Victoria – Equal Opportunity Amendments
In the Victorian election campaign last year the Coalition, then in opposition, promised to amend the Brumby government Equal Opportunity Act 2010 by:
- removing the “inherent requirements” provisions: “…. A Liberal-Nationals Coalition government will restore the rights of freedom of religion and freedom of association in relation to faith based schools and other organisations by removing the “inherent requirements” test…” and
- removing the “sweeping coercive powers of investigation ….given to the equal opportunity commission. …… The legislation gives the VHREOC more powers to lay hands on documents and interrogate the staff or volunteers of a business or school or social club than our police force has to investigate the worst of criminals.”
- restoring the commission’s independent chair so all power is not concentrated in a single commissioner.”
True to its promise, new Attorney-General Robert Clark moved the Equal Opportunity Amendment Bill 2011 on 3 May. The second reading was on 5 May. If passed the Bill will:
- remove the coercive powers given to VHREOC; “Enforceable remedies and appropriate investigatory powers are vital to redress wrongs and to ensure that antidiscrimination laws are not ignored, but wherever possible support for and commitment to equality of opportunity is best built through education and dialogue.”
- remove the “inherent requirement” test on employing staff in faith-based schools or other organisations which would have the consequence that faith-based schools or other organisations would be forced to hire staff who are fundamentally opposed to what the organisation stands for.
- restore an independent chair of the Commission.
- The Bill also amends the exemption for discrimination in competitive sport which only allows the exclusion of a person on the basis of sex if the strength, stamina or physique of competitors is relevant. In lawn bowls, for example, strength, stamina or physique has been found not to be relevant and consequently participation has dwindled as the needs of those who only want to play with members of their own sex have not been addressed. The Bill will allow singlesex sporting competition where it is intended to facilitate participation in the sport and is otherwise reasonable.
On 26 May, Liberal MP, Mary Wooldridge was accidentally absent from the chamber and the Bill was defeated on a tied vote. Labor voted en bloc against the Bill. It is understood the Government will seek to re-committ the Bill soon. The Coalition has honoured its promise by moving the Bill and if it is passed before 1 August the Brumby amendments will never have come into operation. Common sense will prevail, and equal opportunity, will be restored if this Bill is passed.