Labor will support the coalition’s Religious Discrimination Bill but will propose a number of amendments to try to address its “big flaws”.
After a lengthy caucus meeting on Wednesday, shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said Labor supported the bill but would propose amendments in four key areas in both houses of parliament.
These amendments include the prohibition of religious defamation and discrimination against children because of their sexuality or gender identity, as well as the clarification of the controversial provision on the “statement of belief” which does not remove not existing protections against discrimination.
Equality campaigners say Labor’s proposed amendments won’t fix everything but are a step in the right direction.
“These changes should be supported, but Parliament should go further to address the remaining issues in the bill, including removing section 11, the provisions nullifying state protections against discrimination on the basis of creed. religious,” said Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia.
Labor will also seek to amend a section of the Sex Discrimination Act which allows schools to discriminate against children because of their sexuality or gender identity.
“Labour believes that religious organizations and believers have the right to act in accordance with the doctrines, beliefs or teachings of their traditions and faith,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“But as we have made clear from the outset, any expansion of the federal anti-discrimination framework must not come at the expense of existing laws that protect Australians from other forms of discrimination.”
Equality Australia says proposed changes to the Sex Discrimination Act would protect LGBTQI+ students from discrimination in religious schools.
But Ms Brown wants the opposition to ensure teachers and staff in faith-based schools are not fired or discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The coalition village hall on Monday agreed to amendments to the Religious Discrimination Bill, including a ban on religious schools expelling students because of their sexuality.
However, schools would still be able to expel transgender students in order “to avoid undermining the religious sensitivities of followers of that religion or belief”.
Several moderate MPs within the coalition expressed concern over the amendments, including Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer who said she would cross the floor on the issue.
On Tuesday, Labor MP Stephen Jones gave an emotional speech to the House of Representatives and said the bill should not be rushed through.
He paid tribute in his speech to his 15-year-old nephew, Ollie, who took his own life earlier this year.
“He was gay, he wasn’t sure of his gender…but now he’s gone and we are no longer able to love and support him on his journey in life,” he said. declared.
“It’s about all of our children, the families of those children, every child who has had the courage to swim against the tide, just to be who they are.”
Independent MP Helen Haines said Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with her on Tuesday evening to seek her support to push through the religious discrimination laws.
However, she made it clear she would not support the legislation as it stands and was a “firm no”.
Despite division within his own party over religious discrimination laws, Mr Morrison called on the party hall to ‘think of our team’ and support bills that would prevent people from expressing their beliefs .
The coalition party hall eventually agreed to leave the issue of wider changes to the Sex Discrimination Act, including the issue of transgender student rights, to the Australian Law Reform Commission.
Debate continues on the bill in the lower house on Wednesday, but with at least 36 speakers listed, it may not be voted on until Thursday.
He must then run the Senate gauntlet.
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Australian Associated Press