By Linda Belardi.
The sex discrimination bill and government amendments that make it unlawful for aged care providers to discriminate against LGBTI people have passed the Senate.
The bill, which seeks to limit the religious exemption from anti-discrimination laws in aged care, passed the upper house on Monday, 36 votes to 29, and will now return to the lower house for consideration.
The bill represents the first political attempt to curb the longstanding exemptions granted to religious bodies, and pending its passage in the House of Representatives, will make it unlawful for all aged care providers to discriminate on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation or intersex status.
The majority of Coalition senators rejected the government’s amendments on the grounds that it encroached on the universal right to freedom of religion and might lead to further erosion of religious exemptions in other areas.
However, the Coalition’s position drew sharp criticism from Queensland Senator Sue Boyce who broke ranks with her Coalition colleagues and crossed the floor over the issue. West Australian Liberal Senator Dean Smith also abstained from voting.
The senate committees inquiring into this issue heard evidence that many LGBTI people fear discrimination in aged care and delay seeking assistance as they age.
The experiences of older LGBTI Victorians accessing aged care services, including cases of discrimination and homophobic attitudes from staff, were documented in the ‘My People’ report in 2008.
ACT Liberal senator Gary Humphries said that while it is not policy to discriminate, religious organisations should be given the opportunity to justify their position in light of the fundamental right to freedom of religion. He said that the need for regulation was not demonstrated.
LGBTI advocates, human rights authorities and some providers have strongly supported the bill as a significant step in ensuring the legal protection of marginalised older LGBTI people from discrimination.
Read AAA’s previous coverage of the bill here
Government responds to LLLB senate committee
In addition to the passing of the sex discrimination amendment bill in the Senate, the government has also released its response to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee report into the five aged care bills.
Overall, the government supported two of the 13 recommendations made by the senate committee, accepted a further 8 recommendations, accepted in part or in principle two recommendations and rejected one recommendation.
Of particular note, the government announced its support for a $6.9 million three-year transitional assistance package.
The transitional funding would be provided in the form of government-subsidised business advisory services to assist providers with the transition to the new accommodation payments system.
Catholic Health Australia CEO, Martin Laverty welcomed the government’s decision and said the funding would help providers to assess how the reforms will affect them.
The government said it will also amend the Workforce Supplement Guidelines to state that excess supplement funding – after the provider pays a 1 per cent wage increase to their employees – must be used to provide further wage increases or to support additional workforce commitments as part of the supplement, this may include implementation costs.
Read the government’s response in full here:
Read AAA’s coverage of the senate committee report tabled on 31 May here
The five aged bills are scheduled for debate in the Senate on Wednesday, 26 June.