The Victorian Government is proposing changes to the Equal Opportunity Act (2010). This law currently allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate against people based on sex, sexual orientation, lawful sexual activity, marital status, parental status and gender identity. These qualities will be referred to as personal characteristics throughout this webpage.
Discrimination is when a person is treated unfairly because of a personal characteristic protected by the law.
The Equal Opportunity Act 2010 makes discrimination and sexual harassment against the law when it happens in certain areas of public life, including at work, school or in shops. However, the Act recognises the need to balance everyone’s rights, including those who have religious beliefs. To accommodate this, there are exceptions that mean discrimination is not against the law in certain circumstances .
The Equal Opportunity Act allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate against a person because of personal characteristics. This means religious bodies and schools can lawfully refuse entry to a prospective student, expel a student, refuse to employ someone, fire someone or otherwise treat someone differently based on these grounds.
Religious schools and bodies can only discriminate against people where the discrimination conforms to the doctrines, beliefs or principles of the religion or is reasonably necessary to avoid injuring other people’s beliefs.
For example, a religious school may be able to fire an administrative assistant who comes out as gay, or gets divorced, if the school thinks that it is necessary to avoid injuring the beliefs of other members of the religion. A religious organisation may be able to refuse to provide counselling services to a member of the public who is transgender if the discrimination conforms with the beliefs of their religion.
The Act also allows an individual to discriminate against another on the basis of religious beliefs and other personal characteristics if discrimination is necessary to allow the individual to follow their religion. However, this exception is very limited as most discrimination happens in the context of work or school.
The government wants to change the law so when employing staff religious bodies and schools can only discriminate where conformity with religious beliefs is an inherent requirement of the job. In addition, when running a school or providing services funded by the Victorian Government religious bodies will only be able to discriminate on the basis of a person’s religious belief (not on other personal characteristics).
Individuals will not be able to discriminate in the circumstances covered by the Equal Opportunity Act in order to comply with religious beliefs.
These changes will ensure a fairer balance between the right to religious freedom and the right to be free from discrimination.
What will not change
The government is not changing the law that allows religious bodies and schools to discriminate in relation to:
- ordaining or appointing priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
- training or educating people seeking ordination or appointment as priests, ministers of religion or members of a religious order
- selecting or appointing people to perform functions relating to, or participating in, any religious observance or practice.
Read the fact sheet for more information
Where to get help
In an emergency, always call Triple Zero (000):
- Victoria Police
For immediate assistance, including where you are a victim of a serious incident of racial and religious vilification or abuse, call Triple Zero (000). Find out more about how Victoria Police manage prejudice motivated crime at police.vic.gov.au/prejudice-and-racial-and-religious-vilification
If you want to make a complaint about discrimination or are seeking legal advice you can contact:
- Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission (VEOHRC)
Helps resolve complaints about discrimination. Make a complaint online using the community reporting tool or contact VEOHRC by phone 1300 292 153 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Victorian Legal Aid
Provides free information and help about the law. Call 1300 792 387 or visit legalaid.vic.gov.au
If you are LGBTIQ+ you can contact:
- Rainbow Door
A free specialist LGBTIQA+ helpline. It provides support and referral to all LGBTIQA+ Victorians, their family and friends. Call 1800 729 367, email email@example.com or SMS 0480 017 246
Provides Australia-wide LGBTQIA+ peer support and referrals for people wanting to talk about a range of issues, including sexuality, identity, gender, bodies, feelings, or relationships. Call 1800 184 527 or visit qlife.org.au
If you are a young person you can contact:
- Kids Helpline
Provides 24-hour counselling service for young people aged five to 25 years. Call 1800 551 800 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Provides support about mental health issues for people under 25 years
If you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person you can contact:
- Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service
Provides legal advice and information to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Victoria. Call 1800 064 865 or visit email@example.com
Provides online resources made by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with a focus on social and emotional wellbeing. This includes websites, apps, podcasts, videos, social media, and online counselling . Call (08) 9370 6336
- Yarning SafeNStrong
Provides a state-wide social and emotional wellbeing helpline for Aboriginal Victorians. Call 1800 95 95 63, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit vahs.org.au/yarning-safenstrong/
- Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO)
Provides advice and further information on specific resources and contacts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Call 03 9411 9411 or visit vaccho.org.au
For other mental health support you can contact:
Provides parents and carers with counselling and support from a qualified counsellor from 8am to midnight, 7 days a week including public holidays. Call 13 22 89
Provides 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services. Call 13 11 14
- MensLine Australia
Provides 24-hour help , support, referrals and counselling services for men. Call 1300 789 978
- Suicide Call Back Service
Provides 24-hour counselling for suicide prevention and mental health. Support is via telephone, online and video for anyone affected by suicidal thoughts. Call 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue
Provides 24-hour support for people affected by anxiety, depression and suicide. Call 1300 224 636. Beyond Blue also have dedicated resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people .
Provides information and support about mental health and wellbeing. Call 1800 650 890.
Headspace also provides early intervention mental health services to 12 to 25-year-olds. Headspace also provides resources specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people