UPDATE – Tuesday December 4: The Centre Alliance today supported a Labor motion to bring the bill to a debate. Labor’s bill will be debated in the Senate starting 11am on Wednesday December 5, after which it will be voted on.
Labor’s bill to remove discrimination exemptions for religious schools will not be voted on after Coalition senators delayed debate on the legislation.
Senator Penny Wong’s proposed bill was due for discussion this afternoon but the government’s Senate leader Mathias Cormann suspended debate.
The government’s loss of a majority in the House of Representatives meant that if the bill made it through the Senate, they may not have had the numbers to block it in the House.
The Coalition has used repeated delay tactics to prevent action on removing discrimination exemptions, saying they wish to preserve schools’ religious freedom to operate on the basis of their faith.
“We support it with reasonable amendments to ensure that for example religious schools can provide appropriate rules for the proper conduct of their schools,” said Cormann.
“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.
Wong, who introduced the bill, was furious at the Coalition’s tactics and slammed the Centre Alliance senators for contributing to the delay.
“Call an election instead of lying the way you have about this issue,” Wong said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten also introduced a bill on the issue on Monday, which replicated the aims of the Senate bill.
Labor’s current efforts only seek to remove discrimination exemptions against LGBTI students but not teachers or staff, prompting criticism from the Greens.
The Greens last week tabled an amendment to Wong’s bill which would update the proposed changes to include staff members, with Labor now saying they will introduce legislation to address discrimination against LGBTI teachers in the first sitting fortnight of 2019.
“We saw an outrageous display from the Morrison government teaming up with Centre Alliance to push the discrimination-free schools bill off the agenda today,” said Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson Janet Rice.
“This means the parliament won’t deal with discrimination in schools until next year.
“Before the Wentworth by-election the Prime Minister promised he would remove discrimination from schools as a matter of urgency. This is yet another lie from the Prime Minister.
“The dirty tricks displayed today demonstrate a desperate Scott Morrison’s willingness to play games with the lives of LGBTQ+ people.
“Schools should be discrimination-free for all LGBTQ+ people – that means students, teachers and staff,” she said.
“The Greens were ready to act today to remove discrimination against teachers as well as students, as is supported by three quarters of the Australian population.
“It is so disappointing that political games and dirty tricks have delayed this long overdue reform.”
Co-Chair of the Equality Campaign and Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre Anna Brown described the delay as a blow to students and their parents seeking certainty ahead of the new year.
“It’s outrageous that our Government is stalling on this important vote. Parents and children deserve certainty for the new year,” Brown said.
“No kid should be feeling scared to walk through the school gates just because of who they are. Today’s delay is a slap in the face to LGBTQ kids and their families.”