Federal Government Minister cites Dr Alex Deagon’s religious freedom research during Senate Debate.
The media’s leak of the Recommendations from the Ruddock Report on Religious Freedom in Australia prior to its official release prompted a controversial debate about the extent to which faith-based schools should have the freedom to select staff and regulate students consistent with their religious ethos.
Under exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth), educational institutions established for religious purposes can discriminate against staff and students if they do so in good faith and in accordance with their religion to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents to that religion.
The public debate resulted in a private member’s Bill moved by Federal Senator Penny Wong to remove these exemptions. This bill was sent to the Commonwealth Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee which provided a Report on 26th November 2018, which consisted of a majority report (ALP/Greens) and a dissenting report (Coalition).
QUT Researcher Dr Alex Deagon’s submission was cited by the majority report in relation to potential constitutional issues with any attempt to remove religious exemptions in Commonwealth legislation without equivalent alternate protections being passed. Dr Deagon was further cited extensively by the dissenting report on similar constitutional issues, as well as to support arguments regarding the need for the religious freedom of faith-based schools to be maintained and substantively protected.
In the subsequent Senate debate on the bill during the sitting on 3rd December 2018, Senator Zed Seselja, Assistant Minister for Treasury and Finance, opened the debate by quoting from Dr Deagon’s submission to underscore the importance of religious freedom in the context of ensuring the liberty of parents to have their children educated in accordance with their religious convictions. This was used to support proposed Government amendments to the bill. Debate on the bill adjourned without a vote and it was sent to a further committee for consideration.
The Ruddock Report and Government Response were released on 13th December 2018, and Dr Deagon was one of 21 academics around Australia that were asked to provide expert evidence to the Ruddock Panel in person. According to the Government Response, the issue of religious freedom for faith-based schools is to be considered further by the Australian Law Reform Commission in 2019.
You can read more about Dr Alex Deagon and his biography in his QUT staff profile.