The Coalition has blocked a vote on Labor’s bill to repeal discrimination exemptions affecting students at religious schools, likely delaying any action on the issue until 2019.
There’s cross-party support for the changes to stop students from being discriminated against for being gay at religious schools, but the Government and the Opposition have been deadlocked for more than a month on what form the legislation should take.
Labor’s bill, introduced last week, was set to be voted on today but government Senate leader Mathias Cormann teamed up with crossbenchers to suspend the debate in a bid to delay the vote until 2019.
“The Government does support what this legislation is seeking to achieve, but we support it with reasonable amendments to ensure that, for example, religious schools can provide appropriate rules for the proper conduct of their schools,” Senator Cormann said.
Liberal senator Michaelia Cash said Labor’s bill “completely removes the ability of religious educational institutions to maintain their ethos through what they teach and the rules of conduct they impose on students.”
Labor Senate leader Penny Wong blasted the government for “perverting the process of the Senate” and said they feared a defeat in the House of Representatives on the bill where they no longer have a majority of MPs.
“This is an indication of the chaos that is the Morrison Government. That they have to upend the Senate and not vote on protecting LGBTIQ kids, because they are so worried about the lack of control they have of the House of Representatives,” she said.
“Call an election instead of lying the way you have about this issue through the Wentworth by-election and through this week.”
Labor leader Bill Shorten, who also introduced a version of the legislation to the House of Representatives today, said on Monday Labor’s bill was “neither a Trojan Horse nor a Pandora’s Box.”
“The power to discriminate is something many of the religious school administrators I’ve spoken to have made clear to me that they do not want and do not use,” he said.
“Our legislation seeks the balance between protecting the religious freedom of faith-based schools and protecting the essential human dignity of every Australian child and that’s what voting for this proposition would achieve.”
“This legislation does not affect the teaching of religious education. [It] does not prevent schools from including chapel or prayer in the timetable [or] prevent religious schools from setting out reasonable requirements on their students in accordance with their beliefs and values.”
Equality Campaign co-chair Anna Brown said the delay was “outrageous” and a slap in the face to LGBTIQ students and their families.
“The Prime Minister made a clear promise in October, before the Wentworth byelection, to remove these outdated and discriminatory laws which allow schools to discriminate against students,” Brown said.
“There is a bipartisan commitment to protect students from being expelled because of who they are. Yet this important change is being put off for months.”
No protections for LGBT teachers at religious schools
Greens Senator Janet Rice said three quarters of Australians wanted to see discrimination ended in schools “full stop, no ifs or buts”.
“We had the opportunity today to change our laws for the better, so that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students would have been protected,” she said.
“The Greens believed that we had the numbers in this place to end discrimination against teachers as well.
“But the government, coupled with the Centre Alliance Senators, are not allowing this debate to occur and not allowing a vote to occur today.
“It is an absolute travesty and it is incredibly sad for those in our community, the same people who fought a year ago for marriage equality, who were hoping that a year later we would act to end discrimination and support young people in all of our schools.”
Both the Liberal and Labor school anti-discrimination bills have been panned by LGBTIQ advocates for only seeking to remove discrimination exemptions against LGBT students and not teachers or other staff.
A Senate inquiry report released last week recommended the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination against LGBT students on the basis of gender, sexuality, and other attributes.
The inquiry recommended “further consideration” be given to also banning such discrimination against teachers and other staff by religious schools, but said the short inquiry had received “mixed evidence”.