Bendigo students set equality as priority for Victoria

Bendigo

A group of Bendigo students are demanding changes to the Equal Opportunity Act by seeking to remove the exemption of religious institutions from discrimination laws.

The students will represent Bendigo in the YMCA Victorian Youth Parliament program, where they will have the opportunity to debate their Bill in Victorian Parliament.

“All abilities for religious organisations to discriminate on the basis of personal characteristics in the State of Victoria shall cease,” the Bill reads.

“In modern secular Australia where discrimination is frowned upon, we as a team disagree with current Victorian legislation that exempts religious institutions from discrimination laws as outlined in the Equal Opportunity Act 2010,” said team-member, Sophie Rhule.

If the Bill is successful clauses 82, 83, and 84 of the Equal Opportunity Act will be removed, lifting the exemptions for religious organisations, schools and religious bodies to discriminate against personal characteristics.

The team believe strongly in equality and argue the current legislation prevents this.

“Religious bodies should not have the special ability to discourage people from their belief, an education or employment merely based upon their sexuality, gender or marital status,” said Rhule.

The Bendigo students believe the issue will be rectified by removing the ability for religious institutions to discriminate against people based on specific characteristics.

Under current laws, religious organisations such as the Christian Brethren Church were able to deny teenagers – who were part of a suicide prevention group for homosexual teens – access to their youth camp.

“Today’s society is finding less and less room for discrimination, yet current law opposes this view held by most Australians and allows discrimination to occur,” the Bill reads.

The six students, from Girton Grammar School, Catholic College Bendigo and Bendigo Senior Secondary College, will debate their Bill over three intense days in Victorian Parliament in July.

If successful, the Bill will be handed over to relevant government bodies for consideration.

The Bendigo team consists of Sophie Rhule, Jemille McKenzie, Karl Strybosch, Jessica Denehey, Maddy Barnett and Shane Sawyers.

By Bonny Burrows

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