Labor has announced they will move a Senate inquiry into the discrimination faced by LGBTI students and staff in light of the government’s delayed response on the issue.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced the move in a statement.
“He failed, and then tried to blame Labor for that failure – despite Labor clearly saying we were happy to pass a repeal then and there.
“Labor wants to see this bill passed before Parliament rises for the Christmas break – there is no reason why kids and their families should have to wait any longer for certainty.”
Plibersek and Dreyfus said they would work with crossbenchers to refer the Coalition’s proposed legislation to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, with an interim report to be issued by November 26 when the final sitting period of 2018 commences.
“The committee will be given a longer window of time to examine the issue of discrimination against LGBTI staff in religious schools,” they said.
“A short inquiry will allow the Government’s bill on students to be thoroughly examined and scrutinised – the Government did no consultation, so we are forcing them to.
“The committee will inquire into whether the government’s proposal to expand exemptions for indirect discrimination are necessary in addition to existing protections for schools.
“Labor is also committed to removing discrimination against LGBTI staff in religious schools.
“We will progress this issue by examining how legislative change can best be made to remove discrimination whilst respecting the ability of religious schools to uphold the teachings of their faith.
“This inquiry will mean the government have no more excuses not to get on with the job of ending discrimination once and for all,” the statement concluded.
The issue of LGBTI discrimination in schools has been fuelled by the Anglican Diocese of Sydney’s continued insistence of preserving exemptions for religious schools in the Sex Discrimination Act.
Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies last week said that he opposes the exemptions but wants their removal to be counterbalanced with legislation affording schools the “positive right” to religious freedom.
Anglican officials have received significant backlash since a letter supporting the exemptions signed by the heads of 34 schools was circulated, prompting a petition which has now garnered thousands of signatures.
Davies last week apologised for distress caused by the letter, but did not change his position.
UPDATE: Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens LGBTIQ+ spokesperson, said that the Greens had amended the Terms of Reference for the inquiry to ensure that it will report its findings on both LGBTI students and staff discrimination in two weeks.
“Removing discrimination against both students and staff is urgent. It must happen this year,” Rice said.
“Labor’s original dates would have informed legislation regarding only students this year, leaving teachers hanging out to dry until next year.”
“The Greens have a bill already being debated in the senate that would remove discrimination against LGBTQ+ students and staff.
We could have continued debate and voted on it this week, but debate was blocked by both Labor and Liberal. The next best option is an inquiry, but one that reports quickly.”
“The Greens amendment means the inquiry will be quick and we can get on with the job of removing discrimination in schools before parliament and schools rise for the summer break.”