In a corner of Australia, the state government is on a mission for control

Residents of Melbourne, Australia, came out of the last lockdown in October but restrictions remain for those who are not fully vaccinated.(Photo: Unsplash)

Over in Australia last week the Victorian Legislative Assembly took another step forward in their war against faith-based institutions by passing the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021. The legislation now moves to the Council stage for further consideration.

In essence, it seeks to narrow current religious exceptions to equal opportunity regulations passed in 2010 that will make it illegal for Christian organisations to exclude people that do not conform to values that would be expected of Christians in areas such as sexuality, marital status – the hiring of clergy by churches being the only real exception. This in turn will leave these organisations open to litigation and attacks.

The legislation means that fee-paying parents at Victorian Christian schools would lose their right to have their children educated according to their beliefs which are modelled by all teachers and staff.

Schools, churches, and faith-based organisations would be seriously restricted in how they can provide an environment that is in line with their faith and the expectations of Christian parents whose children are in their care.

All this despite opposition from 695 Victorian pastors who requested the withdrawal of the Bill in an open letter, and 12,800 people emailing their MPs asking them to reject it.

Fresh from banning 'conversion therapy' practices earlier this year, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is doing little to dispel rumours of his will to control all matters of business, family and spiritual life.

The Andrews government passed the Suppression Conversion Practices Prohibition Bill in February which made it illegal for religious ministers to counsel someone struggling with same-sex attraction, and also illegal for parents to counsel their own children against changing their gender.

Last week, the Andrews government took the extraordinary step of trying to force an amendment to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act of Victoria, which would essentially allow unlimited powers to the Premier and Health Minister for an indefinite period without any effective judicial or parliamentary oversight.

Specifically, the state would be allowed to detain people or ban any activity or gathering if it was deemed to be "in the interests of public health".

In reality, the measure would enable the Health Minister to make orders targeting people on the basis of their political beliefs if he believed this was reasonably necessary to protect public health.

All that would be required to set the regime in motion would be for the Premier to make a 'pandemic declaration'. No approval of parliament would be required for these powers. A careful reading of section 4 shows that the orders could come into effect even if there was only 'pandemic potential'.

An open letter signed by 25 of Victoria's top QCs including the President of the Victorian Bar spelled out the obvious problems with this.

"If the bill is passed it will allow the Victorian Government to rule the state by decree, without proper parliamentary oversight or the usual checks and balances on executive power," the letter said.

Fortunately this Covid-related bill was paused in the eleventh hour after the upper house voted to delay it.

But no one should be surprised by the Andrews government's latest move, given the fact that the state capital of Melbourne has spent the most number of days under stay at home orders out of any city in the world, with full vaccination required for virtually any work done outside the home.

When we consider the fact that the Premier has created this law that would give him almost unlimited powers; subjected his citizens to the world's longest and harshest lockdown; and is prepared to lock the unvaccinated out of society indefinitely, there is no doubt the Andrews Labor Government is seeking to control all matters of life.

If it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, it probably is a rat. The shoe fits. Daniel Andrews is a tyrant in waiting and given his targeting of faith groups is seeking to control matters of Christian belief. This is something the evangelical community needs to pray against.

Ben Kruzins is a Pastor of The Hub Baptist Church in Regional New South Wales Australia. He has written articles in The Canberra Times and The Sydney Morning Herald.

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify the proposals in the the Equal Opportunity (Religious Exceptions) Amendment Bill 2021.