PM shelves discrimination inquiry

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Religious freedom or discrimination?

Nicholas Doyle

The Federal Government has shelved an inquiry which would have provided laws to protect LGBTIQ+ students and teachers from being expelled or fired on the grounds of religious beliefs.

The inquiry was first put forward to the Australian Law Reform Commission in April last year and had a deadline of December 2020.

Attorney general Christian Porter has now postponed the reporting deadline to be 12 months from the date the Government’s Religious Discrimination Bill is passed by Parliament.

There’s no clear indication yet of when there’ll be a vote on the bill,  so it appears unlikely the inquiry will be completed before the next federal election.

There’s also no plan on what will happen if the Religious Discrimination bill is not passed.

Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, said the inquiry should not be reliant on the passing of a bill that is strongly opposed by so many in the community.

“This new ‘contingent’ timeline leaves kids at risk in religious schools without any certainty that the outdated discriminatory laws will be scrapped.

“If the Bill does pass, students also face new forms of discrimination under the Government’s new proposed legislation,” she said.

“In 2018 the Prime Minister committed to changing laws that allowed discrimination against students ‘as soon as practicable’, but the Government has now inserted an incredibly impracticable hurdle in the path of keeping them safe from harm.”

When the Religious Discrimination Bill was introduced last year, there was considerable pushback from many groups and high-profile people including religious figures and institutions, concerned the bill put religious freedom above people’s rights.

Edith Cowan University’s Queer Collective has criticised the move by the Morrison Government, calling for a reversal of the decision and wants the McGowan Government to act on the matter.

“This sends a dangerous message to both teachers and students. Nobody should have to experience discrimination or fear of discrimination in their workplace or place of education,” said a spokesperson for the Collective.

Currently under anti-discrimination laws in WA, schools will not face repercussions for discriminating against LGBTIQ+ students or teachers providing it conforms to their religious beliefs or teachings.

The law does not allow discrimination against a certain class or group who do not follow the school’s specified religion; but the school can choose to go by the federal law to circumvent this.