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‘Shameful’ debate delay a sign of government chaos, senator says

Penny Wong
Penny Wong takes aim at Mathias Cormann in the Senate on Monday. Photo: AAP
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Labor will seek to urgently overturn the Senate’s “shameful” decision to delay legislation to protect LGBTI students from discrimination in private schools. 

Senate leader Penny Wong flagged the plan in a fiery speech, warning the government was shelving the laws because it feared an embarrassing defeat in the House of Representatives.

A vote could be brought on again on this week if senators who voted for the delay can be convinced to backflip.  

On Monday, the Senate narrowly agreed not to finalise the laws before Christmas after the government argued the laws were complex and required more time to finalise.

“He’s lost control. This is an indication of the chaos that is the Morrison government,” Senator Wong said. 

“Yet they have to upend the Senate and not vote on protecting LGBTI kids because they are so worried about the lack of control they have over the House of Representatives. 

“Do you know what the decent thing to do would be? Call an election instead of lying the way you have through the Wentworth by-election and through this week. Shame on you.”

Opposition senators condemned the move as a “bloody disgrace”.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison flagged the laws during the Wentworth by-election. It followed leaks from the Ruddock report into religious freedoms that sparked debate about school-based discrimination.

Mr Morrison pledged the laws would be introduced as soon as possible, to address “anxiety and confusion”.

But on Monday, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann shut down the debate, insisting the government still supported the broad thrust of the laws. He said it simply needed more time to consult.

“That’s plain wrong. The Senate voted to lift the gag on this important debate,” Senator Cormann said.

“It’s important that the Senate gets this right, and a majority in the Senate supported that.

“We support them.”

Earlier, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young lashed Centre Alliance senators for voting with the government to gag the debate.

“Centre Alliance senators have just voted with Liberals to shut down debate on removing discrimination against gay students in schools. Appalling,” she said.

“We should have been able to fix these odious laws today, but the Xenophon team have stopped the Senate from acting.”

She said Parliament had failed the nation’s children.

On Monday night, Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick told The New Daily“We have deferred our decision until [Tuesday morning]. I am rereading the committee report tonight.” 

The move to suspend standing orders and gag debate on Labor’s bill to repeal discrimination against LGBTI students was opposed by Labor, South Australian independent Tim Storer, crossbencher Derryn Hinch and the Greens.

However, the Liberals and two Centre Alliance MPs voted to delay the decision and hold another inquiry.

“What’s happened here today is a bloody disgrace,” Senator Hinch said.

Greens senator Janet Rice told Parliament she believed there was enough support to overturn exemptions for discrimination against teachers as well as students.

She said the government’s move to delay was an appalling use of Senate process.

“It is leaving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in despair,” Senator Rice said. 

“Three-quarters of the Australian community want to see discrimination ended in schools, full stop – no ifs or buts – and they want it to end now.”

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