Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
1. The Australian Human Rights Commission (the Commission) welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 (the Bill).
2. In October 2018, the Government, Opposition and minor parties all publicly committed to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (the SDA) to remove the ability for religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.1
3. The Commission supports this agreed objective.
4. Human rights are universal, inalienable, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. As such, our law must accommodate all the human rights that are engaged. Particularly relevant in the context of religious schools are the rights of the child, the right to be free from discrimination, the rights of young parents and their children and the right to freedom of religion.
5. The Commission considers that the Bill would achieve the stated objective, by protecting the rights of children and the right to equality and non-discrimination, while also respecting the right to freedom of religion. A number of amendments have been proposed to the Bill. Of these, the Commission considers that the amendments proposed by Senator Patrick, on behalf of the Centre Alliance, in Sheet 8614 would helpfully clarify the operation of section 37 of the SDA.
6. This submission examines the rights engaged by the Bill and the proposed amendments. Finally, it considers this reform in the context of a comprehensive approach to protecting religious freedom while ensuring accommodation of all human rights.