House debates

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Matters of Public Importance


3:14 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | Hansard source

We're very pleased, on this side of the House, that the Prime Minister has accepted Labor's overtures to remove the existing exemptions in antidiscrimination law that would allow discrimination against children in non-government schools on the basis of who they are. But we are very disappointed about two things: firstly, the government's refusal to work with Labor to remove discrimination against teachers and other school staff and, secondly, the timing of these moves.

The Prime Minister said very clearly today that he would like to see legislation passed in this sitting fortnight. I'm not sure if he's aware of this, but I believe the Senate's not sitting next week. That would mean passing legislation through this chamber and the Senate by Thursday this week. My understanding is that no legislation went to the Liberal party room today. So, if no legislation has gone to the party room, it is very difficult to believe that the Prime Minister is sincere in his claim that legislation can go through this sitting fortnight—so that would mean waiting until November. The Prime Minister has said a lot about the insecurity that children and teenagers are feeling and about putting this beyond doubt. Well, to do that, we need to see legislation now.

Schools have been very clear that they don't want to discriminate against children on the basis of their sexuality. They want to nurture and protect and support their students. I think it's very important to listen to what the schools have been saying. I've consulted very widely with schools, parents' organisations, principals, the Independent Education Union, teachers and representatives of teachers, and the universal view is that schools do not wish to—and do not in practice—expel students on the basis of their sexuality. In fact, Dr Andrew Watson, the president of Catholic Secondary Principals Australia, said:

Catholic Secondary Principals Australia welcomes changes to anti-discrimination laws that remove any right religious schools have to expel students because of their sexuality.

This is a very welcome comment. But if it's not right to discriminate against children on the basis of their sexuality then it can't be right to discriminate against adults on the basis of their sexuality. Many Liberals support our view. Dave Sharma, the Liberal candidate for Wentworth, has said:

I'm fundamentally opposed to discrimination in schools, for pupils or for teachers, on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, or really anything else for that matter.

The Treasurer has said: 'I don't think these laws are right.' Senator Dean Smith has said he supports 'amendments to remove discrimination against LGBTI teachers'.

We can get on with this. In 2018, allowing discrimination on the basis of gender identity, sexual orientation and relationship status is completely out of step with community expectations. It is not the best way to safeguard the mission and identity of religious schools. We propose to remove from the Sex Discrimination Act exemptions for religious schools in relation to discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity, because no-one should be sacked because of who they are or who they love. No-one should be denied employment because of who they love or who their partner is. But schools are also entitled to have rules that ensure that staff—and I'm quoting one of the organisations that wrote to me—don't 'deliberately and wilfully behave contrary to the values of the school'. I believe this parliament, working together, working with schools and working with representatives of the LGBTIQ community can ensure that we achieve both aims. As the Australian Council of Jewish Schools put it, and I think they put it very well:

None of our schools discriminate against staff employed or to be employed on the basis of their sexuality, gender or sexual preferences.

However, they do need to have the capacity to insist on a public lifestyle that is consistent with the ethos of the school.

… as to discrimination in enrolment and employment, we do not need or support any continued exemption.

So when making these decisions, we'll consider commonsense, current practice and human rights, because it is very clear, in current practice, that schools don't wish to and don't generally use these provisions.

And when we're looking at, for example, Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Convention against Discrimination in Education, parents and families have the right to choose a religious education for their children. However, we cannot accept discrimination against whole groups of people for a characteristic that is intrinsic to themselves: who they love. That is completely out of step with modern, mainstream Australian values.

Labor's record has always been strong when it comes to removing discrimination. Premiers like Don Dunstan led the way on decriminalisation of homosexuality. In 1992, the Keating government removed the ban on LGBTI people serving in the military and, of course, that was opposed by the Liberal Party at that time. In 2009, the Rudd government, which I was part of, removed discrimination against same-sex couples from 85 areas of Commonwealth legislation.


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