Religious Discrimination Bill passes the House of Representatives

After year of promises, three drafts, committee inquiries, multiple adjustments and a debate that extended into the early morning, the Morrison government’s Religious Discrimination Bill made it through the House of Representatives.

Labor put forward four amendments but none were successfully passed. The Labor amendment to remove Clause 12 – the statement’s of belief clause, resulted in a tie of 62 votes on either side of the house, but Speaker Andrew Wallace cast his deciding vote with the government. Liberal MP’s Trent Zimmerman and Bridget Archer crossed the floor and voted with the opposition.

Amendments to sections relating to adding a ban on vilification on religious grounds drew a series of passionate speeches from Labor members, but was defeated by one vote. A move to add changes in relation to aged care facilities was also voted down.

As the clock struck 4am in Canberra, the vote to read the bill a final time was announced with just six members voting against it; Independents Helen Haines, Zali Stegal, Andrew Wilkie, Greens Adam Bandt, Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie, and Liberal Bridget Archer. Trent Zimmerman appears to have abstained.

The Religious Discrimination Bill will now move to the Senate with only a few sitting days to available debate it. During the late night and early morning session Labor MPs gave passion-filled speeches about the need to ban vilification on the basis of religious belief, setting the stage for potentially a fiery show-down in the senate.

Additionally amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act were also considered. A proposal to provide protections for teachers was unsuccessful, but an amendment to include protections for transgender student, alongside gay, lesbian and bisexual students, was successfully passed 65 votes to 59.

The amendment was supported by Labor, Independents Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie, and Zali Stegal, Rebekha Sharkie from Centre Alliance, and The Greens’ Adam Bandt. Five Liberal members crossed the floor voicing their support; Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma, Bridget Archer, Dr Katie Allen and Dr Fiona Martin.

Graeme Watson

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