Tough new NT anti-discrimination laws pass

Northern Territory schools can no longer legally discriminate against staff and students if they disagree with their religious beliefs, sexuality and gender identity.

Progressive new laws passed by parliament overnight bolster the NT's anti-discrimination legislation with additional protection for Territorians from inequality due to their race, culture, gender, disability, sexuality and age.

Experts say the laws go further than those in any other Australian jurisdiction.

"The most significant change will be the elimination of exemptions in the current act that allow religious educational institutions to discriminate against staff or students based on their sexuality or religious belief or activity," Charles Darwin University legal expert Alan Berman said on Wednesday.

Professor Berman said the NT's amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act were more progressive than similar laws in other jurisdictions, such as NSW.

Schools and organisations associated with particular religions are exempted from laws in that state preventing discrimination based on certain attributes, including sexual orientation, he said.

"The elimination of exemptions for (NT) religious schools to discriminate against students and staff based on sexual orientation or gender identity will foster a more inclusive culture at these institutions and protect vulnerable members of the community from unfair treatment in the name of religion," Prof Berman said.

NT Attorney-General Chansey Paech said the suite of amendments were important for people who had suffered inequities based on race, culture, gender, disabilities, and a range of other factors such as sexuality and age.

"Discrimination law is an evolving area and it is important that the NT keeps up to date with modern values and expectations," he said.

"These new laws will help to close the divide on inequality for current and future generations."

NT Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Sally Sievers said the changes would enable the commission to help more people resolve more matters that impact negatively in their lives.

The Australian Christian Lobby said the amendments penalised people of faith and religious schools would be forced to hire staff who do not adhere to the school's beliefs.

"This is in direct opposition to (federal) Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus's public statement this month that religious schools can continue to build a community of faith by giving preference, in good faith, to persons of the same religion as the educational institution in the selection of staff," spokeswoman Wendy Francis said.

"The Bill also prohibits any act that 'is reasonably likely ... to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people', meaning a person can find themselves in trouble for merely expressing their opinion in an email or social media post if it offends someone."

NT Opposition Leader Lia Finocchiaro welcomed some of the changes but said others had "sacrificed freedom of speech and freedom of religion".

She said it was an attack on the Territory's "larrikin" culture and out of step with the community's expectations.

Ms Finocchiaro said the NT government may have to repeal the amendments if they are found to be at odds with the Australian Law Reform Commission's upcoming report into religious educational institutions and employment.

"We could see Labor at odds with itself and introducing federal laws that override these radical Territory laws," she said.

Ms Finocchiaro said she would repeal the laws if elected in 2024.