Labor Bill To Protect LGBTQ Students From Discrimination
Penny Wong will introduce a bill to stop discrimination against gay school students, as the opposition accuses the government of dragging its feet on a promise made before the Wentworth by-election.
Labor senator Wong will bring forth the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 on Thursday, which is aimed at shutting down the ability for religious schools to expel or otherwise discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual or gender orientation.
It comes after leaked sections of the long-anticipated Ruddock Review into religious freedoms highlighted the ability of religious schools to discriminate against gay students and teachers.
The exemptions encoded in the Sex Discrimination Act caused widespread controversy and outrage when they came to wider public attention, with calls to tighten the laws to prevent such discrimination.
The Morrison government had promised to take action in the leadup to the Wentworth by-election and introduce a bill, but little progress has been made since, despite all major parties committing to work together.
So in the second-last sitting week of the parliamentary year, Labor will introduce its own bill into the Senate looking to address the issue.
"Over recent years there has been growing concern in the community about the ongoing appropriateness of and the need for the exemptions from the [Sex Discrimination Act] conferred on religious schools in relation to the sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status of students," the bill's explanatory memorandum read.
"The leaking of parts of the Ruddock Review into Religious Freedoms in October 2018 led to a significant increase in community discussion about the need to remove these exemptions from the SDA because of their potential to impact students attending religious schools."
The Labor explanation sets out that the bill closes the sexuality-related exemption, but would 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."
Critics of such reforms had argued that schools should be allowed to admit students and teachers based on the teachings of their religion.
The Labor bill would not remove any potential discrimination against teachers.
Labor's shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus claimed on Tuesday that the government had been "dragging their heels" on the reform, which prompted Labor to abandon a cross-parliament bill and forge ahead with its own instead.
"The Prime Minister promised to do this in the week before the Wentworth by-election. He said there was no room in a modern Australia for this exemption in relation to students at religious schools,” Dreyfus told the ABC.
“He said that this would be legislated, to remove the exemption, in the next sitting fortnight. That didn’t happen. And we need to move it forward."
Federal attorney-general Christian Porter said this week the government was "very close" to outlining reform to religious freedoms, and said it wanted to "remove all the existing discriminations" relating to students.
He said he was surprised Labor had decided to push forward its own bill.
"We were negotiating, I thought, quite well and in good faith with the Labor Party. Obviously saw the statements of the shadow attorney-general - the first I heard the negotiations had ended were through the media this morning," Porter said on Tuesday on ABC Radio.
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