Repression is not reform, Mr Baillieu

Newly-installed Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu isn’t wasting any time making good on those campaign promises. Or at least, making good on some – those that have a potentially devastating effect on the way we live. It’s all about religion, you see. Specifically, it’s all about how insisting on compassion, decency and above all fairness unfairly discriminates against a few vocal conservative groups.

The former Brumby government laid down a series of changes to Equal Opportunity legislation that would have taken effect in August. Religious organisations would have had to prove that they had good reasons for refusing employment or services to people beyond the basic excuse of, ‘We don’t agree with how they live their personal lives’. Under these changes, such organisations would have had to show that employing someone who was gay, or a single parent, would ‘undermine’ the organisation’s beliefs or that the job in question required someone who conformed to the faith in question.

Christian lobby groups – most particularly the Australian Christian Lobby – complained bitterly at what they characterised as an attack on freedom of religion, particular religious schools. Well, now they’ve got a government who speaks their language, and that is prepared to allow these organisations to go on discriminating against anyone they don’t like.

This is what the Attorney-General, Robert Clark, had to say in this article in The Age:

‘The 2010 legislation is a far-reaching attack on the freedom of faith-based organisations and freedom of religion and belief. The amendments will restore tolerance and a sense of the fair go. Faith-based organisations and political organisations should be free to engage staff that uphold their values.’

He went on to talk about the ‘direct attack’ on religious schools, implying that somehow, the Liberal government were protecting parents’ rights to choose a good education for their children. This was further rationalised by the claim that the issue had been ‘well-canvassed’.

Well-canvassed among the vocal – and rabid – minority of the Australian Christian Lobby, perhaps. A minority that, for reasons passing understanding, seems to have the ear of government at every level.

This is an appalling decision by the Victorian government. This policy decision doesn’t only prevent reform that would allow real fairness. It sends a clear message that these organisations can go even further. By scrapping the proposed reforms, Baillieu is effectively saying to these organisations – you can do what you like, and we’ll back you up. We consider your interests to be more important than those of single parents, queer people, and those who don’t believe as you do.

This is the party that frequently rails against the idea of giving in to ‘special pleading’ from ‘minority groups’. Apparently, it’s only some minority groups, however.

Baillieu’s government thinks this is a great piece of reform, and they’ve trotted out the clichés to back themselves up. It’s a ‘fair go’. It’s about ‘choice’ and ‘freedom’.

It’s nothing of the kind.

It’s a warning: conform or be punished. And it’s targeted at people who already suffer massive discrimination simply for being who they are.

Oh, it all seems very reasonable. After all, if you’re not a member of this kind of religion, why would you want to work for them, or seek their help? But it’s not that simple. Understand, we’re not talking about church membership here, where belief – or even, the will to believe, could be considered a reasonable requirement. This unlimited power to discriminate extends to any business that describes itself as a religious organisation. That’s a broad spectrum, encompassing everything from schools to charities to community-based organisations to health care.

Single mum looking for a part-time job now that the kids are at school? Young gay school-leaver seeking to work in a gap year before going to uni? Devout Muslim woman wanting to help the local community by working for a welfare agency?

Need not apply.

In rural areas, sometimes these religious organisations are the only ones available. Baillieu’s so-called ‘reforms’, then, have
potential knock-on effects that could disrupt people’s lives. The only job going for teachers in any given town might be in the local Catholic school (the only one in the area) – but if the most qualified applicant is an atheist or in a de facto same-sex relationship, that school can legally refuse to employ them on those grounds alone. So that teacher faces two equally unpalatable choices; seek a job much further away, perhaps requiring hours of travel or even moving to another town, or forget about the idea of becoming a teacher in their home town.

What if a single woman employed by a religious charity became pregnant, and elected to keep the baby? She could be dismissed. Ditto the man who, after wrestling with his own sense of self for many years, finally accepts that he is a woman, and needs to transition.

And it goes further. A religious school would be able to pick and choose its teachers. Evolution? Sex education (beyond abstinence)? Forget it. And the kid who’s discovering her sexual identity is something other than what she’s been told is ‘normal’? Well, she’d better be prepared to keep it quiet, because her principal might just decide she needs to go elsewhere.

Oh, and just as a point of contrast … a convicted criminal would have more protection under Equal Opportunity in Victoria than a bisexual man or a pagan if Baillieu has his way.

Baillieu and Clark are happily condoning the kind of prejudice that leads to mental illness, violence and suicide. Worse, they’re actually championing it. Their ‘wide canvass’ doesn’t seem to have included people like these teens, who wrote of their experiences with homophobia at school:

I tried to kill myself because I was so badly teased at school for being a lesbian.. it never ended and I got severe depression and I saw no other way to be happy, I was in hospital for 2 months trying to control my depression and because doctors thought I would hurt myself again if they let me out and it also forced me to drop out of school.
(Claudia, 16 years)

i thought about it so much, i came close just as many times. but for some reason i never bought myself to try. i did have a complete plan though, i took a week to plan the whole thing out. (Craig, 16 years)

(Source: Writing Themselves In Again: 6 years on, 2nd national report on the sexual health & well-being of same-sex attracted young people in Australia, via La Trobe University)

These are the kind of kids who exist in a school system where there are programs to address issues of homophobia and violence, and where teachers are encouraged to support same-sex attracted students. Imagine these kids under Baillieu’s ‘reforms’. Because their parents want them to get a good education, or because there’s no decent public school available, they attend an independent school (most of which, as the ACL has noted on many occasions, are at least nominally religious). No teachers for them to turn to when they are victimised, no positive role model with whom they can identify. An unmistakable message that there is something ‘wrong’ with them for being queer – or even suspecting that they might be so.

This isn’t about ‘freedom’. Baillieu and Clark, with this plan, would sacrifice the well-being – and perhaps the lives – of Victorians just so they can pander to groups that believe they have the (literally) God-given right to demonise others. The very same people who tend to howl about how badly they are discriminated against if another religious group wants to exclude them, or if Mardi Gras tells them their lying rhetoric alleging all gay men are pedophiles isn’t permitted in their celebrations.

And they have the nerve – the absolute, outrageous nerve – to tell us it’s reform. It’s fair.

This is not reform, Mr Baillieu – it’s repression, pure and simple. You can dress it up with buzzwords designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator, because after all, none of us like to feel we’re being denied a fair deal. But there is nothing fair about this.

The Shadow Minister, Martin Pakula, weaselled when asked whether Labor would support Baillieu on this plan. He said Labor would have to look at the amendments. That’s not good enough, Mr Pakula. Your government wanted to bring in these changes in the first place. Your government was the one that really undertook a wide canvass. You know just how important it is that these groups not be allowed to reduce people to outcasts. No amount of appeals to sacred texts can disguise the fact that what they want is the ability to arbitrarily declare some people less worthy than others. Despite their often-repeated claim that Australia is a ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation, we are a country of diverse beliefs, none of which should be subject to favourable treatment or prejudice. We are not a country subject to the doctrine of one interpretation of one religion.

And we should not be a country that turns a blind eye to the deliberate attempts of a lobby group to strip away the rights of those they simply do not like.

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22 Responses to Repression is not reform, Mr Baillieu

  1. […] his party’s majority to completely subvert the democratic legislative process – because the ACL said it was attacking ‘freedom’ to update Equal Opportunity laws. They’re a vocal minority that claims to speak for all Christians, pushing their bigotry, […]

  2. […] back in February when Ted Baillieu signalled his intention to allow faith-based organisations to discriminate against anyone who didn’t follow their bel…? At the time he trumpeted this idea as ‘reform’. As I wrote then, […]

  3. Carrot says:

    I love this sort of muddled rhetoric. It’s great.

    The Christians are coming!! The Christians are coming!! Nowhere is safe!!

    I for one, am as unenthusiastic about legalised discrimination as the next person. I do not believe it is fair to make value judgements about someone’s personal life as a basis for not employing them. The fact that it happens in every industry all the time whether we like it or not is beside the point – this much I can agree with you on. Apart from that however, I think you over-state your case hugely, and have a very scatter-gun approach to the facts – you certainly provide very little evidence for some of your assumptions, despite your quotes from LaTrobe.

    Some things I’d challenge you on. Where in Australia would you find a private faith school with no state alternative nearby? I could be wrong, but I’m fairly sure this couldn’t, or at least shouldn’t, happen. Can faith schools REALLY elect not to teach basic sex-ed? Not so sure myself. The quotes from the suicidal teens – did they attend faith schools? There’s no specific mention that they did, so should we assume that they didn’t? Statisics tell us that gay teens are more likely to self-harm than others no matter what their environment, so to make some sort of link between faith schools and teen suicide without evidence is not only abhorrent, but frankly libelous as well! You even have a go at “nominally religious” private schools – are we sure that our state schools are so much more nurturing and tolerant when it comes to the point of homosexuality?

    What I love about the 21st Century’s War on Christianity is the broad assumption that if you go to church every now and again then you must be delusional, stupid, bigoted, ignorant, and somehow morally lacking. I’ve got news for you – you’re just as likely to find all of those attributes outside a church as you are to find them inside of one. Because you know what? PEOPLE go to church! If you take the word “Christian” out of “Right-wing, prejudiced, socially-conservative Christian dickhead”, you still get…. well, you get the picture, and there’s one on every street corner. All these “Is Religion A Force For Good In The World” debates starring Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens might be interesting, but they might as well be called “Is Humanity Worth Saving?”

    Religion is just an easy, and very fashionable target – as this article makes more than clear.

    • Whew! Lots of comments to address there.

      I hoped that I made it clear that I believed the ACL absolutely does not speak for all Christians. The most distressed comments I’ve seen on this subject have come from Christians who are anxious about what the ACL does.

      Re: faith-based vs public schools in rural areas. I have personal experience of at least one situation where the only public alternative is a fairly long car trip, and the school in question has a terrible record on Year 12 retention and bullying. I also have anecodtal evidence of parents faced with the difficult choice of a state school completely unable to properly support its students, and a religious school different from their own beliefs.

      Re: curricula in independent schools. There is no national (or even state) curriculum prescribing how these subjects are taught. ‘Sex education’ is a broad term covering everything from basic reproduction to sexually transmitted infection to same-sex attraction. Schools may choose what they teach – and often, that is restricted to reproduction and calls for abstinence until marriage.

      Re: same-sex attracted youth and suicide. I’d invite you to take a look at reports like Writing Themselves In, Going Forward and Private Lives. The two examples I provided were drawn from Writing Themselves In – they are representative of a wide problem. The reports make it clear that, where teachers do not enforce the current legally-mandated anti-discrimination laws, students are twice as likely to self-harm or attempt suicide as a result of abuse suffered at school.

      Religion is not an ‘easy target’. I have a respect for all faiths. What I do not respect is bigotry and hatred of the kind espoused by the ACL.

      What Baillieu’s government proposes has implications that go far beyond any protestations of ‘fairness’.

      • Carrot says:

        Hi there.

        Re: making it clear that the ACL does not speak for all Christians, and having respect for all faiths, perhaps I mis-read, and mis-represented you a little. Reading your article again, it is easy to do however – you do seem to be painting a picture that without anti-discrimination laws applying across the board, floodgates will open, and everyone will be discriminated against, ipso facto – which is clearly not the case. Not everyone involved in the Christian church is anti-divorce, anti-gay and racist, as I’m sure you will agree.

        The discussion about gay teens and their choice of school kind’ve boils down to a bit of a non-argument in the end though, I think. If the local state school is a mess and has a culture of bullying, and the local Catholic school will tell your gay child that homosexuality is a sin, then neither is as good as the other, surely? By that token, I can’t imagine ANY school by definition being a good place for a teen to come out. My own independent performing arts highschool, with a VERY thoroughly deserved gay-friendly reputation, still had a born-again Christian as a senior member of the music department who admitted to us one day that she didn’t believe in homosexuality, and that gay people were depraved! It’s no picnic ANYWHERE – and some people are just arseholes, regardless of the legislation. That said though, the opposite is also true, and open-mindedness often comes from the most surprising places. I’ve noticed that a LOT of my gay friends are religious for instance – some of them are even Cathlolic! Go figure.

  4. zane says:

    Thank you for raising this, I have been concerned about this for a long time. I have worked in various industries over the years and now I ask potential employers some questions if I get to an interview. First one; Do you discriminate against human beings. If they are confused I then go into an explanation. I can tell by their face if it is a big deal. I am including gender equality as well as acceptance of GLBT. If they cringe slightly I say thank you for this opportunity to test your discrimination policies this position is not for me. I would rather work for a organization that treats people as people. I like to take them on directly as it makes a difference to me as a person who I am working with and around. I suggest everyone do that as discrimination of any kind can’t be allowed to continue on anymore for anyone. People need to work together on this issue. I agree about starting up a petition but more direct action and sending a clear message needs to occur here. Write to local MP’s over concerns. Support organizations who are not discriminatory to GLBTI, expose those who are not. I myself live a heterosexual life and have a baby on the way. I have many close friends and family who identify as GLBTI plus a variations of religions. We all need to take a stand here. Judeo – Christians beliefs just because they say it does not mean it is so. We are a multicultural and multi-faith country recognizing this and accepting this is a simple and easy step, Balieu what a sad person he is for supporting such a repressive policy.

    • I think it’s important to point out that this is not a matter of so-called ‘Judeo-Christian’ beliefs. This is a vocal lobby group that embraces hate speech and xenophobia in the name of religion. Many Christians are distressed by the ACL, particularly since that group claims to speak for all Christians.

  5. dartigen says:

    What I don’t understand is why the questions come up in the first place.
    How, exactly, does your variety of relationship affect your work life? How is it any of your boss’s business in the first place? Or your religious beliefs, for that matter? You wouldn’t ask a stranger about their living arrangements, would you? Questions about sexuality and religious beliefs fall under the category of ‘private life’ and are very rarely relevant to your work life at all.
    I am firm on the matter – if it’s not something you’d tell a total stranger, it’s not something that should be asked at a job interview. Just because you’re a potential employee doesn’t mean that manners and conversational etiquette have to be utterly abandoned. (And I actually find I’m more inclined to put more effort into getting the job if the interviewer is polite to me – first impressions count, and not just to the interviewer.)
    IMO, next time a potential employer asks you a personal question like that, tell them it’s not relevant – or better yet, tell them that your private life is none of their business. (And if it’s on a form, don’t fill it out – or better yet don’t take the job, seeing as that makes it obvious that there’s going to be discrimination.)

    • Absolutely, it’s none of an employer’s business. For a long time it’s been part of standard advice to people applying for a job that they should refuse to disclose their marital status on an application form. The same should be true of religious belief. It’s simply not relevant.

      But it goes further than that. What if you want to keep a photo of your same-sex partner on your desk? What if you don’t have a spouse to bring to the office Xmas party? Or if your religion requires you to pray at certain times, or take certain days off for observances?

      At that point, your private life does start to bleed into your work life. There is no way someone should feel they have to conceal those things just to keep their jobs.

  6. Jen Surname says:

    It’s reading things like this that really, really don’t make me hurry with that visa application. I’m in absolutely no rush to move to a state – or even a country – that believes this kind of legislation is “fair”.

    We’re currently in the process of applying to extend Wife’s visa, so she can stay here in the UK longer. That’s fine by me, after reading this.

  7. Anth says:

    I would hope that any organisation that is allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion is not receiving state money or tax breaks…

    Fat chance.

  8. Thanks once again for a great article. Are you aware of an actions being organised to protest against these legislative changes? It makes me thoroughly ill to even think about how our nation continues to regress towards something akin to a modern version of the dark ages.

    • Sadly, I don’t think it features on GetUp’s radar.

      I do recommend writing to your local state MP, as well as the Attorney-General, his Shadow and the party leaders.

      If you’re a member of a church or other religious organisation that might be sympathetic, maybe a submission could be made to the government.

      It’s also worth contacting any GLBTI-oriented organisations, to see if they want to get up a petition. Ditto with the unis.

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tron Lord, Marian Dalton and Marian Dalton, Random. Random said: RT @crazyjane13: The Conscience Vote: Repression is not reform, Mr Baillieu. http://wp.me/pZfPj-7A #auspol #equallove #ausense […]

  10. Ben McGinnes says:

    Australia has signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I’m pretty sure this breaches (or may breach under some circumstances) Articles 16, 18, 19, 21, 22, 24, 25(c) and 26.

  11. Bronwyn says:

    The ABC website has a news article that said (I believe – might need to check) that the Catholic church was one of the biggest employers in Australia. That certainly has an effect when they discriminate against potential employees.

    Though I suppose potential isn’t the right word here – these people have no chance to be employed. I noticed that representatives for Muslim groups said they would like the right to reject people too, but they don’t campaign for it – they have higher priorities.

    Also fascinating – what they’re bringing in here is illegal in England.

    How can it be anything but discrimination when you are asked to reveal your sexual preferences when you apply for a job??? This obsession with sex, the regulation thereof, the *policing* – still getting the Christians in trouble. *sigh*

    • One thing I hear, over and over again, is how the ACL does not represent Christians. I’ve received emails and comments from people utterly distressed to think that their religion is being turned into something mean-spirited and awful. Worse, some of these people say they’ve copped abuse for what the ACL does and say, even though they absolutely don’t agree with it.

      It’s really important, I think, to make sure everyone understands that the ACL is a minority voice claiming to speak for all Christians. It’s completely unfair to judge all Christianities, or all those who identify as Christian, on the basis of this group (which would probably qualify as a hate group under the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s definition).

      • Mike says:

        I have to take a page from Dan Savage’s book on this point. If the ACL does not represent the majority of Christians, then why is the majority of noise from the ACL? Where are the press releases from Christian organisations who are against these changes to the law?

        If they don’t represent you, your faith and your sense of justice then you need to show your faces and let the rest of society know that. If other Christians feel so strongly about themselves and their faith being lumped in with groups like this, then surely they feel strongly enough to organise and rebuke the ACL?

        Tell the ACL. Tell the media. Duke it out and take back your faith from those who twist it.

  12. Loki Carbis says:

    Makes me wonder what would happen if a pagan-run business were to fire someone on the grounds that they are Christian. No doubt the ACL would be complaining about that so fast it would practically be time travel…

    • Ben McGinnes says:

      It might be worth advertising jobs that state that Christians should not apply just to see what happens. 😉

    • This is just the latest in a long series of special pleading by the ACL and its spokespeople. Their complaints range from closed sessions in swimming pools to girls wearing burqas at public schools to building mosques in ‘sensitive areas’ (read: anywhere in Australia).

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