A proposed law change to protect gay students from discrimination at religious schools has been delayed for at least a month, as the Coalition and Labor argue over the detail of the legislation.
Following the leaking of parts of the Ruddock religious freedom review, it emerged a little-known legal exemption broadly permits religious schools to discriminate against students and staff on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity.
But advocates, and Labor, have called for discrimination to be banned against staff at religious schools too.
The introduction of the amendments, expected this week, has instead been delayed for a month as politicians discuss the detail.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said on Wednesday a first draft of the amendment “was provided to the opposition last week and, based on feedback from the Labor Party, and a range of meetings with stakeholders, a subsequent draft was provided this week.”
“The Labor Party has not finalised its position and requires more time to consider the latest draft and, in reflecting the co-operative approach so far to this issue, we will not introduce a bill until Labor has had further time to consider the drafting with a view to coming to a bipartisan position,” he said.
“To that end, the government will continue to consult with the opposition with a view to having an agreed bill that can be introduced in the final sitting fortnight of the year.”
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the draft bill provided by the government late on Wednesday included provisions that “go beyond what the government promised, with potentially significant ramification for LGBTI students”.
“If the government presents legislation that simply removes the current exemption allowing discrimination against students, Labor would vote for it today,” he said.
Protect staff and transgender students too
Greens LGBTIQ spokesperson Janet Rice said the only reason for the delay was “the internal politics of the Liberal party and the hard right that control the Liberal party room.”
“Scott Morrison himself said last week that removing discrimination in schools is ‘such a simple amendment’ that ‘we should use the next fortnight to ensure this matter is addressed,'” she said.
“The Greens have a bill before the Senate that is already being debated and would remove all discrimination in schools against both LGBTIQ+ staff and students.”
Yesterday, transgender and gender diverse children and their parents joined a group of LGBTIQ advocates in Canberra to call on politicians to deliver the amendments to protect students.
They applauded the federal government’s commitment to protect students from discrimination based on their sexuality, but called for the protections to be extended to cover gender identity and LGBTIQ school staff.
The final sitting fortnight of parliament starts on November 26.