Ruling coalition senators on Monday (3 December) delayed discussion of an anti-discrimination bill to protect LGBTI students.
It means parliament will now hear much-awaited legislation to dismantle religious freedom protections in January 2019.
Currently, some laws allow religious schools and other organizations to discriminate. But, some state-level laws ban LGBTI discrimination.
On 13 October, ahead of by-elections, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his coalition would enact federal legislation banning the practice within a fortnight.
But, the coalition, especially Liberal members, has repeatedly delayed the bill.
‘We support [legislation] with reasonable amendments to ensure that for example religious schools can provide appropriate rules for the proper conduct of their schools’ said Senate leader Mathias Cormann, who suspended the debate.
‘Labor’s bill completely removes the ability of religious educational institutions to maintain their ethos through what they teach and the rules of conduct they impose on students,’ said Liberal senator Michaelia Cash, according to the Star Observer.
Leader of the Opposition Senator Penny Wong introduced the bill. She said Monday’s scene was ‘an indication of the chaos that is the Morrison government’.
In a fiery exchange, she said Morrison should call an election. She said the Prime Minister had been lying ahead of the Wentworth by-election.
here’s Penny Wong – she turns on Centre Alliance senators who decided to support the government in blocking the legislation until at least next year pic.twitter.com/Tx2bwwAu3H
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) December 3, 2018
‘Slap in the face’
Australian Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Janet Rice said it was ‘an outrageous display’. She accused the government of teaming up with political party Centre Alliance to push the discrimination-free schools bill off the agenda.
‘The dirty tricks displayed today demonstrate a desperate Scott Morrison’s willingness to play games with the lives of LGBTQ+ people’, she said.
Last week, the Greens tabled an amendment to Wong’s bill to also protect teachers and staff from discrimination.
Parliament’s delay was a blow to students and their parents seeking certainty ahead of the new year, said Anna Brown, of the Human Rights Law Centre.
‘No kid should be feeling scared to walk through the school gates just because of who they are’ she said.
‘Today’s delay is a slap in the face to LGBTQ kids and their families.’ she also remarked.
Today the parliament had the opportunity to do the right thing and protect kids at school. Instead the Government blocked the bill and voted to continue to discrimination against #LGBTQ students #auspol https://t.co/Jeu0AZn14C
— Anna Brown (@AnnaHRLC) December 3, 2018
A Senate inquiry last week released a report on discrimination exemptions for religious schools.
Senators recommended parliament remove exemptions.
But, coalition senators released their own report. They recommended exemptions ‘should not be eroded unless adequate protections for religious freedom are afforded in their place’.
Debate over exemptions to discrimination laws for religious schools has rattled Australia. The government released a religious freedom review last month.
The government inquiry recommended anti-discrimination law should be altered to allow religious schools to turn away LGBTI staff and students.
But, rights advocates denounced the report. Faith-based schools make up one-third of Australia’s publicly-funded schools.