9 February 2023
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: does the government intend to expand the program to religiously-based schools, given the horrific revelations of the Four Corners program on Opus Dei?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I thank the honourable member for his question, and I am happy to raise it with the Equal Opportunity Commission to see what potential there is to expand it further given the current success it has had.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Supplementary: is it the case that such schools would be beyond the scope of any program given they are exempt from the requirements of the Equal Opportunity Act under section 50(1)?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I'm happy to take that on notice. I know there are certain exemptions, particularly in terms of employment practices, but I'm happy to take that on notice to see how any exemptions would interact with a campaign like this.
The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: Final supplementary: has the minister seen the Four Corners program that I referred to?
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): If the honourable member is referring to the Four Corners program about a number of schools in Sydney controlled by the Opus Dei part of the Catholic Church, yes I have.
Reply received on 21 March 2023:
The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): I have been advised:
The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity is an independent statutory officer, and We're Equal is an initiative of her office. While government is supportive of the We're Equal initiative, it is not for government to expand it or otherwise.
The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity has provided a briefing to the Minister for Education, Training and Skills on the We're Equal initiative, and is exploring options to deliver elements of the initiative in educational settings.
The commissioner has advised that she has not specifically met with representatives of religiously based schools, however, in relation to whether they would be beyond the scope of the initiative given the exemptions under section 50(1) of the act, there is no impediment to the commissioner seeking to expand We're Equal to those, or any, schools.
The exemptions with respect to religious bodies must be read in conjunction with section 37 of the Equal Opportunity Act (SA) which makes it 'unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or intersex status' by, for instance refusing or failing to accept an application for admissions, the terms or conditions on which it offers to admit a student.
In addition, the exemption provisions in section 50(1) apply to religious bodies and not the body corporate that operates a school (1). Accordingly, the exemptions under section 50(1) do not prevent the commissioner from acting on complaints of sex discrimination against students and prospective students in religious schools by pursuing allegations against the organisation or its staff.
(1) The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity previously met with Ms Kerry Leaver, Chief Executive and Registrar of the Education Standards Board, who advised that a religious body cannot operate a school because standard 1.1 of the Standards for Registration and Review of Registration of Schools in South Australia, requires that a 'school' is established as a body corporate or body politic and its principal purpose is the provision of school education. The commissioner shares this view.