To the Hon Daniel Andrews MP, Leader of the Opposition, and the Labor team
I am deeply concerned that the proposed changes to the Equal Opportunity Act will undermine the freedom of association needed by Christian schools to maintain a Christian ethos. Freedom of Association is the right to join or leave a group of a person's own choosing, and for that group to take collective action to pursue the interests of members. Christian schools take collective action to pursue Christian goals in education.
Victorian Labor's proposed changes would have the effect that Christian schools could be compelled to hire people who are fundamentally opposed to the school's collective interests.
There are certainly activists in the community would like to see this happen, but this outcome would be very damaging for religious freedom. The resulting court cases would also be extraordinarily divisive.
The introduction of a 'necessary requirements' test, if applied more broadly than to educational institutions, could also cause a lot of grief to organisations who do good work serving the community. Many Christian organisations apply a faith test to employees, including local churches and even major social justice organisations such as World Vision.
My concern is that this policy is being driven by people who are essentially hostile to religion, and it has been adopted by others, who while not being hostile to faith, are not well informed about how religious organisations function. I am concerned that the Victorian Opposition does not understand how destructive this change will be for the freedom of association of religious organisations, and particularly their right to maintain a faith ethos across their operations.
It is also disappointing that the Labor party is proposing this change while it apparently is not proposing to remove the exemption for political organisations to discriminate on political affiliation when employing staff. It seems that a government minister is to be permitted the right to choose to employ a a member of their own political party as their personal secretary or office manager, but a principal of a Christian school would not be permitted to choose to employ a Christian as a year 12 coordinator or as an accounts manager. Is the right to freedom of association enjoyed by political groups to exceed the right of to freedom of association enjoyed by religious groups?
Please reconsider this policy. It a matter of the deepest concern to me and many others of the Christian faith.
Revd Dr Mark Durie, FAHA
Vicar of St Mary's Caulfield with St Clement's Elsternwick