On Tuesday afternoon, Victoria’s upper house of Parliament voted down the Labor Government’s Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill. The Bill was a direct attack on religious groups in Victoria, as it restricted the ability of religious groups to make employment decisions based on whether a candidate or employee agreed with and practised the religion. The Bill would have restricted religious organisations; churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples, along with faith-based schools, welfare agencies and healthcare organisations from choosing to hire people who agreed with the religion.
The bill would have also diminished freedom of association for those who choose to associate around a common cause or set of values. Many people choose to associate with particular groups because of a shared set of values or having a particular cause or quality in common, such as same political or religious beliefs, advancing the cause of a race or ethnicity, sexual preference or other cause such as relief of poverty. But only religious groups and values would have been restricted by this Bill. Not political parties or clubs, not clubs for advancing minority cultures.
So it is to the credit of the Liberal-National opposition, and those on the cross-bench who opposed the bill, that this bad law has been consigned to the dustbin. This attempt by the Government to impinge on religious organisations’ ability to hire whomever they wish was troubling and reflected a level of policy overreach. Choice, diversity, pluralism, and the basic freedoms of association and religion won the day. Victorians like to live and let live and can get along because of the plurality of their beliefs and practices.
In my last article about this matter, I mentioned this law being a possible unpleasant early Christmas present. The Parliament has delivered a different present: the status quo. Now Victorians can get on with educating their children the way they want to, religious organisations can hire people who are ambassadors for the religion, and people can get on with getting along with another without the interference of the state government.
Simon Kennedy is a research analyst at the Institute for Civil Society.