Religious organisations running schools, health and aged-care services face losing key exemptions to Labor’s new anti-discrimination laws under recommendations that could see them sued by people who disagree with church ethos. A parliamentary inquiry has found Labor’s proposed laws need to be substantially changed, including to dump exceptions that would have allowed religious organisations to discriminate against individuals when providing services, where such discrimination would otherwise be unlawful.

Under Labor’s draft bill to consolidate the five pieces of legislation that make up Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, religious exemptions were to be largely preserved — except in relation to commonwealth-funded aged-care providers because of concerns about discrimination against older same-sex couples trying to get into facilities. In a majority report, Labor and Greens members of the Senate legal and constitutional affairs legislation committee had found “no organisation should enjoy a blanket exception from anti-discrimination law when they are involved in service delivery to the general community”.

The committee recommends amendments be modelled on Tasmania’s 1998 Anti-Discrimination Act which has the narrowest religious exceptions in Australia. The opposition has demanded that Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus rule out abandoning the religious exemption and said church schools could be subject to complaints to the Human Rights Commission and brought before the Federal Court. “The seven out of ten Australian who profess a religion are entitled to expect government to keep its social engineering ambitions away from their religious beliefs,” the Coalition’s legal affairs spokesman, George Brandis, said.

The Australian Association of Christian Schools has vowed to continue opposing the bill, fearing it was a “back-door attempt” at a human rights bill. They said the only exceptions that should be considered would be to introduce a provision to protect freedom of religion. This provision is not in either the proposed draft, nor the Senate committee’s report. Australian Catholic Bishops Conference general-secretary Brian Lucas said the recommendations of the Senate committee would “undermine religious freedom” and impact on services provided, from aged-care facilities to health providers to schools.

“Anti-discrimination law has to strike a balance between competing values, and the exemptions as they are currently expressed by the commonwealth express that balance,” Father Lucas said. “The fundamental value here of freedom of religion has to be recognised, not just as an exemption but as a significant part of the way we live in a pluralist society. I don’t think the Senate committee report has done justice to that.” The committee has also recommended that domestic violence should be included as grounds for discrimination, along with “irrelevant criminal record” – a move sought by the ACTU.

But the report found a proposed section that makes it unlawful to offend or insult others should be removed and concluded “substantial amendments are necessary if the consolidated legislation is to fulfil its stated intent of providing a clearer, simpler law”. Mr Dreyfus said the report would require close consideration and a full response would be made shortly. “This is a complex project and I want to ensure the final consolidation carefully balances the two objectives of defending free speech while protecting Australians from discrimination,” Mr Dreyfus said.

The reforms have attracted furious debate. Many church-based groups were unhappy that commonwealth-funded aged-care services would not get the same exemptions available to other religious organisations. Others warned that exemptions undermined the principles of non-discrimination. The NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby argued limitations imposed on religious exceptions in relation to aged care should be extended to other areas. Coalition senators on the committee released a dissenting report and the Opposition has rejected the report’s majority finding.

The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) says if the laws are adopted then faith-based hospitals would be forced to conduct abortions. The head of the Australian Christian Lobby Jim Wallace says he’s received a guarantee from the Prime Minister that the status quo will remain and that she had no intention of limiting freedom of religion. Now, this has gone much further than that. It’s over-reached. “Faith-based schools and hospitals do not discriminate, they provide a particular range of services consistent with their faith, and government must protect and honour their ability to do that,” said Mr Wallace.

ACL has called on the Gillard Government to uphold religious freedom. “The exemptions and exceptions in anti-discrimination legislation are protections for religious freedom, which under international law is a basic or fundamental human right. “Former Attorney-General Nicola Roxon’s legacy is a complete confusion. You cannot sacrifice fundamental human rights like freedom of religion because of a desire not to discriminate. This has created an ideological soup which will threaten basic human rights,” Mr Wallace said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports



Victorian Democratic Labor Party (DLP) senator John Madigan is forcing abortion on to the political agenda ahead of the federal election with plans for a bill to ban Medicare-funded abortions for sex selection. Senator Madigan is introducing a motion in the Senate aimed at stopping the public funding of abortions that are used purely to select boys or girls. The sole DLP senator, who is not up for re-election this year, is determined to force the major parties to address the abortion issue in the run-up to the September poll and get Labor and Coalition senators and MPs to vote on his proposed bill.

“The bill aims to stop Medicare funding for abortions procured on the basis of gender,” Senator Madigan said. “We might not think this happens in Australia, but parents can and do pick the gender of their child to fit their lifestyle, and do abort a child of the unwanted sex. Children are being viewed as accessories, which is simply not right. You don’t paint the nursery, then pick the sex of the child.” Senator Madigan, cited the case of a Victorian couple who aborted twin boys because they already had three sons and wanted a daughter, said abortion for sex selection was widespread overseas.

In 2011 the Victorian Civil Administrative Tribunal ruled the couple who had the two boys aborted could not use IVF for sex selection. Senator Madigan’s motion, the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Funding for Certain Types of Abortion) Bill 2013, will be introduced into Parliament next month. During election campaigns the major parties try to avoid the issue of abortion and Tony Abbott’s stance that abortion should be “safe, legal and rare”, has jammed him between anti-abortion conservatives and pro-abortion women’s groups. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has indicated she favours abortion rights for women.

Source: Compiled by APN from information from various sources



Vision radio celebrated its 14th birthday last month and, as a birthday present to itself, on that day the 554th relay station in Australia’s only national Christian radio network was switched on at Exmouth, one of the most westerly points on this vast continent. Since 1999 when the first Vision station was installed in the rural Queensland town of Beaudesert, the network has specialised in low-powered FM transmissions offering a lifeline of hope in forgotten outback settlements, tiny country towns and inner city suburbs.

2013 will bring a special challenge for the Vision Radio Network as all its relay stations will require a site visit and hardware upgrade as part of the change to Optus’ digital satellite platform. ‘The recent fires and floods across our nation have highlighted to me the importance of continuing to get stations on air.’ says Ian Worby UCB’s CEO. ‘For example we have an AM licence for Bundaberg but we haven’t been able to find a suitable broadcast site. I’d love to be on air now—when people really need hope and encouragement’. Vision is well on track to be able to celebrate its 15th birthday with 600 stations.

Source: Press Release from Vision Radio Network