In the weeks before Easter there were important developments in NSW and Federal politics with implications for freedom of religion. This update is lengthy, but we think it is important for Christians to be aware of each of these developments.

NSW Conversion Practices Ban Act 

On 22nd March New South Wales Parliament passed the Conversion Practices Ban Act (2024). This fulfilled an election promise by the ALP to bring legislation that prohibits cruel and abusive treatment aimed at changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

There have been some terrible treatments by therapists and in some religious communities in the past. We can agree that these should be stopped. They are no longer offered by medical practitioners, counsellors or Christian ministries.

The risk was always that the legislation would be far more sweeping and normal Christian ministry would be open to complaints. The Victorian Human Rights Commission has already indicated that, under the Victorian legislation religious leaders who advise a church member to not act on their same-sex attraction by remaining celibate, or remove someone from church membership because they are in a same-sex relationship, would be considered to have “suppressed” that person’s sexual identity in ways which contravene the Victorian Act. Similarly, a parent refusing to support a child’s request for gender transition treatment would be the basis for a complaint.

At present, there have been no known actions under the legislation, so we are yet to see its legal effect. But the threat of legal action has a censorious effect. It has probably already made Christian and other religious leaders more cautious in addressing issues of sexuality and gender, in public and personal settings. 

The NSW legislation is not as extreme as the Victorian version. This is in part due to the hard work of religious leaders, and the efforts of many Christians contacting their MPs to express their concerns.

The NSW legislation will, nevertheless, present challenges for churches and Christian ministries, including schools. Neil Foster, a Christian law academic, has written this analysis.

The Act will come into effect in 12 months, so there is time for churches to look more carefully at it and to understand its implications. GS&C is starting this process and will provide an update to the Assembly in July.

NSW Equality Bill 

The Equality Bill, sponsored by Alex Greenwich, the independent MP for Sydney, is now being considered by a Parliamentary Committee. 

This Bill proposes a vast range of changes to NSW legislation, with the goal of improving the safety and well-being of the LGBTIQA+ community.

Christians should support the safety and well-being ​of ​all members of the community. People should not face discrimination or mistreatment due to their sexuality or gender identity. However, we question if that is truly the effect of most of this Bill.

If the Bill were to become legislation, it would amend twenty other pieces of legislation which would:

  • remove or radically reduce the provisions that allow faith-based institutions to maintain their character;
  • remove protections that allow faith-based schools and other religious institutions to employ staff who uphold their views of sex and gender;

  • permit doctors to approve gender transition for a child under 16 without the consent of parents;

  • allow anyone over 16 to change the sex on their birth certificate without respect to their biology and without even surgical changes which would make it impossible to provide safe women-only spaces;

  • require sex work to be treated as a protected attribute in Anti-discrimination legislation, like race and disability;

  • remove all limits on prostitution – including public acts and soliciting or promotion near a school or place of worship;

  • permit commercial surrogacy.

This would create serious challenges for churches, Christian ministries and faith-based schools. It would also put at risk vulnerable young people, women and children.

The Parliamentary Committee has invited various interest groups, including the Presbyterian Church, to make submissions. GS&C is preparing this at present. Freedom for Faith will also make a major submission.

The Parliamentary Committee invites individual citizens to complete a survey,  expressing support or opposition to Bill itself and to the changes to the various amendments proposed to other legislation. It will take about a minute to complete.

We encourage you to complete the survey and to express opposition to the Bill and to all aspects of the proposed changes. To the extent that there are some small details in the Bill that may be useful, these cannot be isolated in the survey.

The Parliamentary Committee will not accept any individual submissions beyond the survey. Full information about the Bill and the Committee process is available here.

​​​Federal Parliament: ALRC report, Sex Discrimination Act, and proposed new Religious Discrimination Bill   

On 22 March, the Federal Government finally released the Australian Law Reform Commission Report on Religious Educational Institutions and Anti-Discrimination Laws. The draft version of this report, released last year, recommended that faith-based schools and other institutions should have very limited rights to appoint staff who accept and live consistently with the moral teaching of the religion. Despite a great deal of concern expressed by many religious bodies, the final version of the report was no improvement.

In response to the report, the Prime Minister proposed to follow the ALRC recommendation and to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to remove exemptions for religious schools. He also proposed a new Religious Discrimination Act which would allow religious schools to prefer staff from their own religion for certain roles which are “reasonably necessary” to build a community of faith if this is not otherwise in contravention of the Sex Discrimination Act.  This would mean that schools could refuse to employ someone from a different religion but not someone from the same religion who had a different view of sexual ethics. It would also prohibit vilification on the basis of religion.

The changes to the Sex Discrimination Act would be a significant threat to the operation of faith-based schools and other institutions. The proposed Religious Discrimination Act would offer very little balance and would, at best, lead to a series of protracted court cases to establish how the two Acts relate. 

Mr Albanese indicated that he would not move on either piece of legislation without bipartisan support. At present, the Liberal-National Opposition has not offered that support, partly because they were only able to see the proposed legislation late last week.

The Shadow Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, has been able to give religious leaders some details about the Bill, but has not been able to share the draft legislation. The Presbyterian Church has been able to be part of these meetings.

Meanwhile, the Greens and some cross-benchers have offered to work with the Government to pass changes to the Sex Discrimination Act. Mr Albanese has indicated that this would require them also to support the right of religious schools to operate according to their own ethos (presumably they would need to support the Religious Discrimination Act).

Religious leaders, including the Moderator-General David Burke, sent a letter to the Prime Minister last week pointing out that key stakeholders have not even seen the bills yet and that the Greens are on the record as not supporting religious schools operating freely. They called on him to keep his election commitment to allow religious educational institutions to operate according to their commitments, especially by selecting appropriate staff.

For prayer: 

  • ​​Ask the Lord to give Christians involved in these various issues grace and wisdom.​

  • ​​Give thanks for the unity of many Christian and other religious groups that are concerned about these developments.​

  • ​​Ask that the PCNSW submission on the Equality Bill would express our concerns clearly and, with many other submissions, show the Committee the reasons why the Bill would not serve our state well.​

  • ​​Uphold Christians in NSW and Federal Parliament who are seeking to explain Christian concerns to their colleagues.​

  • ​​Pray that the Church would boldly proclaim the need for salvation in Christ and the implications of the gospel for sexual ethics and views of gender.​

Yours in Christ,

John McClean
GS&C Convenor.

PS. Look out for more news abut the Navigate Conference on May 31. We’ll tell you more about it very soon.

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