Brian Greig: What exactly has the ALP promised LGBTIQ+ people if elected?

OPINION: Brian Greig is a local representative for Just.Equal Australia

In the confusion surrounding the collapse of the Religious Discrimination Bill it was easy for political parties to misrepresent what resulted.

Despite the newspaper headlines, memes on social media and judiciously worded press releases from the Opposition, things are not quite as clear as you might think.

Late on Thursday 10th, Labor Leader Anthony Albanese released a statement on Labor’s position.

What it doesn’t say is more revealing than what it does say.

First, let’s look at the vote itself.

Independent MP Rebekha Sharkie moved an amendment to the Government’s Bill to protect teachers in faith schools. Three moderate Liberals crossed the floor to vote for this. Labor joined with Coalition MPs to vote it down.

If Labor had voted for this it would have passed and become part of the amended Bill that went to the senate. Labor abandoned teachers.

The statement from Mr Albanese says if elected, a Labor Government will protect LGBTIQ+ teachers from discrimination “at work” (those employed), but also “maintain the right of religious schools to preference people of their faith in the selection of staff.”

This appears to leave open the prospect of church schools refusing to employ LGBTIQ+ staff and even to overriding state laws where this discrimination is banned. This could also block the McGowan Government from introducing anti-discrimination laws for teachers.

Second, Labor did not move to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to protect employees in faith-based services.

LGBTIQ+ workers in publicly funded health, education, charity, welfare, aged care and housing services run by church groups are not protected under the bill as passed. Labor did not attempt to protect them. It has been silent on this.

Third, the ALP did insist on protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students from discrimination “on any grounds.” It moved and supported amendments to the SDA to lock this in. Mr Albanese’s statement is clear about this.

However, in order to do this thoroughly Labor must also close the loophole in the Religious Discrimination Bill which allows discrimination on ‘religious belief’ beyond enrolment. This was a weakness in Labor’s position during the debate.

Finally, Labor said it would not support any Religious Discrimination Bill that undid existing anti-discrimination laws. But they did exactly that.

Labor moved an amendment to remove the override of Tasmania’s gold-standard law against harmful speech. It didn’t succeed because not enough moderate Liberals voted for it.

Labor then voted in favour of the partly amended bill, endorsing the override of State and Territory laws that currently protect LGBTIQ+ people. This included removing protections for staff in Tasmania, Queensland, Victoria and the ACT.

Labor may say this was simply tactical, that its objective was to get a bill unpalatable to the government to the senate where it may fail. But this was high-risk, used LGBTIQ+ people as pawns, and doesn’t explain why the full range of anti-discrimination protections were not pursued in the lower house.

It means Labor is not on the record with a clear policy position across “religious belief” provisions in schools, or the protection of teachers and staff in faith services.

This bill may be withdrawn but the issue isn’t. It will feature prominently in the federal election campaign. The next government (Labor or Liberal), will bring it back.

It is critical therefore that our community gets clear election commitments from the Opposition. Just.Equal wrote to Tanya Plibersek MP, who had spoken out about the Bill, asking for this on 15 December last year. There has been no reply. We will now pursue this with Shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus.

Here are the three key questions Labor needs to answer before the election.

1.) Will Labor outlaw discrimination against LGBTIQ+ teachers and staff in faith schools, including recruitment?

2.) Will Labor outlaw discrimination against LGBTIQ+ staff in publicly funded faith services such as health, age care, charities, employment and housing? If yes, will this protection cover hiring, firing and volunteers?

3.) Will Labor commit to not weakening or removing any existing laws that protect LGBTIQ+ people such as exist in Tasmania, Victoria, Queensland and the ACT?



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