Mor­ri­son bid to pro­tect gay kids

The Weekend Australian - - FRONT PAGE - GE­OFF CHAM­BERS JOHN FER­GU­SON

Scott Mor­ri­son will move to leg­is­late pro­tec­tions for gay and trans stu­dents and en­sure non­state schools do not ex­pel them on the “ba­sis of their sex­u­al­ity”.

Ahead of a cru­cial by-elec­tion in Went­worth, which has one of the largest LGBTI com­mu­ni­ties in Aus­tralia, the Prime Min­is­ter will to­day an­nounce changes to laws in­tro­duced un­der Ju­lia Gil­lard in 2013 to of­fer more pro­tec­tions for gay stu­dents against dis­crim­i­na­tion.

Mr Mor­ri­son told The Week­end Aus­tralian that “mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions” of pro­pos­als out­lined in the Rud­dock re­view into re­li­gious free­dom, which sup­ported strength­en­ing pro­tec­tions for stu­dents, had cre­ated “un­nec­es­sary con­fu­sion and anx­i­ety for par­ents and stu­dents”.

Ex­emp­tions that al­low re­li­gious schools to refuse gay stu­dents and teach­ers al­ready ex­ist in carve-outs to the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act, which were ex­tended by La­bor. They were not rec­om­men­da­tions of the re­view, led by former Lib­eral at­tor­ney­gen­eral Philip Rud­dock.

Ahead of Mr Mor­ri­son’s an­nounce­ment, Bill Shorten last night wrote to the Prime Min­is­ter of­fer­ing La­bor’s sup­port to pass a bill to amend the Sex Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act and re­move ex­emp­tions that al­low re­li­gious schools to “dis­crim­i­nate against chil­dren on the ba­sis of their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity”.

Deputy La­bor leader Tanya Plibersek, at odds with Mr Shorten, had ear­lier said La­bor had no plans to abol­ish or “re­duce” the Gil­lard-era ex­emp­tions.

“These ex­emp­tions are anachro­nis­tic and are a de­nial of the dig­nity of chil­dren at any time,” the Op­po­si­tion Leader wrote to Mr Mor­ri­son. “In­deed, the re­sponse from many re­li­gious ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions has made clear that such ex­emp­tions are not used, and are not in line with their be­liefs. It is La­bor’s view that they should be re­moved.”

Mr Mor­ri­son will move to in­tro­duce amend­ments to par­lia­ment “as soon as prac­ti­ca­ble to make it clear that no stu­dent of a non-state school should be ex­pelled on the ba­sis of their sex­u­al­ity”.

The Week­end Aus­tralian un­der­stands Mr Mor­ri­son dis­cussed the is­sue with Lib­eral Went­worth can­di­date Dave Sharma, who is fighting to re­tain the govern­ment’s ma­jor­ity in a hotly con­tested by­elec­tion next Satur­day.

“I be­lieve this view is shared across the par­lia­ment and we should use the next fort­night to en­sure this mat­ter is ad­dressed,” Mr Mor­ri­son said. “To this end, I have asked the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral to pre­pare amend­ments and con­sult with the op­po­si­tion.

“Our govern­ment does not sup­port ex­pul­sion of stu­dents from re­li­gious non-state schools on the ba­sis of their sex­u­al­ity. I also know that this view is widely shared by re­li­gious schools and com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try.”

On Wed­nes­day, Arch­bishop Mark Co­leridge, pres­i­dent of the Aus­tralian Catholic Bish­ops Con­fer­ence, said Catholic schools wel­comed “staff and stu­dents from all back­grounds who are will­ing to ac­cept the de­clared mis­sion and val­ues of the school com­mu­nity”.

“We have not sought con­ces­sions to dis­crim­i­nate against stu­dents or teach­ers based on their sex­u­al­ity, gen­der iden­tity or re­la­tion­ship sta­tus,” Arch­bishop Co­leridge said.

Mr Mor­ri­son, a proud Chris­tian, said amend­ing the leg­is­la­tion would “give all stu­dents and par­ents the cer­tainty they re­quire”.

“Any changes in this area should al­ways take into ac­count the best in­ter­ests of chil­dren. Given re­cent mis­re­port­ing, we have an op­por­tu­nity here to bring for­ward a sim­ple amend­ment to end the con­fu­sion,” he said.

As re­vealed in The Aus­tralian on Thurs­day, Mr Mor­ri­son’s cabinet is set to de­cide on a pro­posal for a re­li­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion act, the key rec­om­men­da­tion of the Rud­dock re­view. The pro­posed leg­is­la­tion is viewed as a way to end Coali­tion in­fight­ing and al­lay fears among re­li­gious groups fol­low­ing the di­vi­sive same-sex mar­riage de­bate.

The govern­ment is fu­ri­ous that the Rud­dock re­view was leaked, ac­cus­ing Lib­er­als of un­der­min­ing the Mor­ri­son govern­ment.

“It looks like an in­ter­nal hit,’’ a se­nior Lib­eral said.

One of the 20 rec­om­men­da­tions in the Rud­dock re­view was a sug­ges­tion that ju­ris­dic­tions should abol­ish any ex­cep­tions to anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws that pro­vide for dis­crim­i­na­tion by re­li­gious schools in em­ploy­ment on the ba­sis of race, dis­abil­ity, preg­nancy or in­ter­sex “sta­tus’’.

On Thurs­day, At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Chris­tian Porter said the Rud­dock re­view did not widen pow­ers for schools to dis­crim­i­nate against gay peo­ple.

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