Prime Minister Scott Morrison has secured Coalition support for amendments to the Religious Discrimination Bill (the Bill). The amendments only partially protect gay students, and completely overlook trans students.
The incomplete protections seem to neglect the commitment Morrison made to Anthony Albanese in writing on 1 December. Morrison promised to prevent “any form of discrimination against a student on the basis of sexuality or gender identity”.
The amendments also breach a commitment made to a group of four Liberal MPs. The MPs negotiated for the religious exemption to the Sex Discrimination Act to be removed.
“Horrified”, “utterly distressed”
Morrison has lost the support of Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who will oppose the Bill altogether.
Archer told the parliament that she was “horrified” and “utterly distressed” that the government amendments didn’t protect trans kids.
“After so much progress, how did we get back to a place where we ignore the harm we place on children when we tell them they are ‘other’, ‘less than’ and do not deserve rights and protections afforded to others? I fear it may risk lives,” Archer said.
Religious Discrimination Bill
The Religious Discrimination Bill will make it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of religious belief. It will also make it unlawful to discriminate based on an activity in specified areas of public life, such as:
- services, and
It will not create a positive right to freedom of religion. The bill largely reflects existing protections in federal anti-discrimination law such as the:
- Age Discrimination Act 2004 (Cth), and
- Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).
The term ‘religious belief or activity’ means broadly as holding or not holding a religious belief, or engaging, not engaging or refusing to engage in lawful religious activity. It covers spiritual beliefs and actions.
The Bill also provides that certain conduct is not discrimination.
Amendments to protect gay students from expulsion
The Morrison government included amendments to the Bill which protect students from expulsion due to their sexuality.
However, Labor believes that the draft amendments would also not protect same-sex attracted students against other forms of discrimination. This may open the possibility religious schools could punish them with measures short of expulsion.
Chief executive of LGBTQ+ lobby group Equality Australia Anna Brown called the government amendments “completely inadequate”. She stated they “fail to protect gay children” from suspension, detention and unfair treatment. Further, the Bill left behind the most vulnerable, trans children.
Ian Thorpe said on Tuesday that parliamentarians must do everything they could to protect trans youth, who were the “most marginalised” voices in the debate.
Thorpe said the bill amounted to “state-sanctioned discrimination”.
“When you look at some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged people in this country, this is a group of people that we should be protecting,” the LGBTQ+ advocate told reporters.
“It becomes state-sanctioned discrimination to gain rights for one group of people, whilst excluding another group of people.”
If you are the victim of any form of discrimination, contact our discrimination lawyers immediately. We can help you get compensation for any loss you suffered.