Anti-discrimination commissioner notifies archbishop of possible breach of the law

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Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart has been found to have possibly breached Tasmania's anti-discrimination law in expressing Catholic teaching.
Archbishop Julian Porteous of Hobart has been notified that he possibly breached Tasmania’s anti-discrimination act in expressing Catholic teaching.

The office of Tasmania’s Anti-discrimination Commissioner has notified Archbishop Julian Porteous that it has found that the matter of a complaint made about him was in possible breach of that state’s anti-discrimination act, with one media report saying it had also implicated the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC).

Transgender Greens candidate Martine Delaney made the complaint in September in relation to the distribution of the ACBC-produced, pro-traditional marriage booklet Don’t Mess With Marriage to the families of students in the Catholic schools.

In a statement released earlier today, Archbishop Porteous said he did not want to comment too widely given the ongoing legal nature of the complaint, and said his intention was to inform and not to offend.

“My aim was to assist the Catholic community in understanding the teaching of the Catholic Church, at a time when debate on this matter was widespread within the community,” Archbishop Porteous said.

“The intention was to inform the debate as leader of the Catholic Church in Tasmania, to ensure the Catholic community understood where we stand on the issue of marriage.

“It was not my intention to offend, rather, it was and is, to express the teaching of the Catholic Church.

“I regret if offence has been taken by individuals, and will work with the Commission to resolve this matter.”

Speaking to the ABC at the time she lodged the complaint, Ms Delaney claimed that the language of the Don’t Mess With Marriage booklet implied criminal activity.

“In Australian society ‘messing with kids’ is generally used right across the country as virtually code for sexual abuse or paedophilia,” Ms Delaney said.

“To quietly sort of add that to the booklet to me suggests that there is an attempt to lay some insinuations to make some statements without being honest about what you’re saying.”

In today’s statement, Archbishop Porteous confirmed several details in an earlier report in the Australian, that the commissioner would list the ACBC as a respondent in what is likely to be a significant test case for religious expression.

That report quoted the commission as notifying the archbishop that there was a possible breach by “conduct that is offensive, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing of Ms Delaney and the class of same-sex attracted people”.

The report also said that the commission would list the ACBC as the first respondent in its test case, and Archbishop Porteous as the second.

According to the commissioner’s website, when a complaint is made to the commissioner it is assessed against the act, the commissioner determining whether the complaint can be dealt with under the act (‘accepted’) or whether it is outside the scope of the act (‘rejected’).

If the commissioner decides that the complaint can be dealt with under the act, the respondent and complainant are notified by letter that the complaint is being dealt with and why.

Usually, the parties will be asked to attend a conciliation conference, but the commissioner has been reported in the Australian as saying that conciliation was “unlikely” because the matter “raises issues of public importance”.

The complaint is investigated, with the commissioner having six months to complete the investigation.

At the end of the investigation the complaint may be dismissed, or there might be a further attempt at conciliation, or the complaint might be referred to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal for it to hold an inquiry.

“There is a hearing or trail where the parties give evidence on oath or affirmation and are cross-examined and witnesses may be called,” the commissioner’s website states.

“At the end of an inquiry, the tribunal decides if discrimination has occurred or not, and makes orders about compensation or dismissal, etc.”

The office of the commissioner told the Catholic Weekly that it would not be making any public statement about the matter.