EQUAL OPPORTUNITY AMENDMENT BILL 2011- Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Posted on 15. Jun, 2011 in Speeches

Mr LIM (Clayton) — It is appropriate that we call a spade a spade. This is disgraceful legislation, and I more than oppose the bill. I thought I would never live to see something like this happen in Victoria, but this bill gives the lie to any notion that a Baillieu government would be small‑l liberal or progressive in the mould of the Hamer government. It also gives the lie to the view that the Baillieu government, unlike the Kennett government, would move slowly and cautiously and cause no great harm or offence to people. Indeed by nobbling the watchdog, the Baillieu government is demonstrating that it is the direct descendent of Kennett, not Hamer. I am very disappointed.

The previous speaker said people in his electorate would be jubilant about the bill, but I can say on behalf of the people of my electorate that they were very depressed to hear about this bill being introduced into Parliament. While the Premier might be seen in some quarters as being socially progressive, with this bill he has let the uglies of the Liberal Party off the leash. I can imagine this bill being introduced by the ugly, right‑wing, Christian fundamentalists of the New South Wales division of the Liberal Party. I did not expect this to come from the Victorian division of the Liberal Party, especially from people I have respected in the past. This bill is the work of hard right fundamentalists. No wonder the Attorney‑General hates the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 — he had to say in the statement of compatibility for this bill that it raises a number of human rights issues.

One of the most concerning amendments to the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 being made by the Attorney‑General in this bill is in regard to the ability of religious schools to discriminate in employment. Does this mean that a handyman or a secretarial or clerical worker could be refused employment because they are a Buddhist, a Muslim, a Christian or indeed of the wrong Christian denomination? Surely the only tests should be competence for the job and, because they will be working with children, the satisfaction of the working‑with‑children police checks.

Unfortunately the repeal of the inherent requirements test will enable a religious body to discriminate in employment on the grounds of religious belief, religious activity, sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status or gender identity. The Attorney‑General justifies this discrimination — and it is discrimination — by saying that schools should not have to employ those who are opposed to them. This view really goes to the heart of the issue. Just because you are of a different colour, faith, ethnicity or the opposite gender, it does not follow that you are opposed to certain people or organisations. On our side of the house we call that diversity and say that that vibrancy and richness strengthen our community, and we are very proud of that.

On our side of the house we also recognise that some people, because of their differences, are more vulnerable to discrimination, such as migrants from non‑English‑speaking backgrounds. As a starting point we hope for tolerance, decency, understanding and a welcome. Unfortunately it is not always a welcoming hand that is offered. When people are discriminated against in areas such as employment we believe there need to be commissions with real teeth to deal with such matters and real laws that outlaw such conduct.

The government refers to changed governance arrangements for the commission. This we can be sure is code for changing the personnel and nobbling the ongoing work of the commission. A further change will do away with own‑motion investigations by the commission. I quote from an article that appeared in the Sunday Age of 22 May 2010, in which the equal opportunity commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke, puts it succinctly:

‘Discrimination is no different to occupational health or safety, or business regulation’, Dr Szoke told the Sunday Age. ‘It’s a law and you shouldn’t breach it. As someone regulating that law, we’d prefer to have a suite of ways we could address it.’

I congratulate Dr Szoke for the courage of her comments. We all remember how the Kennett government sacked or nobbled anybody who disagreed with it. One of the victims was Moira Rayner, a previous equal opportunity commissioner. We will see whether this Attorney‑General has more strength of character in dealing with criticism, and if not, whether the Premier will rein him in.

Sadly this bill is not a one‑off. I am sure the Attorney‑General wants to scrap the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006. Already the Liberal Party has scrapped acknowledgement of the traditional owners of the land, and today we learned that Victoria Police is scrapping its multicultural advisory unit. I have been involved with that unit a lot in the past 20 years. I know what it has done, what it has achieved and what its success rate is, and it is tragic to see this development. The Premier has to decide when it comes to social fairness and inclusiveness whether he will act with the decency of Dick Hamer or whether he is going to allow his uglies to have their heads.

 

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