A push to axe a legal exemption for schools which allows them to expel gay students has stalled, with Labor accusing the government of dragging its heels.
A push to axe a legal exemption for schools which allows them to expel gay students has stalled, with Labor accusing the government of dragging its heels.

Push to axe school discrimination by Christmas

Labor is launching a new push to axe a legal exemption for schools which allows them to expel gay students, accusing the government of dragging its heels.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison vowed to scrap the exemption in October after public outrage and both major parties agreed to work together to change the law.

But negotiations have broken down over an extra change the Coalition wants to make to the law, which would enable religious schools to still compel students to go to church.

Labor will now introduce its own bill before Christmas which would remove the exemption from the Sex Discrimination Act.

"The Prime Minister promised to do this in the week before the Wentworth by-election," Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ABC radio this morning.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time yesterday. Picture: Kym Smith
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time yesterday. Picture: Kym Smith

"He said there was no room in a modern Australia for this exemption in relation to students at religious schools. He said that this would be legislated, to remove the exemption, in the next sitting fortnight.

"That didn't happen. And we need to move it forward."

Labor, which passed the laws which gave schools the right to discriminate against LGBTI students in 2013, says schools don't need the extra provision the Coalition wants, warning that it could "expand the grounds for indirect discrimination".

"Schools will continue to regulate the behaviour of their children through school rules, as they have for decades," Mr Dreyfus said.

The party's private members bill will simply remove the wording in the Act which allows religious schools to discriminate against gay students. The party has also promised to remove the legal exemption for schools to discriminate against LGBTI teachers but won't do so immediately.

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten (right) and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Picture: AAP
Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten (right) and Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus. Picture: AAP

Mr Dreyfus said Labor would "progress" the issue but noted it was a "more complex proposition which requires consequential amendments to other legislation such as the Fair Work Act."

Attorney-General Christian Porter said this morning the government's extra provision regarding students was "a very reasonable protection for religious schools".

"We think it's not at all unreasonable that a religious school should be able to compel its students to attend chaplain or religious service once a week or however often they want to do so, irrespective of whether those students are LGBTI students or not," he told ABC radio.

"Labor's view now appears to be that there should be no even modest protection for schools with respect to the maintenance of school rules."

Mr Porter said the government had been negotiating with Labor to remove the provision in good faith.

He also added: "There's no real evidence of schools expelling LGBTI students. It's not super helpful to have this presumption that this happens at all let alone with great regularity."

Attorney-General Christian Porter with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Picture: Gary Ramage
Attorney-General Christian Porter with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time. Picture: Gary Ramage

The Attorney-General also revealed the government would release the Ruddock review of religious freedoms in Australia and its response "very soon".

It comes as a special Newspoll, published in The Australian today, shows almost 60 per cent of Australians are in favour of new religious freedoms protections for ­individuals, schools and companies.

Overall, 59 per cent of the 1717 Australians surveyed said they backed the protections. The number was even higher at 65 per cent for Coalition voters, and was at 57 per cent for Labor voters and a whopping 63 per cent for Greens voters.



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