Labor will support the government’s proposed religious discrimination bill but will move a number of amendments to prevent church schools from expelling gay and transgender students based on their sexuality.
After a lengthy caucus meeting, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus confirmed Labor would seek four key changes, including a prohibition on discrimination against students on the basis of sexuality and gender identity, by changing section 38 (3) of the Sex Discrimination Act.
The proposed amendments also include clarifying that the contentious statement of belief provision does not remove existing protections against discrimination, along with banning religious vilification and preventing in-home aged care service providers from discriminating against children based on their gender identity.
“Labor believes religious organisations and people of faith have the right to act in accordance with the doctrines, beliefs or teachings of their traditions and faith,” Dreyfus said.
“But as we have made clear from the outset, any extension of the federal anti-discrimination framework should not come at the expense of existing laws that protect Australians from other forms of discrimination.”
The coalition party room had agreed to amendments to the bill on Monday, noting that schools would still be able to expel transgender students in order “to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”
However, not every Labor Mp is happy with the decision, with Bridget Archer, Liberal MP for Bass, saying that she will vote against the Coalition’s religious discrimination bill as it fails to protect transgender students.
Despite the division in his own party about the religious discrimination laws, Morrison asked the party room to “think about our team,” and support the bills that would shield people from expressing their beliefs.
Meanwhile, faith groups said they would reject a watered-down religious bill, with the Australian Christian Lobby saying “eighty-one percent of Australians” believe the government should pass religious discrimination legislation to “ensure that people cannot be discriminated against based on their religion, just as on the basis of age, race and gender.”
NCEC executive director Jacinta Collins, a former Labor senator, on Wednesday, called on Parliament to pass the Religious Discrimination legislation without delay.
“Both major parties have acknowledged the importance of our schools maintaining their religious ethos with their support for the protections proposed in the religious discrimination bill,” Collins said.
“This important legislation realises Australia’s international responsibility to protect religious freedom including establishing religious schools and the rights of parents to ensure the education of their children in line with their religious beliefs and values.”
Collins noted that Catholic schools should be able to select staff “who share our faith or are willing to support the ethos and mission of the school.”
University of Notre Dame adjunct associate professor Mark Fowler told The Australian on Feb. 9 that “the freedom to establish independent religious schools is grounded in the long-standing international human right of parents to ‘ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions.’”
“That freedom is curtailed where the ability of schools to appoint persons who authentically model the relevant beliefs is itself limited,” he said.
Debate is continuing on the legislation in the lower house on Wednesday, but with at least 36 speakers listed it may not get to a vote until Thursday.