Tasmanian Parliament rejects Anti-Discrimination bill – Kevin Swarts
A bill was recently introduced into the Parliament of Tasmania by the Labor party that seeks to change the way we manage the enrollments at our Christian schools. It is called the ‘Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2012’. Clause 11 of this bill inserts new sections in to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 to allow Christian schools to apply for exemptions to allow the preferential admission of students on the basis of religion.
Currently the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 under section 16 prevents ‘discrimination on the grounds of attribute’. The current act also includes a raft of exemptions from discrimination, such as: exempting gender discrimination to allow boy/girl schools to enroll a single gender; exempting some gender discrimination in competitive sporting; exempting discrimination of political-belief for the employment of staff in a political party; and so on. However there is no such exemption for religious schools to restrict their school enrollments. Most of the other Australian States have exemption clauses in their legislation that allow religious schools to discriminate on religious-belief for the enrollment of students; yet Tasmania does not.
The introduction of the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2012 attempted to address this, however not in a way that will help Christians at all. Rather than a full exemption like the other states, clause 11 inserts new sections 56A and 56B that will allow religious schools to apply for exemption to the Commissioner. However to be able to apply for exemption, religious schools must have more children seeking admission to a particular year group than there are places available. This is a very limiting condition and is specifically designed to exclude many Christian schools from applying for an exemption.
Thankfully the clause about school enrollments was voted down in the Tasmanian parliament with both the Greens and Liberals voting against it. However there is still cause for concern. The reason the Greens voted against clause 11 is because they believe that faith based schools should not be allowed to restrict their enrollments at all. The Greens also confirmed in the debate that they ideologically opposed to Christian schools that restrict their enrollments from receiving any state funding. The only reason this legislation did not pass is through the House of Assembly is because of the disagreement by the Greens and Labor on how far to push this legislation against Christian schools. Christian Schools in Tasmania are still at risk of the political agenda of the current Labor-Green government.
In response to this political attack on Christian schools, Australian Christians call for proper exemptions to the Anti-discrimination Act 1998 that allow faith-based schools to restrict their enrollments to children of their particular faith. This request is consistent with legislation in other Australian states and would allow Christian schools to limit their enrollments to Christian students.