The Sex Discrimination Act was introduced by the Hawke Government and, regrettably, relegated religious freedom to the unsatisfactory category of an exemption. In other words, it legislated the rights of schools to discriminate. This was never asked for by church leaders and has always been considered by us as tantamount to marginalising religious freedom. Worse, it placed us in the invidious position of being described as those who discriminate against students and staff, rather than being put positively, where a school had the right to employ staff who were committed to the Christian ethos of the school. A fundamental community expectation recognises the rights of organisations to hire staff who uphold their values. You wouldn’t expect the Liberal Party to hire a communist any more than the Labor Party would hire someone who was anti-union.
In 1984, the categories for the exemptions were ‘sex, marital status and pregnancy’. However, in 2013, the Gillard Government decided to add the categories of ‘sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex and relationship status’ as new protected attributes. There was good reason for inserting these new areas of prohibited discrimination in the body of the Act, but the way it was done was inept. The fact that the Sex Discrimination Act has, on average, been amended by Parliament once every year for over thirty years, speaks volumes.
So when the Heads of our Anglican Schools wrote their Open Letter, the subject at hand–stated quite clearly–was religious freedom, the right to run a school in accordance with its tenets, beliefs and values. They pointed out that schools never used these exemptions in the area of sexual identity and orientation. They neither wanted them nor requested them. To do so would have gone against the very ethos of an Anglican school, which welcomes all students….