Prime Minister Scott Morrison has claimed that there was no evidence that students are being expelled from religious schools for being gay and vowed to bring back the unamended Religious Discrimination Bill if his government is re-elected. 

Morrison said he would reintroduce the bill as a “stand alone legislation”, meaning, the law would be without the protections for gay and trans students that were demanded by moderate Liberal MPs. 

In February, the Prime Minister had indefinitely shelved the Religious Discrimination Bill after an amendment to the law was passed to protect gay and trans students. Five Liberal MPs had crossed the floor of the house to vote with the Labor and crossbench MPs to pass an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act, to repeal existing provisions that allow faith-based schools to expel gay and trans students.

‘Religious Schools Themselves Don’t Wish To Do That’

On Sunday, Morrison said there was no evidence of discrimination against LGBTQI students, when he was reminded of his 2018 promise to enact laws to protect gay students.

“We’ve been having this conversation for about the last four years, and on each occasion it has been presented that apparently students are being expelled each and every day, each and every week, or each and every year,” said Morrison, adding, “There is no evidence of that at all. There is none. The point is it doesn’t happen … because religious schools themselves don’t wish to do that. They don’t wish to do it. This is an issue that is actually not occurring in these schools. And that is the clear evidence of those schools itself.”

Morrison’s claims were at odds with facts, when as recently as February 2022, Brisbane-based Citipointe Christian College issued a new enrolment contract that would allow it to expel gay and trans students. The contract was withdrawn after a public backlash. Morrison said he had “condemned” it at the time, but insisted “that’s not something that is occurring.”

‘You Pass One And Then You Pass The Other’

Responding to the media’s questions for a timeline for both the Religious Discrimination Bill and amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act, Morrison refused to get into specifics saying they were “different issues”” 

“Our position has always been the position the government had. And the position that was endorsed by the party room of the government was that both would be pursued and they’d be pursued sequentially,” Morrison told media persons, without specifying when amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act would be passed.  

“You pass one and then you pass the other because one triggers the other… One triggers the other, that is what is set out in the legislation,” said Morrison.

LGBTQI issues have been the focus during the current election campaign, after Morrison refused to sack Warringah candidate Katherine Deves, when her now deleted anti-LGBTQI posts on Twitter came to light. Morrison has also endorsed Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler’s bill to ban trans women from female sport. Morrison’s election promise to bring back the unamended Religious Discrimination Bill has been criticised by LGBTQI advocacy groups.

“The Religious Discrimination Bill took away existing discrimination protections from people with disability, religious minorities, workers, women and LGBTIQ+ people,” said Equality Tasmania spokesperson, Rodney Croome.  The Bill would overwrite some anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQI people in states like Victoria and Tasmania. 

“Tasmania was the biggest loser under the Bill because our anti-discrimination laws are the best in Australia,” said Croome.

Protections For LGBTQI Students Are Non-Negotiable

Moderate Liberal MPs, including member of Higgins, Katie Allen, who crossed the floor to vote for the amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act, have said that protections for LGBTQI students were “non-negotiable”.

“I believe you can protect religious freedom and can protect gay and trans students at the same time… I believe you can,” Allen told reporters.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he was “astonished” Morrison had “walked away” from the promise to protect LGBTQI students. 

“We need to protect people from discrimination, whether its religious discrimination or on the basis of sexuality. If people don’t think some young people are discriminated against and vilified, then that just does not reflect reality,” said Albanese.

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