Archbishop Peter A Comensoli has written to all members of the Victorian Legislative Assembly and Legislative Council expressing his grave misgivings with the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021 being debated in the Victorian Parliament this week.

In the letter, the Archbishop explains that the proposed legislation will diminish the ability of faith organisations to confidently manage employment matters according to their faith and conscience.

‘As a point of principle, this is a serious over-reach of the Government into the rightful freedoms of faith-based organisations in Victoria,’ the Archbishop wrote. He said that faith-based organisations including charities, religious and church agencies, have a ‘right to practice their faith without new administration burdens and pressures’.

‘Catholic organisations are inclusive and welcoming places, not despite but because they are Catholic,’ the Archbishop said, arguing that the introduction of an “inherent requirement” test is a ‘serious intrusion into the expression of faith and an unnecessary instrument of power’.

Under the proposed new legislation, religious bodies and educational institutes will no longer be able to employ staff who hold the same religious beliefs and values unless they can prove that it is an ‘inherent requirement’ of the job. It would grant power to a government appointed commissioner or a court to ultimately determine whether particular staffing roles carried an ‘inherent’ religious requirement or not.

In places like schools, it would mean that where government funding is attached, employers will have an extra burden of administration placed on them and leave them vulnerable to a decrease in the role and importance of faith in the work they do.

Archbishop Comensoli said that the Government’s proposed amendments looked ‘increasingly like a willingness to hurt the rightful expression of religious faith coupled with an extravagant adoption of political power over our lives.’

‘The Government has been unable to identify a single problem in Catholic schools with which this legislation is meant to address, and many in my community are therefore concluding that the Government means to diminish the rights of large religious communities and concurrently target religious minorities. I hope this is not the case.’

He urged public representatives to have a ‘mature re-think’ on the proposed amendments and called for a ‘fairer and democratic approach to be taken’.