ALRC gives govt advice on anti-discrimination law

alrc discrimination law

An independent legal body has advised the Federal Government on how to better protect LGBT+ staff and students at religious schools. The government asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to review federal anti-discrimination laws in light of a years-long debate about religious freedoms.

Here’s what you need to know.


Australia’s key discrimination law, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, has an exemption called ‘Section 38’ which allows religious schools to discriminate against someone based on their “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy”.

While some states have introduced their own laws to prevent this type of discrimination, federal legislation can override these protections.

Labor Government

When Labor got into Government in 2022, it asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to review the country’s religious exemptions for schools in federal anti-discrimination law.

This request came after a years-long debate about religious discrimination in Australia, and the previous Government’s ‘Religious Discrimination Bill’, which it failed to pass.

This week, the ALRC delivered its report.

ALRC recommendations

The ALRC report recommended getting rid of the ‘Section 38’ exception altogether.

That would mean religious schools cannot dismiss staff, refuse to hire staff, or expel students based on their sexual orientation, gender, relationship status, or pregnancy.

The ALRC report said getting rid of the exception would “substantially narrow” instances where religious schools can discriminate against people.

The ALRC also recommended keeping the right of religious schools to preference hiring someone of the same religion over a candidate who does not follow the school’s faith.

That would allow religious schools to require adherence to their faith as part of their vetting process for jobs, as part of the school’s broader effort to build “a community of faith”.

It also recommends religious schools be protected by an exception in the Fair Work Act, which sets out workplace laws in Australia.

Government response

Attorney General Mark Dreyfus said the government is considering the ALRC’s suggestions. He said: “No students or member of staff should be discriminated against because of who they are.”

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said he will seek bipartisan (Opposition) support to introduce new laws.

“I think Australians don’t want to see the culture wars and the division out there. I want this to be an opportunity for unity going forward,” he said in a press conference yesterday.

Opposition response

Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash told TDA: “The Coalition notes that representatives of Christian schools, the Catholic Church, Islamic schools and a number of other faith groups have expressed serious concerns with this report and its recommendations.”

She added: “We encourage the Albanese Government to address these concerns.”

Cash did not confirm what the “concerns” were when asked by TDA.

Community response

LGBTQIA+ rights peak body Equality Australia welcomed the report and urged the government to make the recommendations law.

CEO Anna Brown said: “Every day we delay these reforms there will be more students who are robbed of their chance to become a school prefect or take their partner to the formal.”

However, Christian Schools Australia said the ALRC’s suggestions amount to a “direct attack on faith and freedom of belief in Australia” and that Christian education would “cease to exist” under the proposed changes.

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