VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT LAUNCHES ATTACK ON RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN CHRISTIAN SCHOOLS
Religious schools and bodies could soon find it harder to refuse to employ people who did not support the ethos or values of the organisation they are applying to work for. The Andrews government’s revamp of Victorian equal opportunity laws has been condemned as “anti-religious” by faith-based groups, who say it threatens their right to freedom of religion. Religious schools and groups would still be able to discriminate if they could prove that religious beliefs were linked to a job. Proposed legislation introduced into State Parliament this week reinstates an “inherent requirement” test that would weaken the powers of Victorian religious bodies and schools to turn away employees because of their sexuality, sex, gender identity, religious beliefs or marital status.
These groups would still be able to discriminate against employees based on these attributes if they could prove that religious beliefs were linked to a job. The Greens say the proposals do not go far enough and should also protect students from discrimination based on sexuality or gender. The changes would require Schools or other religious bodies to employ for instance gay gardeners, transgender administrative assistants and atheist librarians. It is unclear how the proposed law would play out for teachers. Schools would need to prove why a maths teacher for instance must have a Christian faith. Christian Schools Australia chief executive Stephen O’Doherty said the proposed laws were a “draconian attack on religious freedom principles”.
“We feel that the Andrews government is the most anti-religious government we have seen in a long time,” O’Doherty said. Australian Christian Lobby Victorian director Dan Flynn said the changes could lead to Christian schools and churches having to hire people who were opposed to what they stood for. Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder said it was important that Catholic schools had the freedom to employ staff who supported the Catholic faith. “Those organisations want the staff to contribute to the faith ethos of the school, and to be a role model for those beliefs,” he said. “Certain expressions of sexuality could be in conflict with the ethos of a church or school.”
The inherent requirement test was introduced by the previous Labor state government and then scrapped by the former Coalition government in 2011 before it came into effect. Attorney-General Martin Pakula said that “We respect people’s right to religious expression, but not at the cost of equality,” he said. People who felt they had been discriminated against could take their complaint to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s human rights division, where the religious body or school would have to justify its reason for discriminating. Catholic Education Melbourne executive director Stephen Elder said it was important that Catholic schools had the freedom to employ staff who supported the Catholic faith and did not undermine a school’s ethos.
“Parents choose to have their children educated in Catholic schools because our traditions are not only passed on through what is taught, but what is practised and what is witnessed in our learning communities.” Victorian Greens’ equality spokesperson Sam Hibbins said the changes did not go far enough and should also protect students from discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity. The Greens have introduced a private member’s bill into Parliament that would limit the ability of religious schools and organisations to discriminate against students on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation or religious belief. Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green said it was important schools retained their independence while “providing a safe and inclusive environment that is free of discrimination”.
AUSTRALIAN PUNTERS LOSE $23 BILLION – HALF ON POKIES
Australian punters lost nearly $23B last year, with a 30% growth in sports betting driving a continued rise in annual gambling losses. Gambling Statistics figures show Australians lost $1241 per head in 2014-15, with poker machines still the biggest cause of punter losses with $11.6 billion lost, an increase of 4.9%. The continued growth of punter losses reignited calls for state and federal governments to get serious about tackling problem gambling through action on sports betting advertising and pokies. The annual compilation of all data shows that total expenditure, or gambler losses, hit $22.7 billion in 2014-15, an increase of 7.7% on the previous financial year. There has been an explosion in sports betting, with the sector growing by 30.1 per cent in 12 months – with predictions the exponential growth will continue.
Sports betting is still one of the smallest segments of the market, worth $814M, compared to pokies, racing ($2.8B), and Lotto ($1.7B). Betting on racing was the smallest growing sector at just 2.7%. The Victorian government has announced a ban on betting ads near schools and on public transport, while Canberra is moving to crack down on offshore bookies, as well as strengthen consumer protection for local online punters. Senator Nick Xenophon, the Greens and Tasmanian independent Andrew Wilkie have renewed calls for poker machine reform. Gambling losses in Victoria hit almost $5.8B in the 2014-15, with poker machine losses surpassing $2.5B, propping up Treasury coffers by more than $1B. In NSW, punter losses hit $8.9B, with $5.7B lost on the pokies alone, sports betting worth $162M and racing $945M.
Across the nation casinos raked in $5.1 billion of gambler losses, with Melbourne’s Crown Casino hauling in $1.8 billion. Monash University Public Health expert Charles Livingstone said the growth in sports betting losses was “phenomenal”. “It demonstrates why we need to better regulate promotion and advertising. Otherwise we’re facing big growth in gambling problems and harm from young men and women,” Dr Livingstone said. “But the 600-pound gorilla of Australian gambling is still the pokies: $12 billion in losses per year, and still growing, year after year. If we’re worried by sports betting, we should be 13 times more worried about the pokies.” Alliance for Gambling Reform spokesman Tim Costello said state governments could fix the “poker machine madness” “That is if any of them really cared about the issue,” he said.
The Australian Gambling Statistics 2014-15 shows that in Victoria total per person gambling losses hit $1250. Pokies losses was the biggest segment with $558 lost per Victorian. In NSW, per person losses were higher at $1517. Human Services Minister Alan Tudge said the rate of problem gambling in the online sector was three times that of other areas. “Many Australians love to gamble but we have to make sure the gambling environment is a safe one – that’s why we are cracking down on illegal offshore gambling providers and introducing much strong consumer protection for online gambling,” Mr Tudge said. Deakin University associate professor of public health, Samantha Thomas, suspected sports betting had grown on the back of heavy marketing.
“While not all losses equal harm, a lot of them do. It’s time for governments to start to seriously consider the factors that are contributing to these growing losses and implement effective evidenced-based strategies to reduce harm,” she said. “This includes addressing the factors from industry, such as prolific advertising or high intensity poker machines, that may be contributing to harm. Clearly, ‘gamble responsibly’ strategies are not having an impact on reducing losses or preventing harm.” Victorian Gaming Regulation Minister Marlene Kairouz said the state government shared the community’s concerns about problem gambling. She said the government had invested $150 million over four years to support problem gambling services.
NEW VICTORIAN LAW WOULD LEGISLATE SAME SEX MARRIAGE BY STEALTH
When Janet married Penny 30 years ago, their marriage was a heterosexual union between Janet and Peter. Now, new Victorian laws mean they could be legally recognised as wife and wife. More than a decade ago, Victorian Senator Janet Rice’s husband Peter Whetton became Penny, and the pair’s marriage transformed into a same-sex relationship between two women. While the couple remains legally married, their marriage exists in a legal grey area. Dr Whetton has been unable to change her birth certificate to reflect her affirmed gender – despite holding an Australian passport that identifies her as a woman – or risk being forced to divorce Senator Rice, in a so-called “trans-forced divorce”.
The Victorian government has introduced legislation that removes legal barriers faced by trans and gender diverse people who want to change their birth certificates. The changes will create a small number of legally-married same-sex couples in Victoria for the first time, although marriage equality activists will have to wait until federal laws change to see true equality. Under the proposed changes, couples who enter into a heterosexual marriage before one partner transitions will no longer be forced to divorce if that partner seeks a new birth certificate. While the federal Marriage Act still stipulates that marriage is between a man and a woman, it’s understood this legal definition will not affect marriages that have already been entered into, but which change over time.
The laws would also change the complicated and onerous requirements imposed on people wanting to change the gender on their birth certificate: currently they must be unmarried, 18 years of age or over, and to have already undergone sex reassignment surgery. Those changing their birth certificate will be able to nominate a “gender diverse or non-binary descriptor” on their certificate. “Nobody should be forced to undergo major surgery or choose between maintaining a legal relationship with their spouse just to get a birth certificate that reflects who they are,” Attorney-General Martin Pakula said in a statement. Parents will be able to apply to have the sex of their children changed on their child’s birth certificate, with the child’s consent. Teenagers aged 18 and older will be able to apply for the changes themselves.
Transgender Victoria chairperson Brenda Appleton said Victoria’s laws would only require trans people to get a diagnosis and medical certificate to have their birth certificate changed. “We should have the right to have a birth certificate that references our gender, not the gender that’s been assigned at birth,” she said. Human Rights Law Centre director Anna Brown welcomed the changes. “Former federal Attorneys-General from both parties have taken the view that the Marriage Act is concerned with the gender of the couple only at the time of the marriage ceremony, which means states can and should be removing this discriminatory requirement.” Senator Rice said the changes would remove the “crazy and discriminatory spectre of trans-forced divorce”, and urged other states to follow suit.
BIRTH CERTIFICATE LAWS SHOULD BE SHELVED UNTIL AFTER THE PLEBISCITE
New Victorian laws allowing people to designate a non-biological gender on their birth certificate should wait until after the marriage plebiscite. Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) Managing Director Lyle Shelton said radical changes that would allow men identifying as women to enter women’s toilets and change rooms needed wider public discussion. “The LGBTIQ political lobbyists are moving way too fast for ordinary Australians who hold to the biological view of males and females and do not want gender theory taught as fact at school,” Mr Shelton said. “Birth certificate laws should be shelved until after the plebiscite. “Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is one of the most vocal proponents of same-sex marriage and is at the forefront of the compulsory indoctrination of children into radical gender theory at school. “
“The move to allow birth certificates to be changed by someone who thinks they might be of the opposite sex is the latest in a deliberate ideological campaign to deconstruct society’s gender norms,” Mr Shelton said. “The Victorian Government’s proposal is that gender on birth certificates should be allowed to be altered, even without sex change surgery. The laws also allow people who have sought to change their sex to remain married without having to divorce on the grounds that they are in a same-sex relationship. Australians will soon be voting on whether gender diversity should be removed as a requirement for marriage,” Mr Shelton said. “That is the appropriate time to debate the sort of ideas put forward by the Andrews Government. “
“Given that ‘safe schools’ and jettisoning biological reality on birth certificates are a package deal with same-sex marriage, it is only right that the Australian people have a say on whether or not our nation continues down this path.” Mr Shelton said. Mr Andrews’ new laws would make many private spaces unsafe for women. “Why should a man identifying as a woman be allowed into a woman’s gym, a domestic violence shelter or women’s public toilets and shower facilities?” It is time to re-think the rainbow political agenda. Mr Shelton said many people were unaware that the ACT Government, another big supporter of redefining marriage, had already removed gender from children’s birth certificates with parents having to opt-in to have mother and father recorded.