Senate debates

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018; Second Reading

12:27 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table an explanatory memorandum. I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.


In 2013, Labor introduced reforms to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (SDA) which expanded the protections it provided to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Since its introduction in 1984, the SDA has included exemptions for religious schools, and in 2013 these exemptions were extended to also apply to the newly protected attributes of sexual orientation and gender identity, essentially as consequential amendments to the expansion of protected attributes.

These changes to anti-discrimination laws were broadly welcomed by the Australian community at the time.

However, over recent years there has been growing concern in the community about the ongoing appropriateness of and need for the exemptions under the SDA in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. The leaking of parts of the Ruddock Review into Religious Freedoms during October 2018 led to a significant increase in community discussion about the need to remove these exemptions from the SDA because of their potential to impact students at religious schools.

In October 2018 the Morrison Government, the Labor Opposition, the Australian Greens and a number of cross-bench MPs committed to amend the SDA to prevent schools from discriminating against students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. This Bill will achieve that outcome.

The Morrison Government has not acted on their promise. In fact — the Government seems so paralysed by their own internal divisions that they are hoping the Australian people forget this promise and the issue somehow goes away. Well if this Government won't act — Labor will. Australians support this change, the Parliament supports this change, and the Morrison Government claimed that it supports this change. Let's get this done before Christmas.

I want to note here that the overwhelming majority of religious schools have told a Senate committee which looked into this issue that they do not use these exemptions, and that they do not want them.

Labor wants to be clear — nothing in this Bill would compromise the ability of churches to continue to uphold their religious teachings, whether in the classroom or through the enforcement of school rules. The SDA protects that right. And I emphasise that this Bill would not affect the operation of the indirect discrimination provisions in the SDA, which would continue to protect the ability of faith-based educational institutions to impose reasonable conditions, requirements or practices on students in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religious or creed.

This Bill does not address the issue of discrimination against staff employed by religious schools. Given the short number of sitting days left between now and the election, we have to prioritise — and children are our priority. Labor is committed to removing exemptions which relate to LGBTI staff at religious schools. Mr Shorten has made that commitment to the Australian people, and we in Labor will continue to work on making that change happen too.

We in Labor are also committed to protecting religious freedom. Since the Ruddock Review was first announced, we have consistently made that clear. We are open for a debate about how this can be done — but until the Government chooses to release the report of the Ruddock Review, the nation is being deprived of that opportunity. When it does, Labor will work constructively with churches and religious schools to ensure they can continue to practice their beliefs. We do not believe anything in this particular Bill prevents them from doing so.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

I move:

That the resumption of debate be an order of the day for a later hour.

Question agreed to.