Labor introduces anti-discrimination bill for schools


Labor Senator Penny Wong
Labor senator Penny Wong.

Federal Labor has introduced a bill that would protect gay students from discrimination at religious schools but that does not address the hiring and firing of gay teachers or other staff.

Labor vowed to go it alone on the issue after talks with the government broke down again this week, but the Greens have said neither party has gone far enough with their legislation and teachers and other staff should also be protected.

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Labor Senator leader Penny Wong introduced the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 on Thursday.

The bill’s explanatory notes state it would close the sexuality-related exemption affecting students, but still allow religious schools to set “reasonable conditions, requirements or practices on students in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of their particular religion or creed.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter earlier defended the government’s refusal to simply repeal the exemption, saying their bill aimed to balance non-discrimination of LGBTIQ students and staff against the need for religious schools to organise themselves in accordance with the doctrines of their faith.

“We think that’s a very reasonable protection for religious schools and they consider that is very important to the way in which they conduct their affairs,” Porter said on Tuesday.

‘Don’t throw staff under the school bus’

But the Greens have said neither bill goes far enough and plan to move amendments to Labor’s bill that would ensure religious school teachers and staff are also protected from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity.

“It’s clear from the title of Labor’s bill that it will only end discrimination against students and that religious schools would still be able to fire LGBTQ+ teachers and other staff, just for being who they are,” Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice said.

“Schools should be discrimination-free zones for all people, regardless of whether they are are a student or a staff member.”

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome said on Thursday the push for discrimination exemptions should extend beyond students.

“Labor’s push to protect LGBTI kids from discrimination is very welcome, but it must also protect LGBTI teachers and other school workers,” he said.

“Labor is the party of worker rights so it should stand up for workers in religious schools and not throw them under the school bus.”

Croome said that religious schools had operated for 20 years in his home state of Tasmanian with discrimination against both LGBTIQ students and teachers banned at the state level.