Opposed on both sides of politics, discrimination bill is set to pass

Coalition MPs remain confident of passing long-awaited religious discrimination laws, despite opposition to the laws from within the government.

Feb 09, 2022, updated Feb 09, 2022
Olympic Champion and now gay rights campaigner Ian Thorpe speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Olympic Champion and now gay rights campaigner Ian Thorpe speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Tuesday. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The coalition partyroom agreed to amendments to the bill on Monday, which would include a clause in the Sex Discrimination Act banning religious schools from expelling students based on their sexuality.

However, schools would still be able to expel transgender students in order “to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed”.

Multiple moderate MPs within the coalition have expressed concern with the amendments, including Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer who said she would cross the floor on the issue.

Coalition MP Angie Bell, who previously indicated concerns with the bill, said she would now support the discrimination laws, calling the amendments a “net gain for gay rights”.

“What I’m prepared to do is move the dial forward through that change to the Sex Discrimination Act,” she told the ABC.

“I will continue to advocate for all Australians, including transgender kids and transgender adults and teachers, to make sure that ultimately no Australian is discriminated against.”

Labor MP Stephen Jones gave an emotional speech on the floor of the House of Representatives on Monday, and said the bill should not be rushed through.

He paid tribute in the speech to his 15-year-old nephew Ollie, who took his own life earlier this year.

“He was gay, he was uncertain about his gender … but now he’s gone and we’re no longer able to love and support him on his journey through life,” he said.

“It’s about all of our kids, about the families of those kids, every child who’s had the courage to swim against the tide, just to be who they are.”

Labor’s shadow cabinet will meet later on Wednesday to decide its position on the proposed laws.

However, ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr has urged his federal Labor counterparts to oppose the amendments.

The first openly gay government leader in Australia said the coalition was attempting to use the discrimination laws as a wedge against Labor.

“If (Labor) wave it through without amendment and Liberal members are crossing the floor against their own government bill and Labor votes for it, that is problematic,” he told ABC Radio.

“As they stand, yes, I think they need to be amended.”

Independent MP Helen Haines said Prime Minister Scott Morrison met with her last night to secure her support to pass the religious discrimination laws.

However, she said made it clear that she would not support the legislation as it stands and was a “firm no”.

Despite the division in his own party about the religious discrimination laws, Prime Minister Scott Morrison appealed to the partyroom to “think about our team”, and support the bills that would shield people from expressing their beliefs.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said the government would try to muster the bill through parliament and honour an election commitment.

However, he told Sky News religious schools should be able to make decisions about their students.

“It’s an issue for the schools, and the rights of schools to make the decisions,” he said.

The coalition partyroom ultimately agreed to leave the question of broader changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Parliamentary debate on the contentious legislation, promised before the 2019 election, is ongoing.

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