Laws that interfere with freedom of association and assembly

6.58     A wide range of Commonwealth laws may be seen as interfering with freedom of association and freedom of assembly, broadly conceived. Some of these laws impose limits that have long been recognised by the common law, for example, in relation to consorting with criminals and preserving public order. Arguably, such laws do not encroach on the traditional freedom, but help define it. However, these traditional limits are crucial to understanding the scope of the freedom, and possible justifications for new restrictions.

6.59     Commonwealth laws may be characterised as interfering with freedom of association in several different contexts, and including in relation to:

  • criminal law;

  • public assembly;

  • workplace relations;

  • migration law; and

  • anti-discrimination law.

6.60     These laws are summarised below. Some of the justifications that have been advanced for laws that interfere with freedom of association, and criticisms of laws on that basis, are also discussed.

Criminal law

6.61     A number of offences in the Criminal Code directly criminalise certain forms of association. Notably, these include counter-terrorism and foreign incursion offences, and consorting laws which criminalise associating in support of criminal activity or criminal organisations.

Terrorism offences

6.62     Section 102.8 of the Criminal Code provides for the offence of associating with a member of a terrorist organisation and thereby providing support to the organisation, if the person intends the support to assist it. A terrorist organisation is defined as an organisation that is ‘directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act’[49] or is specified by regulations made under s 102.1 of the Criminal Code.[50] The Attorney-General’s Department has issued a protocol that provides guidance on the process for listing organisations for this purpose.[51]

6.63     Section 119.5 of the Criminal Code provides for offences of allowing the use of buildings, vessels and aircraft to commit offences, by permitting a meeting or assembly of persons to be held with the intention of supporting preparations for incursions into foreign countries for the purpose of engaging in hostile activities.

6.64     In addition, the terms of counter-terrorism control orders issued under the Criminal Code may contain a prohibition or restriction on a person ‘communicating or associating with specified individuals’.[52]

6.65     The Law Council of Australia (Law Council) observed that the associating with terrorist organisations offence ‘may disproportionately shift the focus of criminal liability from a person’s conduct to their membership of an organisation’.[53] It added that assessing justification for the offence is difficult, ‘given the broad executive discretion to proscribe a particular organisation and the absence of publicly available binding criteria to be applied’.[54]

6.66     Problems with the process of specifying terrorist organisations were said to include that it ‘involves the attribution of defining characteristics and commonly shared motives or purposes to a group of people based on the statements or activities of certain individuals within the group’.[55] Further, an organisation can be listed as a terrorist organisation simply on the basis that it ‘advocates’ the doing of a terrorist act. The Law Council stated:

The offences may also disproportionately impinge on freedom of association as the current process of proscribing terrorist organisations set out in Division 102 does not afford affected parties the opportunity to be heard prior to an organisation being listed or to effectively challenge the listing of an organisation after the fact, without exposing themselves to prosecution; and the avenues for review after an organisation has been listed may also be inadequate.[56]

6.67     The UNSW Law Society also criticised the associating with terrorist organisations offence. It observed that it is important to understand that ‘mere association with a terrorist organisation may not be intentional and is not directly linked to the planning and execution of an attack’. It stated that despite the ‘legitimacy of the broad aims of counter-terrorism laws in Australia, it is debatable whether targeting individuals by criminalising association with terrorist organisations is effective and appropriate’.[57]

6.68     The Law Council criticised the control orders and preventative detention orders regimes under divs 104 and 105 of the Criminal Code because a ‘person’s right to associate may be removed or restricted before the person is told of the allegations against him or her or afforded the opportunity to challenge the restriction of liberty’.[58]

6.69     The Law Council also submitted that the offence of entering or remaining in a ‘declared area’ contained in s 119.2 of the Criminal Code may have the

unintended effect of preventing and deterring innocent Australians from travelling abroad and associating with persons for legitimate purposes out of fear that they may be prosecuted for an offence, subjected to a trial and not be able to adequately displace the evidential burden.[59]

Consorting offences

6.70     Courts have long held the power to restrict freedom of association in circumstances where criminal associations may pose a threat to peace and order. In Thomas v Mowbray, Gleeson CJ referred to counter-terrorism control orders as having similar characteristics to bail and apprehended violence orders.[60]

6.71     The High Court has also recognised that there may be circumstances where the legislature is justified in infringing freedom of association in order to disrupt and restrict the activities of criminal organisations and their members.[61]

6.72     This is an object, the High Court observed, that has been ‘pursued in the long history of laws restricting the freedom of association of certain classes, groups or organisations of persons involved or likely to be involved in the planning and execution of criminal activities’. The object is ‘legitimised by the incidence and sophistication of what is generally called “organised crime”’.[62]

6.73     Consorting laws are not a new phenomenon. In Tajjour, French CJ observed that:

Laws directed at inchoate criminality have a long history, dating back to England in the Middle Ages, which is traceable in large part through vagrancy laws. An early example was a statute enacted in 1562 which deemed a person found in the company of gypsies, over the course of a month, to be a felon.[63]

6.74     In Australia, these laws are creatures of statute that first emerged early last century, also in vagrancy legislation:

Their primary object was (and remains) to punish and thereby discourage inchoate criminality, and the means by which they sought to achieve this was the imposition of criminal liability for keeping company with disreputable individuals.[64]

6.75     In relation to modern NSW consorting laws, the High Court has stated that ‘preventing or impeding criminal conduct is compatible with the system of representative and responsible government established by the Constitution’.[65]

6.76     Concerns about the impact on freedom of association of state and territory consorting laws[66] were repeatedly mentioned during the Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2014 rights and responsibilities consultation.[67]

6.77     At the Commonwealth level, ss 390.3 and 390.4 of the Criminal Code provide for offences of associating in support of serious organised criminal activity and supporting a criminal organisation. Section 390.3 is stated not to apply ‘to the extent (if any) that it would infringe any constitutional doctrine of implied freedom of political communication’.[68]

6.78     Some stakeholders in this ALRC Inquiry questioned the justification for the Commonwealth consorting laws. The Law Council, for example, stated that the offences in div 390

shift the focus of criminal liability from a person’s conduct to their associations. Offences of this type have the potential to unduly burden freedom of association for individuals with a familial or community connection to a member of a criminal association.[69]

6.79     The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) submitted that Commonwealth consorting legislation should be ‘proportionate to the legitimate aim of public safety by inserting sufficient safeguards, such as ensuring the laws can be limited to a targeted group of persons involved in serious criminal activity’.[70] Because any consorting law, ‘by its very nature, impinges on a person’s right to freedom of association’, PIAC stated that it would be ‘difficult to draft such legislation so as to comply with international human rights law’.[71]

6.80     However, the Commonwealth offences may constitute a proportionate interference with freedom of association. Legislating for specific criminal offences that target the conduct of members of criminal groups is a common approach internationally to combating serious and organised crime.[72] The Explanatory Memorandum for these offences provided the following example of the type of offence targeted by the provisions:

Person A meets with person B on two or more occasions. Person B is proposing to engage in an illegal operation with four other people involving the import into Australia of commercial quantities of border controlled drugs … Person A works at the airport through which person B proposes to import the drugs, and knows that Person B proposes to engage in the illegal importation. The purpose of person A’s meetings with person B is to provide advice on how person B may circumvent the airport security system as part of the operation. In doing so, person A is reckless as to whether his advice will help person B to engage in the illegal importation.[73]

Public assembly

6.81     Most legislative interferences with the right of public assembly are contained in state and territory laws including, for example, unlawful assembly[74] and public order offences where there is some form of ‘public disturbance’, such as riot, affray or violent disorder.[75] Sometimes, state laws limiting freedom of assembly are enacted for the purposes of specific events, such as those related to APEC and the G20.[76]

6.82     At Commonwealth level, the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 (Cth) regulates the ‘preservation of public order’ in the territories and in respect of Commonwealth premises and certain other places, such as the premises of federal courts and tribunals and diplomatic and special missions.

6.83     Under the Act it is an offence to take part in an assembly in a way that ‘gives rise to a reasonable apprehension that the assembly will be carried on in a manner involving unlawful physical violence to persons or unlawful damage to property’.[77] An assembly consisting of no fewer than twelve persons may be dispersed if it causes police reasonably to apprehend a likelihood of unlawful physical violence or damage to property.[78]

6.84     It may be hard to conceive of an alternative method of prevention in circumstances of imminent danger to public order. In this regard, the Act seems to adopt the standard model in democratic states with respect to when assembly will be unlawful.[79]

Workplace relations laws

6.85     The Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) is intended, in part, to protect freedom of association. An object of the Act is to recognise the right to freedom of association and the right to be represented.[80] Part 3­‑1 of the Act contains protections for freedom of association and involvement in lawful industrial activities, including protection under s 346 against adverse action being taken because a person is (or is not) a member of an industrial association or has (or has not) engaged in ‘industrial activity’.[81]

6.86     In Barclay v The Board of Bendigo Regional Institute of Technical and Further Education, the Federal Court stated that freedom to associate in this context is ‘not simply a freedom to join an association without adverse consequences, but is a freedom to be represented by the association and to participate in its activities’.[82] The freedom to participate in an association’s lawful industrial activities—such as an industrial protest—does not give participants unfettered protection from being dismissed for their conduct during such activities. For example, in CFMEU v BHP Coal Pty Ltd, the decision of an employer to dismiss an employee (partly) because of an ‘offensive and abusive’ protest sign was upheld as lawful.[83]

6.87     BHP Billiton observed that regulation of workplace relations involves balancing rights, where ‘exercise of one person’s right will commonly encroach upon the rights of another’. For example, union rights of entry ‘encroach upon the co-existent rights of an occupier to have the quiet enjoyment of property free from trespass and the co-existent rights of an employer to have the benefit of an employment contract without interference’. Similarly, the rights of employees include a ‘right not to be pressed into membership of a union where that is the employee’s preference’.[84]

6.88     The Kingsford Legal Centre stated that, in the workplace, freedom of association protects the right to form and join associations ‘to pursue common goals in the workplace, helping to correct the significant power imbalance between employees and employers’. This principle, it said, ‘has been a long-standing and beneficial feature of Australian labour law’ and, without such protections, the ability of employees to bargain with their employer in their collective interest is greatly reduced.[85]

6.89     The Australian Institute of Employment Rights (AIER) observed that, in the workplace relations context, freedom of association is the ‘base from which other rights flow, in particular the right to collectively bargain and the right to strike’. It argued that the practical application of the right to freedom of association in the workplace is subject to ‘considerable and unjustified encroachment by the laws of the Commonwealth’—in particular, by provisions of the Fair Work Act.[86]

6.90     The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) stated that existing provisions of the Fair Work Act ‘unjustifiably interfere with the right to freedom of association and should be reconsidered’. These included restrictions on the right to strike, the duration of industrial action and union access to workplaces.[87]

6.91     Arguably, however, while some of these provisions may be seen as inconsistent with international labour law norms[88]—as reflected in ILO conventions—they do not necessarily infringe on the scope of freedom of association, as understood by the common law.

Protected industrial action

6.92     Protected industrial action is acceptable to support or advance claims during collective bargaining. When an action is ‘protected’, those involved are granted immunity from legal actions that might otherwise be taken against them under any law, including, for example, in tort or contract.[89]

6.93     Industrial action will generally be unlawful if it does not meet the criteria for ‘protected industrial action’, which are set out in the Fair Work Act.[90] Each of the criteria for protected action[91] can be interpreted as interfering with freedom to associate for the purposes of taking industrial action.

6.94     The AIER noted criticism of these provisions by the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association,[92] including in relation to: prohibitions on sympathy strikes and general secondary boycotts;[93] removal of protection for industrial action in support of multiple business agreements;[94] and prohibitions in relation to pattern bargaining.[95]

6.95     In particular, restrictions on the right to strike contained in the Fair Work Act have been criticised by the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations on the basis that industrial action is only protected during the process of bargaining for an agreement.[96] The emphasis within the Fair Work Act on enterprise level bargaining can also be seen as an unnecessary encroachment on the right to collectively bargain.[97] For example, industrial action in support of pattern bargaining by employees is restricted.[98]

6.96     The ACTU also criticised provisions of the Fair Work Act concerning the circumstances in which industrial action is authorised by protected action ballots. The Act provides that at least 50% of the employees on the roll of voters must actually vote; and more that than 50% of the valid votes must be in favour of taking action.[99] The ILO Committee of Experts has commented that such requirements are ‘excessive and could excessively hinder the possibility of carrying out a strike, particularly in large enterprises’.[100] The ACTU submitted that these ‘restrictions on the right to strike unjustifiably interfere with the right to freedom of association’.[101]

6.97     Finally, the ACTU and the AIER considered that the powers of the Fair Work Commission to suspend or terminate industrial action on various grounds, including economic harm, health and safety, third party damage and cooling off,[102] are cast too broadly and unjustifiably interfere with the right to freedom of association.[103]

6.98     In contrast, BHP Billiton submitted that there is no legitimate criticism of the current legislation regulating industrial action on the basis of freedom of association concerns. It observed that industrial action involves a ‘substantial encroachment on the legal, economic and societal rights of others’ and should not be facilitated by legislation except as reasonable and proportionate. In Australia, the legislative framework is based on a system of regulated enterprise bargaining, and it would not be ‘in any way proportionate or reasonable, to expand industrial action rights beyond what is reasonable and appropriate within an accepted enterprise bargaining framework’.[104]

Right of entry

6.99     The Fair Work Act provides a framework for rights of entry to workplaces for union officials to represent their members in the workplace, hold discussions with potential members and investigate suspected contraventions of workplace laws.[105]

6.100  The object of these provisions is to balance the right of unions to represent people and to provide information to employees and the ‘right of occupiers of premises and employers to go about their business without undue inconvenience’.[106] The expressed intention was to

balance the right of employers to go about their business without undue interference; to balance it, though, with the democratic right, the right of employees in a functioning democracy, to be represented in their workplace and to participate in discussions with unions at appropriate times.[107]

6.101  Some limitations on rights of entry may be characterised as interfering with union members’ freedom of association.[108] The relevant legislative limitations include the requirement to hold a valid entry permit, which may only be issued to a ‘fit and proper person’;[109] the required period of notice before entry;[110] and limitations on the circumstances in which an official can gain entry.[111]

6.102  The ILO Committee of Experts found that these provisions breach the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention because the right of trade union officials to have access to places of work and to communicate with management is a basic activity of trade unions, which should not be subject to interference by the authorities.[112] The ACTU submitted that it is likely that the requirements placed on the right of entry unjustifiably interfere with the right to freedom of association.[113]

6.103  The National Farmers’ Federation criticised div 7 of pt 3–4 of the Fair Work Act, concerning arrangements in remote areas. These provisions may compel occupiers of remote premises to enter into arrangements to provide accommodation and transport to persons exercising the right of entry. The Federation submitted that these requirements ‘are extraordinary in the sense that they authorise what would otherwise be the tort of trespass’ and should be repealed.[114]

6.104  The Australian Industry Group (AIG) rejected the idea that limitations on rights of entry interfere with an employee’s right to freely associate with a union. It submitted that ‘reasonable restrictions on the right of an employee representative to enter a workplace are necessary to prevent misuse of entry rights by unions’.[115]

6.105   BHP Billiton stated that it is important to understand rights of entry as substantive rights of the employees, rather than of the union or the union officer. It submitted that ‘there is no legal or other proper principle under which statutory rights of entry for union officials should be expanded or restrictions protecting the encroached rights of others should be lessened’.[116]

6.106  The Productivity Commission, in its 2015 draft report on the workplace relations framework, stated that the provisions of the Fair Work Act providing rights of entry by union officials to worksites ‘are broadly sound, though at times both sides play games with each other’.[117]

Registration of organisations

6.107  The Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth) includes requirements for the registration and operation of trade unions and other similar organisations. Registered organisations are required to meet the standards set out in the Act in order to gain the rights and privileges accorded to them under the Act and under the Fair Work Act.[118]

6.108  By requiring registration and prescribing rules for employer and employee organisations, the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act can be interpreted as interfering with freedom of association.[119]

6.109  However, from another perspective, provisions of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act, which enhance the financial and accountability obligations of employee and employer organisations, to ensure that the fees paid by members of such organisations are used for the purposes intended, and that the officers of such organisations use their positions for proper purposes, are not inconsistent with freedom of association—because the obligations promote association.

6.110  The ILO Committee of Experts has stated, with regard to the ability of governments to intervene in employee or employer organisations, that legislative provisions which ‘regulate in detail the internal functioning of workers’ and employers’ organizations pose a serious risk of interference which is incompatible with the Convention’.[120]

6.111  The Explanatory Memorandum to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Amendment Bill 2012 (Cth) stated that the limitations which the Bill placed on the freedom of association fell within the express permissible limitations in the ICCPR and the ICESCR ‘insofar as they are necessary in the interests of public order and the protection of the rights and freedoms of others’.[121]

Other issues

6.112  A number of other workplace relations issues were raised by stakeholders. One stakeholder submitted that restrictions on trade union membership and collective bargaining by members of the Australian Defence Force constitute an unjustified interference with freedom of association.[122]

6.113  The National Farmers’ Federation submitted that s 237 of the Fair Work Act overrides the voluntary nature of collective bargaining and, therefore, infringes the right to freedom of association.[123] Similarly, AIG expressed concern that the introduction of compulsory enterprise bargaining and the removal of the right to bargain at the individual level ‘interferes with freedom of association to the extent that an employer and employee may not wish to negotiate collectively when negotiating the terms and conditions of employment’.[124]


6.114  A number of stakeholders expressed the view that the Fair Work Act may not comply with international obligations in relation to freedom of association in the workplace, and the right to strike.[125]

6.115  The ACTU observed that the ILO Committee of Experts has ‘repeatedly found that Australian law breaches international labour law’.[126] Similarly, the United Services Union stated that it is ‘apparent that there is some divergence between Australia’s obligations at international law and the system in place domestically when it comes to the right to strike’. It submitted that while there is scope for the Australian domestic legislative regime to diverge from the international law position where it is ‘necessary’, the restrictions currently placed upon employees are ‘excessive and unnecessarily restrictive’.[127]

6.116  The AIER observed that the Australian Government has been ‘put on notice’[128] that a number of provisions of the Fair Work Act infringe on freedom of association[129] as understood under the ILO Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention.[130]

6.117  The Australian Government has provided a number of detailed reports to the ILO setting out the reasons why it considers that the Fair Work Act does comply with relevant ILO conventions.[131]

6.118  For example, in 2011, the ILO Expert Committee recorded that the Australian Government had not amended various provisions of the Fair Work Act,[132] despite the Committee’s expressed concerns. The Australian Government explained that, overall, ‘the industrial action provisions of the Fair Work Act strike the right balance between an employee’s right to strike and the need to protect life and economic stability in a manner that is appropriate to Australia’s national conditions and that [Fair Work Australia] has set a high threshold for allowing for suspension or termination of protected industrial action in specific circumstances’.[133]

6.119  While workplace relations laws in Australia have been subject to extensive local and overseas criticism on the basis of lack of compliance with ILO Conventions, the extent to which obligations under ILO conventions engage the scope of common law or traditional understandings of freedom of association may be contested.

6.120  At common law, employers and employees, whether individually or collectively, may bargain for the purpose of concluding employment contracts. However, the common law does not compel either party to engage in bargaining. Under the Fair Work Act, the Fair Work Commission may compel an employer to bargain with a group of employees if a majority of those employees wish to negotiate an enterprise agreement.[134] The Act creates many rights and duties in relation to enterprise bargaining agreements, the right to strike, the duration of industrial action and union access to workplaces. While some of these provisions may offend ILO norms, they do not necessarily infringe common law freedom of association.

6.121  Limits concerning the entry of union officials to workplaces, for example, do not seem to infringe common law freedom of association. Entry is a power granted by statute, not common law, and to unions but not to other persons.

6.122  Laws that interfere with the constitution and internal arrangements of an association are more likely to interfere with common law freedom of association. In this context, a distinction needs to be drawn between laws that control the internal arrangements of an association and laws that deal with the activities of an association as they affect others. What is unlawful does not generally become lawful when done by an association of individuals.

6.123  Trade unions have special legal status, which carries rights and powers under the law that other associations do not enjoy. These are concerned with legal power and associated rights to take industrial action in pursuit of collective demands. The legal power to take industrial action is not a common law entitlement but a statutory grant. Therefore, the exercise of the power and the benefit of legal protection may be subject to statutory conditions.

6.124  However, some statutory provisions may infringe common law freedom of association if they unreasonably regulate the internal governance of an association. It is possible that some aspects of the Fair Work (Registered Organisations) Act 2009 (Cth) may fall into this category.

Migration law character test

6.125  Freedom of association may be engaged by provisions of the Migration Act concerning the circumstances in which a visa may be refused or cancelled on character grounds.

6.126  Section 501(1) of the Act provides that the Minister may refuse to grant a visa to a person if the person does not satisfy the Minister that the person passes the character test. Section 501(6) provides that a person does not pass the character test if, among other things, the Minister reasonably suspects that the person has been or is a member of a group or organisation, or has had or has an association with a group, organisation or person; and that the group, organisation or person has been or is involved in criminal conduct.[135]

6.127  Section 501(6)(b) was broadened in 2014.[136] The Explanatory Memorandum to the amending legislation made it clear that membership of, or association with, a group or organisation that has or is involved in criminal conduct would be, by itself, grounds for cancellation on character grounds:

The intention is that membership of the group or organisation alone is sufficient to cause a person to not pass the character test. Further, a reasonable suspicion of such membership or association is sufficient to not pass the character test. There is no requirement that there be a demonstration of special knowledge of, or participation in, the suspected criminal conduct by the visa applicant or visa holder.[137]

6.128  In Haneef, Spender J, in the Federal Court, read down the previous version of s 501(6)(b) as meaning that there had to be an ‘alliance or link or combination’ between the person subject to the character test and the group, organisation or person engaged in criminal activity.[138]

6.129  On appeal, the Full Federal Court also considered the scope of the word ‘association’. In a unanimous judgment, the Full Court agreed with Justice Spender that a narrower interpretation of ‘association’ than that applied by the Minister should be taken to reflect the intention of the Parliament:

Having regard to its ordinary meaning, the context in which it appears and the legislative purpose, we conclude that the association to which s 501(6)(b) refers is an association involving some sympathy with, or support for, or involvement in, the criminal conduct of the person, group or organisation. The association must be such as to have some bearing upon the person’s character.[139]

6.130  A number of stakeholders expressed concern about the present scope of s 501(6)(b).[140] The Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) stated that s 501 ‘plainly encroaches on freedom of association’. RACS submitted that, because the consequence of failing the character test is generally the detention of the individual,[141] the test in effect ‘authorises the detention of a person based on a suspicion in relation to that person’s lawful association with others’.[142]

6.131  The Australian National University (ANU) Migration Law Program submitted that the provision ‘is neither a reasonable or proportionate curtailment of the right to freedom of association’ as it is ‘now so broad that it would cover a range of circumstances where there is no appreciable risk to Australian society’.[143] The Law Council and the ANU Migration Law Program suggested that the legislation should be amended.[144]

6.132  In the ALRC’s view, the character test in s 501 of the Migration Act may not be a proportionate limitation on the right to freedom of association. The provision might be amended to provide meanings of ‘association’ and ‘membership’ consistent with the Federal Court judgments in Haneef.[145] This issue could be dealt with in any future review of Australia’s migration laws aimed at ensuring that these laws do not interfere unjustifiably with freedom of association, or other rights and freedoms.

Other laws

6.133  Commonwealth anti-discrimination laws potentially interfere with freedom of association by making unlawful certain forms of discrimination that can be manifested by excluding people, on prohibited grounds, from participating in an association (of a kind covered by the laws).[146]

6.134  For example, the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 (Cth) makes it unlawful for a club or incorporated association to discriminate against a person by refusing membership on the ground of the person’s disability.[147] A club for these purposes is defined as ‘an association (whether incorporated or unincorporated) of persons associated together for social, literary, cultural, political, sporting, athletic or other lawful purposes that provides and maintains its facilities, in whole or in part, from the funds of the association’.[148]

6.135  Professor Patrick Parkinson observed that having an association ‘inevitably means creating either explicit or implicit rules of membership’, which ‘both include and exclude’.[149] He stated that one area of major tension is ‘between the right of people to form associations of various kinds and the claims of advocates for an expansion in the reach of anti-discrimination law’. In particular, he submitted that faith-based organisations should have a right to select staff on the basis of ‘mission fit’, which is seen as essential to the right of freedom of association.[150]

6.136  Similarly, FamilyVoice submitted that the ‘development of voluntary associations in Australia today is hindered by the unnecessary, intrusive and counterproductive constraints imposed on voluntary associations by anti-discrimination laws’.[151] It stated that there are numerous examples of ‘interference by antidiscrimination bodies to prevent Australians from being free to associate with others in accordance with their wishes, for social, cultural, sporting or other purposes’.[152]

6.137  Other stakeholders contested these views.[153] The Kingsford Legal Centre, for example, considered that freedom of association should protect ‘the right of individuals to associate in political and religious organisations, and trade unions’, but does not ‘apply to organisations in their recruitment practices in order to permit them to discriminate unfairly’.[154] Another stakeholder observed:

Any argument that might be raised that these schools, hospitals or aged care facilities should have the freedom to include or exclude ‘whoever they want, on whatever basis they want’ is outweighed by the public interest in having education, health and community services provided on a non-discriminatory basis, and specifically by the harm caused to LGBT people by allowing such discrimination to occur.[155]

6.138  Anti-discrimination legislation already contains exemptions that permit certain forms of association that would otherwise be discriminatory. For example, the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) (SDA) permits a voluntary body to discriminate against a person on certain grounds and in connection with membership and the provision of members’ benefits, facilities or services.[156]

6.139  The Attorney-General, Senator the Hon George Brandis QC, has observed that the ‘voluntary bodies’ exemption

recognises that rights may be limited to pursue a legitimate objective, such as limiting the right to equality and non-discrimination in order to protect the right to freedom of association. While the right to freedom of association allows people to form their own associations, it does not automatically entitle a person to join an association formed by other people. However, nothing prevents other people from forming their own associations.[157]

6.140  There are some inconsistencies in the scope of exemptions that can be seen as protecting freedom of association. FamilyVoice questioned, for example, why the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) allows an exception only for charities—and not for clubs, educational institutions, religious organisations, sporting bodies or voluntary associations, as does the SDA.[158]

6.141  Some concerns were also expressed about the operation of the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission Act 2012 (Cth) (ACNC Act). The ACNC Act was established to ‘provide a national regulatory system that promotes good governance, accountability and transparency for not-for-profit entities be introduced to maintain, protect and enhance public trust and confidence in the not-for-profit sector’.[159] The not-for-profit sector receives a range of funding, including donations from members of the public and tax concessions, grants and other support from Australian governments.

6.142  Elizabeth Shalders submitted that while religious organisations and other charitable voluntary associations ‘are required to be accountable to the broader public for their tax concessions’ through the ACNC Act and the ACNC Commissioner, the ‘considerable enforcement powers associated with that accountability can be said to impinge on freedom of association and freedom of religion’.[160]

6.143  The Law Council expressed some concern about a specific provision of the ACNC Act. Section 100–25 of the Act makes it an offence, in some circumstances, for a person who has been removed from the governing body of a charity, to communicate instructions to remaining members on the governing body. The Law Council submitted:

While addressing legitimate concern over continuing influence of former directors and decision-makers, these powers may extend beyond those conferred upon the Australian Securities and Investments Commission over companies. The [Queensland Law Society] has noted that it does not seem appropriate to regulate charities and other forms of voluntary association more rigorously than commercial enterprises and inquiry into this limitation on freedoms is a proper subject for investigation.[161]