes of mixed material. However, owning and beating slaves is OK.

Ian Smith, Whittlesea

...and another thing

SHAME on Gillard for giving in to bullying by the so-called Australian Christian Lobby. No government should condone discrimination.

Robert Humphreys, Coburg


TO THOSE faith-based organisations that don't want me as an employee: do you still want my taxes?

Michael Dalton, Yarraville

CHURCHES can discriminate against those who are ''different''. That's a lovely Christian attitude. What utter hypocrisy.

Keith Beman, Woodend

GIVEN the revelations of clergy abuse, the last thing churches should be allowed to do is ''vet the sexual practices of potential employees''.

Benjamin Doherty, West Melbourne

GILLARD is our most disappointing atheist prime minister. She could have promoted tolerance and rationality, but she caved in to superstitious bigotry.

Terry Kelly, Carlton North

........and to add insult to injury, WE have to continue to pay our taxes and those who discriminate DON'T pay any at all!!! (RED_JOS COMMENT)

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90 years old, political gay activist, hosting two web sites, one personal: http://www.red-jos.net one shared with my partner, 94-year-old Ken Lovett: http://www.josken.net and also this blog. The blog now has an alphabetical index: http://www.red-jos.net/alpha3.htm