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Thursday, 17 October 1985
Page: 1406

Senator VANSTONE —I ask the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, firstly, whether she has either met or received representations from Dr Patricia Brennan, Convener of the Movement for the Ordination of Woman, or from any person or group favouring the ordination of women. Secondly, is the Government considering amending the Sex Discrimination Act to remove the exemption provisions covering religious organisations, in pursuit of equal opportunities for women?

Senator RYAN —I have not received any delegations from women advocating the ordination of women although I am aware that it has been a very lively issue in a number of churches throughout Australia and that in some churches some steps have been taken to enable the participation of women at the level of ordination. Religious institutions are excluded from the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act and there has been no discussion within Government circles about changing that. It would be a very difficult step and it would raise all kinds of issues which would not be easily resolved. I certainly would need a lot of persuading to advocate such a course of action, and I have not yet heard any such arguments. We have always accepted in our system that the internal decisions taken by religious groups are for them to take and it is not the role of government to become involved in those internal decision making processes but rather to protect individuals against any sort of religious discrimination that may arise. In the case of the ordination of women, if there is a question of discrimination it is not one of religious discrimination, it is one concerning discrimination on the basis of sex. I wish those women well who are seeking to achieve ordination within their religious groups but at this stage I know of no intention within the Government to become involved in that issue.