SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

29 November 2018

SEX DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT (REMOVING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST STUDENTS) BILL 2018

SECOND READING SPEECH

THE SENATE

*** check against delivery ***

I rise to speak to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018.

Just a couple of weeks ago we celebrated the twelve month anniversary of the Yes vote in the Marriage Equality postal survey.

Australians, of course, voted overwhelmingly for Marriage Equality.

Australians voted overwhelmingly for the removal of discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians and in doing so, Australians sent a powerful message of inclusion and acceptance to LGBTIQ Australians.

More importantly, Australians demonstrated that ours is a nation that remains committed to fairness and equality.

But it did reflect a sad fact – that this Parliament and a number of its members and senators lagged decades behind the Australian people.

For too long the laws of our nation failed to reflect the values of the vast majority of Australians and this Bill is another example of this Parliament actually catching up with the Australian people.

Since its introduction in 1984, the Sex Discrimination Act has included exemptions for religious schools.

In 2013 the Labor Government extended protection before the law to ensure Australians were able to gain protection against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity.

The exemptions which pre-existed those amendments were applied to these newly protected attributes as consequential amendments to the expansion of protections.

In recent years, there has been growing concern in the community about the appropriateness and the relevance of these exemptions in relation to sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

There has been growing concern about whether or not they in fact reflect contemporary Australia.

And, of course, the leaking of parts of the Religious Freedom Review Expert Panel Report in October – and the public reaction to it – made it clear that the current law no longer reflects the views of the vast majority of Australians.

The Government continues to refuse to share the report of the Religious Freedom Review Expert Panel with Australians and with their representatives.

It was a report promised by the former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull during the Parliamentary debate on the Bill to legislate Marriage Equality and it was delivered to the Government in May.

It appears to have sat on Mr Turnbull’s desk for months. Of course we are not quite sure on who else’s desk it has sat.

And it has now sat on Prime Minister Morrison’s desk for months.

To sit on this report, and to deny Australians a mature and informed debate, shows utter contempt for the people we are supposed to be representing.

The Government is seeking to hide this report. Why? Because of its internal division. The sole reason and primary reason the Government is hiding this report is because it so divided it fears the impact this report will have on its own unity, or lack thereof.

The news that the Morrison Government was considering legislative change to entrench discrimination against LGBTIQ students was shocking to a large number of Australians.

And perhaps even more shocking was the realisation many people had that laws around our nation already allowed for such discrimination.

Labor and Bill Shorten are committed to amending the law to remove the exemption allowing discrimination against LGBTIQ students.

We welcomed the announcement by Prime Minister Morrison that his Government, too, was committed to ensuring amendments were introduced as soon as practicable.

So too did we welcome the Prime Minister’s commitment to use the October sitting fortnight to ensure this matter was addressed.

Together with the Greens and other crossbenchers it did seem that the vast majority of the Parliament was ready to update our laws to reflect the view of the vast majority of Australians.

But, the Morrison Government has not acted on their promise. What we continue to see is that in so many areas of policy, in so many areas of legislation, in so many areas of Government activity, we have, in this country, a government so chaotic, so divided and so dysfunctional it simply cannot govern.

It is trashing good government.

It is so divided and so dysfunctional it can’t even focus on keeping the Prime Minister’s commitments. Or maybe, he just doesn’t want to.

Well if the Government won’t act – Labor will. Australians support this change, the Parliament supports this change, and the Morrison Government of course claimed that it supports this change.

We can get this done before Christmas, just as we got Marriage Equality done before Christmas.

I want to note here that the overwhelming majority of religious schools have told a Senate committee which looked into this issue that they do not use these exemptions, and that they do not want them.

Labor wants to be clear – nothing in this Bill would compromise the ability of religious institutions to operate consistently with religious teaching, whether in the classroom or through the enforcement of school rules.

This Bill does not address, however, the issue of discrimination against staff employed by religious schools. Given the short number of sitting days left between now and the election, we do have to prioritise – and children are our priority.

Labor is committed to removing exemptions which relate to LGBTIQ staff at religious schools. That is a commitment Bill Shorten has made to the Australian people, and we in Labor will continue to work on making that change happen.

We know there is broad support across parliament to deal with the issue of staff. We are dealing now with the issue for children and we accept there are complexities in relation to the issues of teachers and staff and we intend to continue to work with relevant stakeholders on this.

However, we are not prepared to hold up the change for students while that work goes on.

Today, this Senate has an opportunity to take the next step towards equality for LGBTIQ Australians.

We have the opportunity to not repeat that mistake of delaying action, to not repeat that mistake by baulking at legislative change that reflects the expectations and hopes of the Australian community.

This Parliament has the chance to walk with the Australian people on their march towards equality instead of racing to catch up a decade later – as the Parliament did with Marriage Equality.

This Saturday is World AIDS Day and this morning I had the privilege of speaking at the World AIDS Day Parliamentary Breakfast with various colleagues, and with Senator Smith who has been one of the co-convenors of the Parliamentary friends group for some five years.

It was a reminder of Australia’s relative success in battling the scourge of HIV/AIDS and it was a reminder of the reason behind that success.

We in Australia succeeded because we worked together. We succeeded because government, non-government agencies, the civil society and the private sector worked together.

But perhaps importantly, we succeeded because we proceeded on the basis of inclusion, non-judgement, and because we were prepared, collectively to tackle prejudice and discrimination along the way.

Well, that is what the bill is about.

It is about tacking prejudice and discrimination.

It is about making LGBTIQ students feel accepted and loved, something we want for all Australian students, for all our young people.

It’s time to ensure our laws ensure that happens in all our schools.

Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.