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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 9117


Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (12:26): I rise to speak on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018. It was almost a year ago that Australians, almost with one voice, voted to remove discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians. We came together as a nation—we were forced to do so under a process that we didn't support—and we sent a strong message to politicians in Canberra that we are a country that is committed to the principles of equality and that we are a nation that doesn't believe that there is one set of rights for one group of people in our community and a different set of rights for another group within our community. We came together as a nation, and we made it very clear that we won't stand for discrimination, whether that discrimination is based on someone's race or culture or ethnicity or, more importantly, whether that discrimination is based on a person's sexual or gender identity.

Here we are, a year on from that vote, from that historic moment in this place, and, despite the overwhelming message that was sent to the members of parliament, I don't think some of them actually got the message. It's hard to believe, but there are people in this place who simply haven't got the message: we are a nation that is committed to the principles of equality, and we won't stand for discrimination in whatever form that takes. I do hope that what we have now is an opportunity for people in this place to reflect, to acknowledge the humanity that is being debated in this chamber and to allow ourselves an opportunity to say to people in our community: 'You're all respected; you're all valued.'

Senator Wong's bill before us today, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill, is something we support as it stands. We support that piece of legislation because we don't believe that religious schools should be able to discriminate against LGBTIQ students. We just don't believe that that right should exist in law. Here's an opportunity for us to affirm again, as a parliament, that there is no place for discrimination in our schools. Of course, this is a long-overdue reform. It's been brought to this parliament on the back of a religious freedoms review, which I'm interested in discussing in a moment.

This piece of legislation supports—indeed, it mirrors—much of the legislation we had before the parliament in our Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018 and, on that basis, we will support it. However, there is a very important distinction to note between this piece of legislation and the legislation that the Greens were proposing to debate, the Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018. This bill protects students against discrimination, but what it does not do is protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer teachers. If you are a teacher in a school and you are discriminated against on the basis of your sexuality or your gender identity, this bill doesn't protect you. This bill allows teachers to be discriminated against. It allows schools to continue to say to somebody who might be in a same-sex relationship, 'You've got no place teaching my kids,' and we won't stand for it. We will not stand for it.

Under the legislation we're debating today, teachers remain the subject of discrimination in schools. And, sadly, what we're saying with the passage of this bill is that there continues to be two classes of people in our schools. There are students for whom discrimination has no place—and that's a good thing—but we're saying to teachers, 'You are not a priority right now.' That is, indeed, what the Labor Party is saying right now, by not including teachers in legislation and therefore allowing discrimination to continue to occur against them.

We have to ask ourselves, why is that? Here we have something that this parliament could fix. With the support of the Greens and the crossbench, we know we've got the numbers to defeat this discrimination, and yet we've got legislation that doesn't reflect the wishes of our community. I think it was Senator Pratt who last week said, 'Having the religious exemptions in place gives a message that LGBT people are second-class citizens.' You know what? She's right. Senator Pratt is absolutely right. So what message are we giving when we say to teachers, 'If you're in a same-sex relationship, you can be fired for that'? What message are we sending to our community when we allow religious institutions and schools to discriminate on the basis of sexuality and gender identity? What we are saying is that they are, in Senator Pratt's words, second-class citizens. That's why we're so disappointed that, when we have the chance to end that discrimination, we're not taking it. We're only addressing half the equation. That's what's so disappointing right now.

No school should be able to tell a young person who might be trans, gay, lesbian or bi—or maybe somebody who is just struggling with who they are—that they don't belong, that they're not welcome and that they have no place. And no school should be able to tell a teacher the same thing—'Because of who you live with, you're not welcome in our school.' A person's sexuality or gender identity is who they are, and we have schools telling people: 'You're not allowed to teach in our school. We will not employ you because of who you are.' That's discrimination. And that's why we'll be moving an amendment to this piece of legislation—to ensure that we end discrimination not just for students but for teachers as well. We don't accept discrimination in our workplaces.

We don't accept it in other areas of our community. We should not allow it to continue in our schools. And it shouldn't be something that we're even debating in 2018. This is a basic question of decency. It's about time we fixed it. Of course the only reason we're here is because, on the back of the marriage equality legislation in an effort to appease the far right of his party, we had Malcolm Turnbull engage in yet another ill-conceived and poorly managed project of work—the Religious Freedom Review. This was an attempt to tell the right wing of his party: 'Guess what? If we get marriage equality over the line, we're going to work hard to ensure that we entrench discrimination in other areas of Australia.' All it's done is allow us to shine a light in areas like this. We Greens have long campaigned for an end to discrimination in schools for both students and teachers, but now we're having a national debate about it, and that's a good thing.

The government's seeking to hide its report into religious freedoms. We have to ask ourselves some questions about why that might be. Is it because this is a government that's so internally divided that simply putting forward a report, the result of months of work, would mean that the government can't keep its show together, or is it because, indeed, there are other areas of discrimination that it doesn't want the community to see the light of day on?

The news that the Morrison government was actually considering legislative change to entrench discrimination was shocking to a large number of Australians. Perhaps even more shocking was the realisation, which many people had, that the law already allowed it. So we're pleased that, in an effort to appease the hard right, we're now having this national debate. We're pleased that when governments act not in the interests of the community but in the interests of buying off people in their party who will never be satisfied, where that leads to is where we are right now—ensuring that we make our country a fairer, less divided community.

As I said earlier, we have amendments that would remove those provisions in this bill that allow for the continuation of discrimination against teachers and other staff in the provision of education on the basis of their sex, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, their marital or relationship status, or, indeed, their pregnancy status. Senator Wong's bill acknowledges that section 38(3), relating to exemptions for educational institutions in the provision of education or training, needs to be repealed to remove discrimination against students. All we are saying is that the same should apply to staff and other contractors in schools. That's all we're saying. Let's apply that standard across the board. Let's not make a distinction that says we end discrimination in one area but we're only going to go halfway rather than getting the job done properly.

Secondly in our amendments, we are proposing to remove the new carve out that Senator Wong's proposing in the proposed new section 37(3)(b). The provision highlights how simple it actually is to remove discrimination. This isn't hard. In fact, Labor have to add a new provision into their bill that explicitly allows discrimination against teachers and staff, so they've carved out an area to discriminate where it didn't exist before. We're removing discrimination in schools, but then we have to introduce a new piece of legislation that allows discrimination to occur against teachers. We're actively legislating to discriminate against teachers in this bill. That's remarkable. At a time when we should be applying this law across the board, we are actively legislating to discriminate against teachers. Unfortunately, it says everything about where we are right now. We have a government that, in an effort to appease the hard right, has allowed this parliament to end discrimination. Clearly this is not what was intended by the Prime Minister when he pushed forward on the religious freedoms review.

Of course, you only need to look at reports today to know what happens when you try and appease the hard Right. Indeed, Mr Turnbull is out there today arguing against the preselection of an existing member of the government on the basis that this is an individual whose views have no place in the modern Liberal Party. And yet, when he was the Prime Minister, he gave him, Tony Abbott and, indeed, the hard Right of the Liberal Party everything they wanted—and look where it got him. So it says everything about politics at the moment—where we have a divided government tearing themselves apart and refusing to release a report that was commissioned months ago, and now a debate in this chamber to remove discrimination when their express intent was to entrench it.

It also says something about the Labor opposition, which is trying to hedge its bets. We are thankful that we have legislation before the parliament that will remove discrimination against students, but why on earth would we seek to introduce legislation that will further entrench discrimination against teachers? We have a unique opportunity, with the support of the crossbench, with the numbers in the lower house as they are, to fix this properly, not do a half-baked job. And yet that is the legislation that's being proposed today. We have a Labor Party that will say one thing to its supporters on one side of the country and another thing to its supporters on the other side of the country.

You see, this is a pretty straightforward case. You either support discrimination or you don't. You can't make this a little bit better. Why is it that the Labor Party would say that students shouldn't be expelled because of their sexuality or gender orientation and yet they would say that that right doesn't apply to a teacher? Is it because they want to be able to say one thing in this place and go out and front a press conference and talk about what Labor's done to end discrimination, and then go to those religious institutions and say, 'We looked after you; we've allowed you to continue to discriminate'? Is that why they're doing it? Is it like Bill Shorten going to Queensland and talking about how important it is to mine coal and then coming to Melbourne to talk about how we need to phase-out coal and move to renewable energy? Take a stand and do this properly.

As I said earlier, we as a nation came together to end discrimination. When it comes to marriage, we said that all people are equal before the law, and that was a great moment for this nation. LGBTIQ people are sick of being used as political footballs—they are sick of it. The horrendous plebiscite that was imposed on our community and the pain and grief that that caused is something we should never see repeated, and yet here we are with an opportunity to do something good—something decent—and put an end to all forms of discrimination, and we're squibbing it. What we need is genuine reform. We will support this legislation as it stands because it does go some way into bringing us into the 21st century, but we are so disappointed that we couldn't do the job properly.

I suppose, when reflecting on what it is that we need to do as a nation to move forward, we can debate individual pieces of legislation like this and do that systematically, but we believe, ultimately, that we as a nation need a charter of rights. If we're serious about ending discrimination in law in all its forms, we need a charter of rights. We're one of the only Western liberal democracies without such a charter. It behoves all of us to ensure that, when it comes to passing laws in this chamber, we put an end to discrimination, rather than entrench it. So, over the longer term, we'll be continuing to campaign on ensuring that we do have a charter of rights in Australia. My colleague Senator McKim has done so much good work in that space, and we'll be making sure that, in the lead-up to the next election, we push both parties towards implementing a charter of rights. Until then, we will do what we can, with every vote we have in this place, to end discrimination. That means ending discrimination against people on the basis of who they are. Whether it relates to people's ethnic or cultural background or their sexuality or gender orientation, discrimination has no place in modern Australia. It has no place when it comes to students, and it has no place when it comes to teachers in our schools.