The NSW Labor Party will support moves to overturn the ability of private religious schools and colleges to discriminate against LGBTI and other students, however some members of the NSW Coalition government will be needed to back the bill if it is to have any chance of passing parliament.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich has already flagged that he will formally introduce the Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Private Educational Authorities) Bill 2013 for debate later this year. The Bill’s intention is to make private schools and education institutions subject to the same laws that make discrimination unlawful in public schools.
Currently, faith-based schools and other private education institutions receive exemptions under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 on all grounds but race, allowing them to deny entry to students who are gay or lesbian, transgender, single, too old or pregnant, or refuse to teach them because of some other characteristic.
The Bill will not attempt to remove current exemptions for religious groups and other faith organisations that allow them to discriminate against employees on similar grounds.
After a number of months of discussion, Labor’s education spokesperson, Carmel Tebbutt, confirmed in the last week of October that the party will not offer a conscience vote but instead support the Bill as a bloc.
“The vast majority of non-government schools do the right thing and do not discriminate against students. However, consultation undertaken by Alex Greenwich MP has highlighted some examples of students who have had poor experiences or been subject to bullying at school,” Tebbutt said.
“Labor believes it is important to support this bill to demonstrate our support for tolerance and diversity and to send a clear message that discrimination against any student is unacceptable.”
Attorney-General Greg Smith has reportedly ruled out allowing a conscience vote for Coalition MPs but is yet to determine the party’s final stance on the issue.
In mid-September, Greenwich told the Star Observer he hoped the NSW government will reflect on the strong public support for the Bill when formulating their position, with the most recent survey on the issue in 2004 finding 89 per cent of respondents disagreed that private schools should be able to expel a student for being gay.
“I guess overall what the Bill does is that it puts private schools on an equal playing field with public schools. Public schools are not able to discriminate against people based on whether they are pregnant or have a disability or are gay,” Greenwich said at the time.
“Private schools should not be able to do that either. Particularly now with an increasing amount of state and federal funding going into private schools. We really shouldn’t be funding or subsidising discrimination.”