Michaelia Cash says Sex Discrimination Act reform must wait

Has Senator Cash reneged on a deal with Liberal moderates?

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said any move to update Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act would have to wait until 12 months after the passage of the Religious Discrimination Act.

Senator Cash made the statement during an online discussion with conservative group Family Voice Australia. Previously the Prime Minister had promised moderate Liberal members that the contention sections of the Sex Discrimination Act which allow gay and transgender students to be expelled from schools would be reviewed sooner.

Senator Cash was promoting the government’s third draft of the Religious Discrimination Act and answering questions from Family Voice Australia. The bill aim to bring in protections for religious belief at a federal level. Some Liberal members have told the PM that their support for the bill is contingent on changes to the Sex Discrimination Act being made simultaneously.

The Attorney-General said people were “deliberately misconstruing” the bill by highlighting issues that fell under the Sex Discrimination Act, and the place for review of the Sex Discrimination Act was the Australian Law Reform Commission.

Senator Cash said the were “two very separate issues, and they should not be confused, and hopefully not deliberately confused”.

Following Senator Cash’s online Q&A session Liberal MP Katie Allen told The Guardian that she was seeking an urgent meeting with the Attorney-General to clarify the agreement they had previously struck.

Member for Wentworth Dave Sharma told the media he had made his position on the issue clear.

“I’ve made clear my view that discrimination against students and teachers needs to be dealt with promptly, and I do not see the need for a further examination and waiting period.” Sharma said.

Senator Cash says it’s disappointing Labor is not more supportive

In her discussion with Family Voice Australia Senator Cash said the bill was a sensible approach to dealing with the issue of religious discrimination and it was disappointing the Labor party had not been more supportive of the latest draft.

“This is a very sensible bill, it should command the support of major parties. I have always been very very clear in my approach to this bill, I want to bring all Australians with us and that is why it is a sensible bill that can be supported by the Labor party.

“I was disappointed that the Labor party did not provide that support to it in the final week.” Senator Cash said arguing that bill was needed by both religious Australians and also people who did not follow a faith.

“The bill itself provides sensible protections and.. peace of mind for so many Australians, and that’s something that should be important for all of us. It does not matter whether we are people of religion or not. The bill will provide you with a protection against discrimination on the basis of your belief, or the fact that you have no belief.” Senator Cash said.

Morrison government will override Victorian and Tasmanian laws

During the discussion Senator Cash confirmed that if passed the bill would override new laws introduced recently in Victoria, and longstanding laws in Tasmania.

Senator Cash drew upon her own schooling at Perth’s Iona Presentation College in Mosman Park, saying it was important that religious schools had the power to dictate that everyone working for them followed religious standards.

“My parent’s chose to send me to a Catholic school, and my sister and brother, because they wanted us to be taught the doctrines, tenants and beliefs of Catholicism. That was a choice that my parents actively made, and the government supports that choice.

“Religious Educational institutions should be able to preference people who share their religious beliefs over someone who does not.” Senator Cash said.

Senator Cash said the bill would not allow for any dissemination of LGBTIQ teachers.

“What we often hear is that bill allows for discrimination of LGBTIQ teachers – the bill does not do that. The bill does not allow the termination of a teacher on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or relationship status or pregnancy.

“The bill only deals with the attribute of religious belief or activity. I thin it’s important to also remember, that the religious discrimination bill does not affect existing protections and importantly exemptions in other anti-discrimination law. Bearing in mind that under the Sex Discrimination Act religious bodies already have received exemptions.”

Senator Cash said the bill did not allow for LGBTIQ students being expelled either.

“In terms of does the bill allow expulsion of LGBTI students, again – no – it does not. The bill does not allow the expulsion of students on the basis of the sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, martial or relationship status or pregnancy. The bill only deals with the attribute of religious belief or activity.”

Senator Cash said in all her discussions about the bill she was yet to meet someone who disagreed with her view on how LGBTIQ students and teachers would be affected. She also said she hadn’t met anyone who supported any kind of discrimination against students or teachers.

“Discrimination against students on the basis of being gay, that’s not something that we accept as a government, and I haven’t found anybody yet who disagrees with me, but to be clear this bill doesn’t deal with that, this bill is about protecting people against religious discrimination on the basis of their belief or non-belief.”

Family Voice Australia concerned about schools being attacked by LGBTI students

Greg Bondar from Family Voice Australia asked Senator Cash how the bill would protect students from litigation from LGBTIQA or transgender students.

“How will the bill protect religious schools against litigation where a LGBTIQA or a transgender student in a Christian, Jewish or Muslim school wants to for example wear a dress, use a female bathroom even though he’s biologically a male, or be called Steve instead of Eve? These actions or behaviours in a faith school go against the faith of that school, so how does this bill really protect a faith school against ensuring this sort of behaviours is not tolerated?” Bondar asked

“The bill does not change the existing status quo for this issue, and this is where I think people sometimes get a little confused or sometimes want to deliberately muddy the waters in relation to what this bill does.”  Senator Cash responded.

“This only relates to religious belief or activities and I think a lot of people misunderstand what the bill is about, or deliberately misconstruing what the bill is about. it does not deal with discrimination on the basis of any other protected attribute. The bill itself does not affect the ability of religious educational institutions to establish for religious purposes, to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

“Those exemptions already exist in the sex discrimination act. Those exemptions are longstanding exemptions, supported importantly by both major sides of politics. I do get disappointed when I see that the Labor party do want to a really big issue out of this, because there has always been an understanding across politics that the ability of educational institutions, established for religious purposes, to actually operate accorded with those purposes, is just a fundamental part of being what they are.”

“I go back to my own education, a Catholic girl, a convent school, her parents making a choice, a choice to have her education according the doctrines, tenants and belief of Catholicism – this bill does not have anything to do with that.

“This is about religion and religious belief, more broadly though in terms of the issues that you do raise. As you would be aware, about two, two and a half years ago now, the government did refer to the Australian Law Reform Commission for further consideration, and inquiry into those exemptions…but they are two very separate issues.

“They should not be confused, and hopefully not deliberately confused. This bill is all about discrimination on the basis of religious belief or activity. When people raise those issue, they are talking about the wrong act, that is the realm of the Sex Discrimination Act.

“I think when people confuse the issue they say “Oh, you shouldn’t have the religious discrimination bill because it allows this.” The Sex Discrimination act is the relevant piece of  legislation, that’s been referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission, we are looking at the Religious Discrimination Act, and that relates to religious belief or activity, and those issues should not be confused.” Senator Cash said.

Senator Cash said she was yet to find anyone who supported the idea of a child being expelled because they were gay.

“A child should not be expelled because they are gay, I think we all agree with that.”

Senator Cash’s office surrounded by Protestors

Recently the Western Australian senator’s office was the focus for protestors from Rainbow Rebellion who voiced their opposition to the Religious Discrimination bill.

Read what they had to say.

Graeme Watson

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