LGBTIQ advocates have called for the federal government’s religious schools bill be extended to prevent discrimination against LGBT staff as well as students, as a stalemate between the government and the opposition on the issue continues.
In a Senate inquiry report released on Monday night, Labor and Greens committee members recommended rejecting the leaked recommendations of the Religious Freedom Review and recommended the Morrison Government amend the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit discrimination against LGBT students on the basis of gender, sexuality, and other attributes.
“The committee heard harrowing stories of the suffering that this discrimination can and has caused,” the report states.
“The committee was pleased to hear various faith‑based educational institutions indicate that they have not, would not, and do not wish to expel students on the basis of their sexuality.
“However, if it is the case that the exemptions are not being used against students, that is no reason to maintain them. Rather, it is reason to remove them as unnecessary.”
The report also recommends that further consideration be given to not allowing such discrimination against teachers and other staff, but the committee reported receiving “mixed evidence”.
“The committee understands that schools are anxious to ensure that their staff uphold the ethos of the school. Nonetheless, it has not been fully established that schools need to be able to discriminate on the basis of a teacher’s attribute, as distinct from their conduct,” the report reads.
“If an employee conducts themselves in the school community in accordance with the school’s values, it is not clear why there should be scope for adverse action to be taken against them simply because they hold a particular attribute.”
But the Coalition senators on the committee disagreed, warning that “the existing exemptions for schools… should not be eroded unless adequate protections for religious freedom are afforded in their place.”
The government’s draft bill, leaked in October, would allow “indirect discrimination” on the grounds of sexuality or gender identity where reasonable, including if it’s imposed in “good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious sensibilities of adherents of that religion.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter told ABC Radio the Coalition was committed to removing the exemptions but defended the “very modest provision” to allow schools to maintain rules that “are reasonable and represent their own religious views.”
But Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the government was “dragging its heels” and Labor would introduce its own private member’s bill in response to the Coalition’s refusal to simply repeal the exemptions.
Follow Tasmania’s lead, just.equal says
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said discrimination against LGBT students and teachers had been banned in religious schools in his home state of Tasmania for two decades.
The Senate inquiry report recommended further consideration of those provisions in the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
“If Tasmania’s faith-based schools can operate well without the right to discriminate against LGBTI teachers, schools in other states can too,” he said.
Croome said he said he also believed teachers and other staff should be protected too.
“A school environment where LGBTI teachers can be fired because of who they are is a profoundly unsafe environment for LGBTI students,” he said.
Equality Campaign co-chair and Human Rights Law Centre legal advocacy director Anna Brown said Prime Minister Scott Morrison made a “clear promise” to remove the laws enabling discrimination against students and parents and their children needed certainty going into the new year.
“They deserve to go into 2019 knowing that no student will face discrimination at school because of who they are,” she said.
“There are only two sitting weeks left for the Australian Parliament… Now is the time for Mr Morrison to honour his promise.”
Results of a survey of LGBTIQ Australians by just.equal found that 94.5 per cent of respondents were opposed the government’s legislation allow “indirect” discrimination at faith-based schools on the grounds of a school’s “religious ethos”.
Australian Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice said Labor and the government had promised the Australian people that they would remove discrimination in schools within a fortnight of the Wentworth by-election last month.
“We must also act immediately to remove discrimination against teachers and other staff,” she said.
“Schools should be discrimination-free zones for all LGBTQ+ people, regardless of whether they are are a student or a staff member.
“Our schools should be teaching our kids about respect and equality. What message does it send to young people if LGBTQ+ staff can be fired because of who they are?”