Report on discrimination against LGBTIQ+ kids pushed into never-never

The Morrison government quietly pushed back the timeline for a report into how the law should treat LGBTIQ+ kids who might be expelled from their schools over their sexuality.

Critics are saying the government has abandoned their promise to tackle the issue and called on state governments to stop delaying action on the issue.

If you’ve lost track of how we got here, let’s go back to where it all began.

Back in 2017 following Australians declaring that they were supportive changing the country’s laws so that same-gender couples could wed, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull faced a problem.

Too many politicians in his own party were concerned about religious freedom, and began to propose amendments that would water down the marriage legislation the majority of people had just voiced their support for. Turnbull had a mandate from the people, but it was an issue many of his colleagues were adamantly opposed to.

To placate the dissenters he promised them a national inquiry into religious freedom and appointed former Howard-era Attorney General Philip Ruddock to lead the process.

Ruddock and his colleagues travelled the country seeking input on the issue, holding closed door hearings that the media were excluded from, and as it wasn’t a formal parliamentary inquiry limited records of those sessions were made available.

Ruddock delivered his report to the government and nothing happened. It sat on the Prime Minister’s desk being considered. After Scott Morrison took over in the top job, the reports findings still remained under lock and key. Then parts of the report started to leak to the press.

One element that got a negative reaction from the public was the finding that the rules about how private and religious schools could expel students and teachers over their sexuality needed to be tightened up. The Ruddock Review said schools should only be able to expel students if they had been clear about their expectations in the first place.

This did not go down well with the public. Most Australians it seems were unaware that schools could expel students over their sexuality, and many thought rather than tightening up these laws, the option should be having them completely removed.

Initially Prime Minister Scott Morrison pledged to fix the laws “within a fortnight”, boldly declaring on national television that it was a storm in teacup and he’d make it right before the month was over.

The government however couldn’t get the deal done. While they were willing to improve the situation for school kids, they weren’t prepared to tackle the issue around school teachers or other staff members. Unable to reach an agreement with the opposition, the commitment to fix it all within a fortnight fell flat.

Soon the whole report in religious freedom was released and the government put forward its proposed legislation and began another round of community consultations.

With promises to have the legislation passed before Christmas 2019, the PM argued that people of faith needed more protections – even some that had not been suggested in the Ruddock Review.

The issue of how to treat schools kids however was sent off the the Law Reform Commission for them to consider. Last February they began looking into the matter. They’ve officially been thinking about it for almost a year.

While they’ve been considering it, the government has pulled its religious freedom legislation at the eleventh hour and put forward a whole new version which some critics say is worse than the first iteration.

There’s been thousands of submissions on the second draft and Attorney General Christian Porter is expected to release an updated version of the proposed laws soon.

But when do we get to hear what the Law Reform Commission think about laws which allow LGBTIQ+ students to be expelled from school?

Well not anytime soon, because earlier this month the government quietly changed the date of when the report would be required. There was little announcement, but there was an update on the Australian Law Reform Commission webpage.

On March 2nd, the reporting dates were amended. A discussion paper on the issue will now be released at an undetermined time in the future – it’s still to be announced, and the submissions on that submission paper will also be due at an unknown date.

The final report from the Australian Law Reform Commission is now due by ‘no more than a year after the government passes its current religious discrimination laws’. When that could be is unknown.

In all likelihood any recommendations for law changes contained within the report would not be enacted until the next term of government.

Attorney General Christian Porter has told Nine newspapers that the approach “makes good sense as it will enable the commission to take into account the extraordinarily far-reaching public consultation process we undertook in developing the Religious Discrimination Bill”.

The ALRC’s general counsel Matt Corrigan has confirmed that they haven’t even started looking at the issue yet despite having the request from government for close to a year.

“We will not be starting on this inquiry until either a bill is passed or a final decision is made by [the] government,” he said. “The two are inexorably linked and it’s not possible to look at them separately.” he told the Sydney Morning Herald

The additional delay on the issue has been slammed by rights advocates.

Anna Brown from Equality Australia said the losers in the process were LGBTI youth who still attend school with the knowledge that they could be expelled if their sexuality is discovered.

“This spells danger and discrimination for students at religious schools, whichever way you look at it,” Brown said.

Veteran LGBTI rights campaigner Rodney Croome, who heads Just.equal, said it was clear where the government’s priorities lay, and that meant it was time for the states to take action.

“Clearly, the Federal Government is more interested in pushing laws allowing discrimination in the name of religion than protecting children from discrimination, so the states must step up.” Croome said.

While Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and Northern Territory outlaw such discrimination, other states do not provide such protections and there is no Commonwealth protection.

Croome, said by delaying the report the Attorney was just “kicking the can down the road” and using the same tactics to frustrate reform as were used to stymie marriage equality.

“The ALRC inquiry was established to review the issue of LGBTIQ students in religious schools and to implement Scott Morrison’s promise to end discrimination against them before Christmas 2018.”

“But now the Government is saying it won’t release the ALRC report until a full year after the Religious Discrimination Bill becomes law.”

“That Bill hasn’t even been tabled yet and there is no guarantee it will even pass through parliament, so what happens then?” Croome asked.

While state governments had previously said they are unable to look at the issue until the outcomes of the federal government’s push for a religious freedom law are completed, Croome argues that they can not longer sit on the sidelines.

“Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia no longer have excuses for ignoring this issue or failing to act. Other states have outlawed this discrimination against students, and there is no point in deferring to the Federal Government for leadership,” Croome said.

Previously WA’s Attorney General, John Quigley, has said he would be unable to address the issue until the outcomes of the federal government’s push for a religious freedom law were known, and the ALRC report was released. Local rights advocates now say he can not keep ignoring the issue.

Maxine Drake from the Same-Sex Parents’ Association, who met with Mr Quigley on this matter in 2018, said both excuses were now invalid.

“Not only is passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill looking increasingly uncertain, but the ALRC report into faith schools was ‘mothballed’ by Federal Attorney General, Christian Porter, last week and will not see the light of day for at least two years – if at all.”

“More importantly, there is no need for the WA government to defer to Canberra on this issue and they can no longer blame state inertia on commonwealth inertia.”

“States can end this discrimination on their own and many already have. WA has the worst anti-LGBTI loophole for religious schools of any Equal Opportunity Act in the nation and is way behind the times,” Drake said.

While opponents of changing the laws often claim that their force is rarely used, advoates highlight that many of the cases of discrimination occurring have been in Western Australia.

In 2015, a seven old girl had to be removed from a church school in Mandurah when the principal discovered she had two gay dads. While in 2017, teacher Craig Campbell was sacked from his job at a Rockingham Baptist college when staff found out he is gay.

In June 2018, Greens MLC Alison Xamon introduced a Private Members’ Bill to end the discrimination, but parliament has not allowed it to come forward for debate.

“As Opposition Leader, Mr McGowan said it was his personal view that this discrimination “was wrong and should be changed,” however, as Premier he has not facilitated any legislation.” just.equal highlighted in a statement.

OIP Staff

You must be logged in to post a comment Login