Thank you, Madame Deputy Speaker.
Freedom of thought, conscience and belief is a fundamental human right.
I support that right and I support the intent of this bill to protect people of faith, or non-faith, in Australia from discrimination on that basis. And I know that the people of Indi who I represent support that intent.
No one should be declined a bank loan, treated differently in a rental application, or asked to leave a café because of their faith, for example. No one should be unwelcome simply because of their faith.
I believe we can all agree on that, and if that was all this bill sought to do then I could provide wholehearted support.
But Madame Deputy Speaker, that is not the case.
As many of us who have spoken before me have pointed out, this bill does not just create a shield from discrimination on the basis of belief, it also creates many swords.
Whenever we talk about human rights – be it the right to religion, the right to life, the right to privacy, or countless others – we must ensure that in protecting one right we do not gratuitously supersede another.
And this idea of getting this balance right is not a new one.
And, in my view, we have not yet got the balance right on this legislation.
First, the Government’s amendments to section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act, revealed only yesterday, do not afford LGBTQA+ students and teachers with adequate protections from discrimination in religious schools.
And that’s simply a fact.
As it stands, religious schools will still be in a position to proactively discriminate against LGBTQA+ students and teachers, except specifically for expelling gay students.
As we know, LGBTQA+ students are often subject to bullying and other discriminatory tactics that lead to those students dropping out or changing schools. This happens yet allows the school to say that they were never formally expelled. Schools have been known to prevent gay teachers and students from bringing their same sex partners to school events, for example. This sends such a clear message that there love is not acceptable these people are somehow lesser and othered.
The amendment’s that here at present will not offer wider protection to these students and teachers and I feel that it must.
The amendment also provides absolutely no protections for transgender students, without justification.
Madame Deputy Speaker, that is truly horrifying. That we as a Federal Parliament in 2022 could actively choose to afford no protection to these young people is not something I can support.
With this knowledge, I cannot say hand on heart that we have got the balance right on this legislation.
When the Prime Minister committed to protections of this nature during the Wentworth by-election in 2018, he said that he “did not want any child to be discriminated against”.
And I don’t believe the amendments that we have in front of us live up to that aspiration.
And I know that many MPs within the Government’s own ranks know this too.
Some have sought to extend the feeble protections offered in the Government’s amendment, but to no success at this hour.
If we are prepared to legislate, and indeed elevate, the rights of religious schools, we must be prepared to offer full protections for LGBTQA+ students and teachers too.
That’s the very least we could do, and we haven’t done that here.
The second reason I cannot support this bill is because it rolls back current anti-discrimination laws in favour of a proactive right to discriminate on religious grounds.
Under section 12, employees, students, or people accessing healthcare and other services will have to accept offensive, uninformed, insulting, demeaning, or damaging statements made about them regarding their age, disability, gender, or other protected attribute because it is a religious belief.
And I want to be clear here.
I believe in the fundamental right to hold such a religious belief. But legislating a right to put that view into the public square at the expense of other protections is a step too far.
While there are some safeguards, like the need for the statement to be made in good faith and without malice, it’s still unclear to me, to the Committees who reviewed this bill, and to the Australian public just how far this roll back will go.
Countless stakeholders on both sides oppose these provisions too, from the Australian Human Rights Commission itself, to the Diversity Council of Australia and the Uniting Church.
Madame Deputy Speaker I simply cannot support such a monumental steamroll of our anti-discrimination laws based on two hypotheticals in an explanatory memorandum and a lack of broad base support.
Again, it’s obvious that we haven’t got the balance right, we’re not there yet.
This bill was an opportunity for us to come together and legislate this protection in a measured and collaborative way. And I know that the people of Indi who I represent wanted that – to be measured and collaborative to bring us together. And I have heard from people of faith and non-faith who seek balance, compassion and safety for all.
As a legislator, as a member of this broader Australian community, I can’t give them that assurance right now.
I do not think we have achieved those things.
Australia is a proud secular society. Over time, we have strived to be as inclusive as possible to diverse faith and come to celebrate that diversity. I want us to continue in that direction.
Madame Deputy Speaker I will be watching Senate debate very carefully when that comes about and and any further proposed amendments there with great interest, with great interest, and I will watch them conscientiously and I will reassess the bill if it returns to the House in a better form.
But it would take a lot. There is a world in which this bill could be improved to a standard that I could support. But right now we’re not there
Unfortunately, the time for passing this bill is not now.