The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission today said the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s decision in the Arora v Melton Christian College case was an important test for clarifying the exceptions in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010. This is the first time that these exceptions from discrimination have been considered in Victorian courts or tribunals.

VCAT found Melton Christian College unlawfully discriminated against a five-year-old Sikh boy when it decided not to admit him as a student if he wore his patka at school. The Commission intervened in the case to assist VCAT in interpreting the law.

The school argued that its decision was not unlawful because its uniform policy was neutral with the aim of treating all students equally by not allowing any headwear.
“VCAT’s decision shows that all schools must ensure their uniform policies are not discriminatory,” Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton said.

“Treating all people the same does not result in giving everyone equal opportunity. The decision makes it clear that there is a stark difference between headwear that connects a person to their religion and a sports cap or fashion accessory.”

Victorian law protects all people from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs and activities in the area of education. Melton Christian College argued that exceptions set out in sections 39 and 42 of the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 justified its actions.
As part of her judgment, Member Grainger stated: “I consider that MCC’s uniform policy, in so far as it prohibits head gear of a non-Christian faith, could be described as ‘openly discriminatory’.”

“The school could have made a reasonable adjustment to the uniform policy by allowing Sidhak to wear a patka in the same colour of the school uniform,” Member Grainger stated in the decision.

She went on to say the school failed to consult widely with parents and students when setting the uniform policy and therefore contravened the Equal Opportunity Act.
“It is not reasonable to accept enrolment applications from students from non-Christian faiths only on condition that they do not look like they practice a non-Christian religion,” Member Grainger said.

The Tribunal found that whilst Melton Christian College is a Christian school, it accepts enrollments from other faiths and that over 50 percent of the local community does not identify explicitly as Christian and many families at the school have non-religious beliefs.

“We are pleased that our laws have been interpreted with care in a way that best promotes the rights of children and the right to equality and freedom of religion and that exceptions only apply where justified,” Commissioner Hilton said.

“VCAT’s decision upholds the principles of Victoria’s equal opportunity laws and that exceptions to these laws only apply in very narrow circumstances.”

If you feel you or your child has been discriminated against because of your religious beliefs or another personal characteristic, you can call the Commission on 1300 292 153.

Media contact:

Anna Craig: 0447 526 642 / This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Friday, 15 September 2017 16:18

Why the Commission supports marriage equality

Why does the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission support same sex marriage?

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s mandate is to protect and promote human rights and equality for everyone.

This means we address discrimination where it occurs and work to create a fairer society.

The Commission strongly supports amending our laws to allow same-sex couples the right to equality by allowing them to marry.  Respect for equality is essential in a democratic and inclusive society. It is our role to advance and advocate for equality and the elimination of discrimination.

How will same-sex marriage protect equality?

The federal Marriage Act currently defines marriage as between a man and a woman. This definition creates a distinction on the basis of sexual orientation and has prevented same sex couples from marrying.

Amending the Marriage Act to change the definition of marriage to that of “two people” will remove the legal obstacles that treat people differently. Allowing all people to marry, regardless of the sex or gender of the person they love will promote and protect the right to equality by giving the same rights to everyone in our community.

If same sex couples are allowed to marry, how will that affect religious rights?

The same sex marriage debate has engaged the right to equality and the right to freedom of religion. Questions have been raised about how marriage equality would affect the religious freedoms of those with differing religious and doctrinal views of marriage.

Protecting all human rights in our society is important and rights must be exercised in a way that respects the rights of others.  Marriage between same sex couples will generally not interfere with the fundamental freedom of everyone to demonstrate their religion in worship, observance, practice and teaching.   

That said, there are circumstances where the enjoyment of a right may interfere with another right. 

Our laws are flexible and enable us to balance rights and competing public interest considerations.  Striking the right balance is a central task for law makers.  The law can allow same-sex couples to marry whilst simultaneously allowing religious bodies to adhere to their beliefs and balance these rights.

Earlier this year, the Senate Select Committee agreed that any amendments to the Marriage Act should protect religious freedoms and observed there was considerable consensus for exempting ministers of religion and religious celebrants from being involved in the solemnisation of same-sex marriages. 

A respectful debate

The nature of the same-sex marriage debate is capable of generating unusually pernicious and potentially harmful material.

We urge all proponents in this debate to speak and act respectfully and be conscious of the impact of their words and actions.

The LGBTI community has warned that any extended debate on marriage equality risks harming members of the LGBTI community, particularly young LGBTI people (and especially young LGBTI people in regional areas, who face a higher risk of suicide than their heterosexual peers). There is no place for hateful speech in a debate that only affects those LGBTI people who wish to marry.

This debate is not about the freedom to practice religion, or what children are taught in school, or whether one side is being politically correct or not. We must correct the record and call out false information, especially when it is unrelated to the postal survey that is set to ask solely whether two people of the same sex should be able to marry each other.

Similarly, attacks on people who oppose marriage equality are unacceptable.

What happens after the vote?

The Federal government’s plan for a postal survey on marriage equality is optional and non-binding. The one thing we will be able to say at the end of the postal survey is that it shows the opinions of those who chose to take part.

The next step will be for Federal Parliament to vote on whether to change the law.

The Victorian Government has vowed to overhaul uniform policies in state schools so that girls aren't forced to wear dresses and skirts.

The conviction of three men found guilty of inciting serious religious vilification of Muslims under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 sends a clear message that there is no place for religious hatred in Victoria, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton today said.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton today said the anti-LGBTI posters found in Melbourne are a clear sign that a respectful debate will be difficult during a plebiscite or postal survey campaign on marriage equality.

"This is the type of hateful and inaccurate material that the LGBTI community warned would be publicised during any kind of plebiscite on marriage equality," Commissioner Hilton said. 

"Loving couples have been waiting far too long for discrimination to be written out of our marriage laws and for marriage equality to be achieved in Australia. 

"We must correct the record and call out false information, especially when it is unrelated to the actual postal survey that is set to ask solely whether two people of the same sex should be able to marry each other. 

"Multiple reviews of the research in this area show that there is a broad consensus children with same-sex parents are no worse off than children with heterosexual parents."

The Commission encourages anyone who is struggling to contact community support services

If you feel you have been discriminated against on the basis of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you can call the Commission on 1300 292 153 or make a complaint online.

Media contact

Adam Pulford
Mobile: 0459 114 657
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

Wednesday, 16 August 2017 09:19

Racist posters not who we are: Commissioner

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton today condemned the racist posters stuck around Melbourne schools, which a white supremacist group has claimed responsibility for.

Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton has said that marriage equality should be decided on by the Parliament, not by an optional and potentially divisive postal plebiscite.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission today welcomed the Victorian government’s announcement of $3 million over four years to support specialised family violence services for the Victorian LGBTI community.

A report into the experience of students with disabilities in Victorian schools released today by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has found that in recent years there have been significant policy developments and action but more work is required to measure and ensure real change for students.

In 2014 the Commercial Bar Association of Victoria, the judiciary and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission began work together to understand and address equity issues for female barristers at the commercial bar. Of specific concern was the notion that women practising at the Victorian Bar in commercial law were briefed less frequently than their male counterparts and received briefs of less value.

The Equitable Briefing Initiative was developed to analyse the briefing practices of law firms and government entities who volunteered to be a part of the initiative by submitting data over a three-year period from 2016–19 on their briefing practices, and to focus on reducing any gender bias apparent in briefing practices. 

This report analyses results from the first stage of the Equitable Briefing Initiative. It aims to identify any bias in briefing practices and considers whether the number of briefs to female barristers are proportionate at each level of seniority, and whether the average value of briefs to men and women are equivalent at each level of seniority.

Read the report


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