‘Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the government will introduce legislation to prevent religious schools from expelling LGBT students on the basis of their sexuality.
A leaked recommendation from the religious freedom review this week drew outrage for recommending enshrining in law the ability of religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.
It emerged that Section 38 of the federal Sex Discrimination Act already gives religious schools a broad exemption for “the provision of education” when the discrimination is “in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”
On Saturday, Morrison said religious schools weren’t using the exemption and in the next fortnight the government would introduce an amendment to close the “loophole” and protect students.
“I will be taking action to ensure amendments are introduced as soon as practicable to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality,” he said.
“Our government does not support expulsion of students from religious non-state schools on the basis of their sexuality.”
He said this view is “widely shared by religious schools and communities across the country” as well as the parliament.
“We should use the next fortnight to ensure this matter is addressed,” he said.
“Any changes in this area should always take into account the best interests of children.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten offered the government support for such a change in a letter he wrote to the Prime Minister on Friday.
“[The existing] exemptions are anachronistic and are a denial of the dignity of children,” he wrote.
“Indeed, the response from many religious educational institutions has made clear that such exemptions are not used, and are not in line with their beliefs.
“It is Labor’s view that they should be removed.”
‘Extend protections to staff’
But the Greens say the government’s proposal to protect students should go further and also protect teachers from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity.
Deputy leader Adam Bandt said on Saturday the Greens would introduce their own amendment to the existing law banning discrimination against both students and teachers, first flagged by Greens leader Richard Di Natale on Thursday.
Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome also called on the government and Labor to commit to banning discrimination against both LGBT students and teachers.
“If students in faith-based schools are to receive the best possible education, teachers must be employed on the basis of their skill, not their sexuality,” he said.
Christian Schools Australia spokesperson Mark Spencer told ABC News he welcomed the changes to legislation affecting students but said schools should retain the right to choose staff that reflect the faith of the school.
“To us as Christian schools, that’s absolutely essential,” he said.
Queensland law already protects students at religious schools from discrimination based on sexuality, while Tasmanian law protects both students and staff.
LGBTIQ advocates earlier said they were concerned that implementing the religious freedom review’s recommended changes at the federal level may invalidate such state laws, which vary across the country.