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Monday, 3 December 2018
Page: 9131

Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (13:31): A few of my colleagues have noted in their remarks the path this proposal for reform has taken. The Morrison government joined Labor and some of the crossbench in October this year in promising to remove the right of religious schools to discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status. To date, the Morrison government has not acted on its own promise, but Labor has. And, if this bill passes, as I very much hope it will, it will have the distinction of being one of the few legislative advances for LGBTQI people during a conservative government.

It's no accident that it has taken a Labor bill to achieve this. The history of LGBTQI law reform in Australia is a proud and important part of Labor's history. In 1975, the South Australian Labor government decriminalised homosexuality. In the eighties, Neal Blewett and the Hawke Labor government adopted a public health response to the AIDS crisis unlike the stigma we saw in other countries overseas. In 2005, the Victorian Labor government abolished the 'gay panic' defence. In 2010, the New South Wales Labor government legislated to allow same-sex couples to adopt. And the last federal Labor government wound back the religious exemption that applied to faith based aged-care facilities. Each of these actions is important in its own way. However, it is their arc that is the most compelling. Together they represent a legal recognition over time of the inherent dignity and humanity of LGBTIQ people, and this bill represents the latest expression of that recognition.

It has been a long journey to get to this point, and I know that it must feel even longer for the gay community and the activists who have fought every step of the way for their rights. They are the ones who have done the hard work to build the public case for acceptance and for change. The case has been well and truly made here. Polling has shown that 82 per cent oppose the discrimination law exemptions that allow schools to expel gay and lesbian students, and the submissions to the Senate committee that looked at this issue showed that the overwhelming majority of religious schools have no intention of discriminating against children and no desire to maintain the right to do so. The reason for this is obvious. The idea of stigmatising children and discriminating against them on the basis of who they are is abominable to decent Australians. It is a proposition that requires no explanation and no analysis in 2018.

Labor is also committed to ending discrimination against LGBTIQ staff at religious schools. The right to do so is inconsistent with who we are and who we should aspire to be as a nation. Senator Wong has spoken about our approach in her recent remarks. As the Senate leader explained in debate on this bill last week, given the short number of sitting days left between now and the election, we have to prioritise, and children are our priority. We don't want to give the government an excuse to walk away from the promises they made during the Wentworth by-election. This is something that the parliament can and should pass today with the support of all parties.

Labor will, as we always have, work constructively with churches and religious schools to ensure that they can continue to practise their beliefs. We respect the right of free exercise of religion and the ability for religious institutions to act in a way that is consistent with their faith, but the right to discriminate against children is inconsistent with our understanding of who we are as a nation. It is inconsistent with the journey that we have been on as a nation, and it has to end.

Debate interrupted.