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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 9126

Senator GRIFF (South Australia) (13:09): This bill represents a significant change to the Sex Discrimination Act and, as such, should not be rushed through this week. There is absolutely no urgency for this bill to be dealt with this week, as particularly religious schools generally don't rely on these provisions in practice. We support the intent of what Labor is trying to do with this bill for the simple reason that we do not support discrimination against students. We support the intent of the Greens to ensure teachers are not discriminated against and we also support the intent of the government to ensure religious freedoms are protected. Our view overall is that this bill should have been sent off for proper inquiry and scrutiny. This would provide all with the necessary time to properly consider all implications and input from stakeholders. As the bill now stands, our party considers the topic one for a conscience vote, but we all came to a united approach on this—and that is that we will support this bill because its intentions align with ours, but we cannot at this stage support any additional amendments. We have been forced into this position because we have not had a real opportunity to consider the implications and unintended consequences of all the amendments.

On these amendments we have been hearing, particularly in the last two hours, a very diverse range of views—many of them conflicting—which tells us that even those that seem somewhat straightforward may potentially open a Pandora's box of problems. For instance, we support what the government is seeking to do with ensuring teachers can teach in accordance with their faith. But this may simply create an avenue for discriminatory treatment of students to creep in. We are also unsure that we need to bolt on additional protections to the existing reasonableness test that exists at 7B in the act. Maybe it's appropriate or maybe it is unnecessary. We simply haven't had the time to fully consider the implications, so we will abstain on this and the other government amendments.

We know there is bipartisan support in this place and the other place for amending the Sex Discrimination Act so that schools cannot discriminate against LGBTQI students and teachers. It is unfortunate that there is no consensus about how to proceed. Labor's bill amends section 37 of the Sex Discrimination Act and repeals section 38(3). In effect, this bill proposes to remove existing protections that currently allow religious schools to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex students if it's done in line with their religious doctrine or if it is to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion. We appreciate that this bill makes religious schools very nervous. Removing familiar protections will inevitably have that effect. We accept this might mean religious schools have to rethink their approach to some students in some instances. But, in practice, this should not stop religious schools from teaching their faith. But we also understand that these provisions are not heavily relied on by schools as it is. My office has also been told by Christian school stakeholders that they fear some students might be tempted to make mischief and abuse the weakened protections. I'm not entirely sure how or why a student would do so, especially if they want to be at that school. But that kind of fearmongering misses the point. We need to legislate to protect the rights of the many, not to quash the rights of the many in order to protect against extreme scenarios.

This bill may well end up not being legislated. We may yet see other attempts to amend the Sex Discrimination Act. Whatever we are faced with, in this parliament or the next, Centre Alliance will approach it with a view to ensuring equality of treatment for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is ultimately about keeping our society moving on a path towards equality and acceptance of all people.