Three years after Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government would enact a law to ban religious schools from expelling LGBTQI+ students, there is no move yet to keep that promise.

Last week Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice confronted the Attorney General’s department at Senate Estimates on the Sex Discrimination Act and its implications for schools.

Rice, in her questions drew particular attention to section 21 of the Act, which states that under Australian law it is unlawful for an educational authority to discriminate against a person on the ground of the person’s sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status. Section 38, provides an exemption for religious schools.

“In 2018 when we were in discussion about discrimination at religious schools, our prime minster issued a statement that said, ‘our government does not support expulsion of students religious non state schools on the basis of their sexuality’, and want to know if this is still government policy?” Senator Rice asked.

Religious Discrimination Bill Is Being Developed

Senator Janet Rice with the Greens contingent at Midsumma Pride March 2021

Andrew Walter for Attorney Generals Department responded that the matter was referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission and that its inquiry has been put on hold while the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill is developed and considered.

With two years having passed since PM Morrison’s promise, the bill is still marked as pending and has not yet been introduced. Despite this delay, it is still both damaging and of concern that the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill allows increased discrimination in the name of religion against LGBTQI people, women, people with disability and others.

When Senator Rice was told that putting a timeline on the introduction of the new religious freedom legislation, or revisiting the anti-discrimination legislation was impossible, she pointed to the fact that students, who were in Year 7 in 2018 when the Prime Minister made the commitment to end discrimination against LGBTQI students in faith-based schools, would be in Year 11 before any action may indeed be taken.

Shortly after the committee hearing, Senator Rice took to twitter to double down on her attack on the inaction of the Morrison Government, tweeting  “No student should be able to be expelled for who they are but our laws allow just that. Religious schools can discriminate against & expel students because of their sexuality or gender identity. The Gov said they opposed that in 2018 but still haven’t changed the law”

‘Government Failure To Act Is Concerning’

With Michaela Cash assuming the role of Attorney General, what is perhaps most concerning is Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker being appointed as Assistant to the Attorney General.

Stoker in the past has written that “To obtain the protection, or indeed the promotion of the state, one must identify some attribute through which a special victimhood arises. These can be outside an individual’s control (such as sex, race or disability) or matters of personal choice (such as gender identity or sexuality).”

Stoker has also been vocal in her opposition towards banning conversion practices.

The Morrison Government’s failure to bring to an end discrimination against LGBTQ* students in faith-based schools has been slammed by  rights groups.

Just.equal spokesperson, Rodney Croome, said via a statement that “Scott Morrison’s commitment could not have been clearer and the Government’s dodging and weaving could not be more obvious.”

“Preventing school children from being discriminated against because of who they are is a simple commitment that doesn’t need in-depth inquiries, fancy amendments or cross referencing to other legislation. It just needs the will to prevent harm to LGBTQ young people, a will the Government clearly lacks,” said Croome.

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