Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Business

Rearrangement

10:34 am

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Cormann.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you—I'm very relieved that you remember my name, Mr Acting Deputy President!

Photo of Don FarrellDon Farrell (SA, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

You got him into this place! He's one of your proteges!

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

No, Senator Brockman was elected by the people in the great state of Western Australia, who think that he is doing a fantastic job. I seek leave to move a motion to provide for the consideration of bills.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no objection, leave is granted.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That—

(a) the following bills be called on immediately, in the following order, and the time allotted for all remaining stages of the bills be until 12.30 pm:

Intelligence Services Amendment Bill 2018

Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Legislation Amendment Bill 2018

Family Law Amendment (Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties) Bill 2018

Treasury Laws Amendment (2017 Enterprise Incentives No. 1) Bill 2017

Treasury Laws Amendment (2018 Measures No. 4) Bill 2018

(b) paragraph (a) of this order shall operate as a limitation of debate under standing order 142.

I commend the motion to the Senate. As senators would be aware, we were about to deal with the proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act from 11 am onwards. I think that there is a desire from all parties across this chamber to find a sensible way forward in relation to the important amendments to this bill. I think that there is broad consensus around this chamber to remove inappropriate discrimination against kids in schools and other education institutions based on their sexual orientation and other related matters. But there is also a desire, so far unresolved, among many good people around Australia to see appropriate and reasonable protection remain in place for religious schools, enabling them to conduct their affairs consistent with the tenets of their respective religions. In order to facilitate engagement between all parties as appropriate, the government and the opposition have reached agreement to take some more time. The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have had a level of engagement. We believe it is in the public interest for those conversations to be allowed to continue for a bit longer. On that basis, I'm moving this motion to deal with a series of other priority government bills so that this process in relation to the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act can continue to take place in good faith and in good order.

10:37 am

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

I rise to indicate that the opposition will be supporting the Leader of the Government's motion. I thank him for the way in which, whatever our differences, he has dealt with these matters honourably. It is a motion that will have an inevitable and disappointing outcome, which is that Labor's bill to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ students in our schools will be delayed until next year. It is a disappointing outcome because it means LGBTIQ kids now face the prospect of returning to school next year knowing that they could be expelled or discriminated against because they are gay. Only weeks ago it was clear that there was broad support in the parliament for removal of discrimination against LGBTIQ students. Certainly, before the Wentworth by-election Mr Morrison told Australians: 'I believe it is very important we act in this parliament over the next fortnight to deal with the unnecessary anxiety that has been created for children and their parents in relation to potential discrimination and expulsion of students on the basis of their sexuality. We think that needs to be addressed and we think it needs to be addressed urgently.'

Labor welcomed Mr Morrison's commitment and we hope that together we can resolve this matter, because Australians were shocked to learn that our young people could face discrimination in this way at school. It came to public attention only because parts of the government's religious freedom review expert panel report, which I think two Liberal Prime Ministers, Mr Turnbull and Mr Morrison, have sat on now for over six months, were leaked. The government refuses to release the report and allow a mature and informed debate on this issue.

The public response was overwhelming, and it reflects the outcome of the postal survey on marriage equality. Australians overwhelmingly support equality. Australians overwhelmingly support the removal of discrimination from our laws. That was reflected last year in the results of the postal survey. Labor is committed to removing these outdated exemptions and we welcome Mr Morrison's commitment to do the same.

However, this is the situation we face: Centre Alliance Senators Griff and Patrick have made public that they will support the government's amendment to insert a new provision that exempts teaching activity in religious schools from the Sex Discrimination Act. The advice from legal experts is clear. This amendment, passed with the support of Senators Griff and Patrick, would destroy the intent of the bill—that is, to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ students. Worse still, the advice is that the government's amendment which would pass with the support of Centre Alliance would worsen discrimination against LGBTIQ students, allowing positive discrimination by staff and even allowing teachers to refuse to teach LGBTIQ students. Today LGBTIQ groups and the Human Rights Law Centre have made clear that, if this amendment were to succeed, the bill should be opposed. The opposition have worked to inform Centre Alliance's position. I want to express our disappointment that the consistent position of legal experts and stakeholders have not been able to convince Senators Griff and Patrick and Ms Sharkie of the impact of the amendments they support. It is disappointing that they have disengaged from negotiations notwithstanding the legal advice that has been provided to them.

Our position is clear. Labor's position is clear. We want to lessen discrimination, not increase it. We want to protect our kids, not exclude them from class. Labor will always fight for equality and we will continue to fight to remove discrimination against our kids.

10:41 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens will also be supporting this change in the order of business, which very sadly means that we will not be considering debate and voting on a bill to remove discrimination. But the reason we support this change is that it has become apparent that the bill that was looking like it was going to pass through this Senate would not be a bill that would remove discrimination; it would be a bill that would increase the potential for discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer children. In fact, it would have the potential to increase discrimination on a whole range of other attributes that are covered under sex discrimination—on the basis of sex, pregnancy or breastfeeding. It actually was going to give religious schools the ability to discriminate on the basis of anything that was a teaching activity, which is any instruction in a school. So it would mean that a transgender child would not be able to wear the uniform of their choice. It would mean a transgender child could be instructed that they weren't allowed to use the toilet that was appropriate for them to use. It would mean that an instruction or direction would be able to be given that, 'You same-sex attracted children over here, we are going to teach you differently to those students over there.' It would have meant that very damaging instruction and so-called counselling would have been permitted, which is the sort of instruction that goes under the guise of conversion practices. That all would have been allowed under the guise of teaching activity done according to the religious beliefs of the school.

I am so disappointed that this parliament has not been able to do something that should have been so simple and that the majority of the Australian community want to see happen. When the Ruddock review was leaked and the Australian community learnt that religious schools can discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids, people were outraged. The opinion polls showed that 75 per cent of Australians said that schools should not be places where discrimination occurs, that LGBTI students should not be able to be discriminated against in schools and that LGBTI teachers should not be able to be discriminated against. The Australian community wants to see discrimination removed from our schools, and that's what I had hoped we would have been able to move on.

The Prime Minister himself said six weeks ago now that it was urgent to remove discrimination in schools, and yet here we are, two days from the end of sitting, and the legislation that was looking like it was going to be moved through this parliament, because of amendments moved by the government and supported by the senators from Centre Alliance, would in fact not have removed discrimination in schools. It would have increased the potential for discrimination in schools. It is incredibly disappointing.

I know that the Greens will continue to work with the LGBTI community. They are in absolute agreement, in their discussions this morning, in supporting us. If this legislation, with that government amendment, were what we were to be voting on today, they are in absolute agreement that the Greens should have been voting against it. So if that had been the case, we would have voted against it. I think it's a better outcome for the legislation not to be debated. Let's see if we can work through this. It's taking much longer than it should have. I know the vast majority of the Australian community want to see discrimination removed. They do not want to see lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender kids being discriminated against. We will get there eventually.

It is just so disappointing that we are having to go through this awful process. Once again LGBTI people are having their lives talked about and are being used as items of political debate. It is sad. It is disappointing. But I know that we will pull together, we will pick up the pieces and keep going, and I know that we will remove discrimination. It's a year since we achieved marriage equality in this parliament—that wonderful achievement of this parliament of having marriage equality pass through this parliament. It will be another wonderful achievement when we change our antidiscrimination laws to remove discrimination against LGBTI students and teachers in schools, and I look forward to the day that that occurs.

10:46 am

Rex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to make it very clear that Centre Alliance's position is that we do not support discrimination against students or teachers on the basis of gender identity or, indeed, sexual orientation. We supported a motion last week—

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

Stop lying!

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Patrick, you have the call.

Rex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

We supported an amendment last week to—

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

Stop lying!

Rex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask that that be withdrawn, please.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Wong, it would help the chamber if you withdrew it. I did not hear what you said.

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

He is lying, but I will withdraw. I will withdraw if it assists the chamber.

Rex Patrick (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. We supported the motion last week to bring this on. We had a relatively simple bill that had been placed before the chamber. Late on Friday night, we received amendments from the government that were quite complex and we spent some time over the weekend trying to work through those. We got to Monday and we still didn't have a position. My colleague Senator Griff stood up and indicated that we would be abstaining because we weren't in a position to say yes or no to the government's amendments. We are obliged by our constituents to consider these amendments, so we sought to have it referred to committee as a method for making sure that the amendments were properly considered. In doing so, I was yelled at across the chamber. Senator Wong decided to scold me across the chamber for delaying something to try and get it right, and yet that's exactly what we are seeing happen here today. We are seeing Labor deciding to slow it down so that it can be properly considered.

In the last 24 hours, one thing that has also arisen is the fact that there is a problem with the Labor Party's bill. This is what happens when you rush legislation. I understand the importance of this legislation, but when you rush things, you end up making mistakes. So it's regrettable that we're not going to proceed today, but it does give the opportunity for everyone to pause, reflect and consider the advice that is before them. I have seen Labor's advice. I've also seen advice from the contrary side of the argument. I have talked to students and teachers. I've talked to teachers of religious schools. I've talked to religious entities. We have listened to our constituents and we have landed in a position which we think is the right balance. We will vote according to our views and the views of our constituents.

I just want to make it very clear once again that we do not support any discrimination against students or teachers on the basis of sexual orientation or, indeed, gender identity. That is our clear position, but we also respect religious faith. There is a balance to be struck here, and we think we've found that balance. Of course, whenever we are approached by people who have contrary views, we will listen to them, but that's where we currently sit. It's unfortunate that this won't be put to a vote today. That's beyond our control; that's the way it is. It's unfortunate.

10:50 am

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

I seek leave to make a statement for one minute.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no objection, leave is granted.

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

Notwithstanding Senator Patrick's statement that they don't support discrimination, the reason we have to pull this bill is that they are supporting an amendment which would reintroduce it. Let everybody listening be clear: Centre Alliance has now held three or four positions on this bill. We need to vote on this, Senator Di Natale, before five minutes to 11.

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Vice-President of the Executive Council) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the motion be now put.

Question agreed to.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question now is that the original motion moved by Senator Cormann be agreed to.

Question agreed to.

10:51 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to make a short statement for two minutes.

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no objection, leave is granted.

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

To be absolutely clear, the Greens support withdrawing the sex discrimination amendment from today's order of business. We support pulling this bill because this bill, as amended by the government with the support of Centre Alliance, would entrench and increase discrimination rather than reduce it. I want to make this point very, very clear: we do support ensuring that we have legislation before this parliament that prevents schools from expelling students on the basis of their gender or sexuality—their gender identity or sexual orientation—but we also support legislation that would prevent teachers from being expelled or sacked on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.

But let me also say this in the time that I've got left: this motion seeks to ram through a long list of legislation without us being given the opportunity to give due consideration to each of these bills. We understand that some of these bills have been amended to, for example, give tax deductibility status—I'm looking at the Treasury laws amendment—to a whole range of organisations that we don't believe deserve that status. Yet, we now have an hour and a half to have a substantive debate on half a dozen bills that have not had the scrutiny that they deserve. So, while we support withdrawing the sex discrimination amendment, we don't support ramming through a long list of bills that haven't had the scrutiny that they deserve. (Time expired)