Morrison bid to protect gay kids
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.