Australia: Senate Report Into Bill to Protect LGBTI Students Recommends Further Delay

The Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee has finally released its report into the legislation put forth to remove discrimination exemptions applied to LGBTI students at faith-based schools.

The inquiry into the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 was initially due to deliver its report on Monday February 11 before an extension was granted. The report, which specifically reviewed Senator Penny Wong’s bill to remove exemptions, was finally released late on Thursday afternoon, with the committee making just two recommendations.

“The committee recommends that the bill and circulated amendments not be passed,” the report states as its first. The second  that “the bill, circulated amendments and all relevant matters be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission for full and proper consideration.”

The committee’s decision acknowledged “that the issues raised by the bill are of great concern to the Australian community.” “The large volume of written submissions and form letters the committee received, as well as the wealth of information provided by witnesses at the public hearings, clearly demonstrated the public interest in the matter,” the report says.

The report says that while the committee recognises community support for removing the discrimination exemptions from the Sex Discrimination Act, as well as public commitments by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and others to take action on the issue, it views this specific legislation as flawed.

“While the committee considers it necessary and appropriate to prohibit discrimination against LGBTIQ+ school students, it is of the view that this should not occur at the expense of the ability of religious educational institutions to maintain their ethos through what they teach and the rules of conduct that they impose on their students. Religious freedom is a vital aspect of Australian society and religious communities should feel respected and protected.

“Additionally, faith-based schools have a unique and important role to play in Australia’s education system. It is imperative that they are able to maintain their religious ethos and teach in accordance with their beliefs, without the threat of legal liability. The committee considers the bill at the centre of this inquiry to be flawed,” the report continues.

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