Labor will introduce new laws to ban discrimination against gay and lesbian kids at school after accusing the Morrison government of dragging its heels.
While Liberal Party frontbencher Kelly O’Dwyer privately warned colleagues that voters saw the party as “homophobic” and “anti-women”, the ALP said on Tuesday that negotiations with the government had broken down.
The Morrison government wants to ban discrimination against gay students but allow schools to practise their faith. For example, that could included compelling students to attend chapel.
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Labor was prepared to work with the government but wouldn’t wait if it failed to get its act together.
“Absolutely, they’re dragging their heels. The Prime Minister promised to do this in the week before the Wentworth by-election. He said there was no room in a modern Australia for this exemption in relation to students at religious schools,” Mr Dreyus told ABC TV.
“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.
“Of course, the government should bring forward its own bill. But if they won’t, we’re going to give notice today of a private member’s bill that implements a Senate committee report that was tabled yesterday. We need to get on with it. I think that the people of Australia expect the Prime Minister to keep his promise.”
This is the moment a gay student at one of Sydney’s most elite Catholic schools – that boasts former prime minister Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce among its alumni – stood up in a packed assembly hall of more than 1,500 students and came out pic.twitter.com/NyZxffFBmr
— SBS News (@SBSNews) November 26, 2018
With Tuesday’s resignation of MP Julia Banks from the Liberal Party, Labor would need five independents to cross the floor to secure the passage of its legislation.
That suggests the final reforms, if they pass Parliament before Christmas, are likely to require a compromise between the Coalition and the crossbench or Labor.
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the Morrison government was “very close” to having something more to say about religious freedoms.
“Our position is very simple, we want to remove all the existing discriminations … in the Sex Discrimination Act that apply to students,” Mr Porter said.
“But there should be the insertion or addition of a very modest provision which clarifies the ability of religious schools to maintain school rules which are reasonable and represent their own religious views.
“If I can give you the examples that I’ve used previously: we think it’s not at all unreasonable that a religious school should be able to compel its students to attend chaplain or religious services once a week or however often they wish to do so, irrespective of whether those students are LGBTI students or not.”
Mr Porter added that much of the debate was misleading because there was little evidence schools were using exemptions in the Sex Discrimination Act to target students
“There’s no real evidence of schools expelling LGBTI students,” he said.
He confirmed that the government would release the review led by former Howard government minister Philip Ruddock soon. Its response was in its final stages.
But in another sign the government is struggling for clear air in the final parliamentary sitting week, leaks have revealed that Ms O’Dwyer told colleagues they were seen as out of touch with modern Australia.
“We’ve seen reports today that Kelly O’Dwyer, in a crisis meeting yesterday, said her party was homophobic, climate change-denying and anti-women.” Mr Dreyfus said.
“I couldn’t say it better myself. The Liberal Party is homophobic, climate change-denying and anti-women … in respect of a whole range of people on the far right of the Liberal Party, who regrettably seem to be calling the shots.”