Queensland on the front foot against sex discrimination

Nick Gibbs |

A proactive duty to prevent sexual harassment at work and changes to religious exemptions could be on the cards as part of significant anti-discrimination reform in Queensland.

The state government has supported a legal obligation on individuals and organisations to take reasonable steps to “eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and other discriminatory conduct as far as possible”. 

Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman has committed to strengthening anti-discrimination laws in response to the Queensland Human Rights Commission’s Building Belonging report. 

The exhaustive review of Queensland’s anti-discrimination act makes 122 recommendations, all of which have the government’s in-principle support.

The introduction of a duty would “focus on creating cultural change, as well as addressing systemic discrimination issues, rather than relying on individuals to pursue complaints after the fact”, the government said in its response.

It recognised the move as an important proactive element to “eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment and other objectionable conduct”. 

The impact on duty holders requires further consideration, the government noted, as does support needed for individuals and organisations to comply. 

New legislation is an opportunity to focus on the prevention of “these repressible behaviours to the greatest extent possible”, Ms Fentiman said.

“Significant legislation will be prepared that better protects our marginalised communities and individuals and strikes the right balance between competing rights and interests,” she said in a statement on Monday.

Christian Schools Australia said much more work is needed on what it called “radical” discrimination law changes.

“Christian schools welcome the Queensland government’s commitment to further consultation to proposed changes that affect whether we can continue to employ staff who share our beliefs,” public policy director Mark Spencer said.

More work was needed to ensure the rights of Queensland parents “are not trashed in the process”, he said.

The report recommends repealing current genuine occupational exceptions relating to work in schools.

It said a new exception should be created allowing for discrimination on the grounds of religious belief if “reasonable and proportionate” and if participation in the teaching, observance or practice of religion is a “genuine occupational requirement”.

“This should not provide an exception from unnecessary questions that may be asked for a discriminatory purpose,” it said.

“The act should include examples to demonstrate that the exception does not permit discrimination against employees who are not involved in the teaching, observance or practice of a religion, such as a science teacher in a religious educational institution.”

The Queensland government has committed to introducing a bill to repeal and replace the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 within the current term.