Review of Northern Territory Anti-Discrimination Legislation

The Northern Territory Department of the Attorney-General and Justice is seeking comments on potential amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act (NT).

According to Discussion Paper they have recently released the Act ‘is in urgent need of modernisation to support achieving the objects of the Act.’  They also anticipate that a review could be conducted and completed with legislation passed within 18 months.  Given the unicameral nature of the Northern Territory Parliament this timeline may be feasible.

Some of the issues that have been raised for consideration in the review of the Act are:

  • modernising gender and sexuality protections and language in line with the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the current Government’s commitments to support changes to the law to end discrimination against women of diverse sexualities accessing artificial fertilisation procedures;
  • introducing new protections under the Act such as domestic violence, homelessness, lawful sexual activity and socioeconomic status;
  • introducing specific anti-vilification laws prohibiting offensive conduct on the basis of race, religious belief, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status;
  • extending coverage of the sexual harassment provisions to include all areas of public life;
  • introducing a representative complaints model that enables organisations to bring complaints about acts of systemic discrimination on behalf of groups who may be limited in their ability to bring an individual complaint.

While not included in this summary the Discussion Paper also seeks feedback on a proposal to remove the current exemptions for religious bodies in the areas of religious educational institutions, accommodation under the direction or control of a body established for religious purposes and access to religious sites. Under the proposal religious or cultural bodies would instead be required to apply for an exemption with the ADC and justify why their service requires a particular exemption.

The Discussion Paper goes on to spell out that –

‘One of exemptions that could be removed is section 30(2) that permits religious schools to exclude prospective students who are not of that religion.

Another exemption that could be removed is section 37A that permits religious schools to discriminate against employees on the grounds of religious beliefs, activity or sexuality if done in good faith to avoid offending the religious sensitivities of people of the particular religion.’

In seeking to provide a justification for these proposal the Discussion Paper indicates that –

‘Removal of these exemptions would make the system fairer by ensuring people of certain attributes have the same opportunities under the Act. It would also ensure that cultural and religious bodies are more accountable for their actions and more inclusive.’

Quite simply, these proposal are a clear attack on religious freedom and completely inconsistent with accepted human rights law.  While CSA does not have any member schools in the Northern Territory we will be liaising with other affected groups and making a strong submission to the review to seek to avert a dangerous precedent being set which could be followed by other jurisdictions.

The closing date for comments on this Discussion Paper is 3 December 2017.  We will keep schools informed of progress.

A copy of the Discussion Paper can be downloaded from the link below.