Update 23 February 2019:
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee handed down its report on the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 on Thursday 14 February 2019.
Although it is perhaps more accurate to say it handed down three reports. The majority report, by Government Senators, recommended that the Bill – which, as the name suggests, would protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination – not be passed. This is a broken promise, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s commitment to protect these students in October last year.
Even worse, Coalition members of the Committee recommended that the issue of religious exceptions be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission for another review. For context, we have already had the Ruddock Religious Freedom Review, a Senate inquiry into the issue of discrimination against LGBT students and teachers last November, and this most recent Senate review.
We don’t need another inquiry, review or report. We just need a Government to take action to protect LGBT students and teachers. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The Labor members of the Committee provided a dissenting report, which (unsurprisingly) called for their Bill to be passed. Importantly, they also rejected all five of the Government’s amendments that would allow discrimination against LGBT students to continue, contrary to the purpose of the legislation (for more, see my original submission to the inquiry below).
On the other hand, Labor Senators also rejected the proposed Greens’ amendment that would remove the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 exception allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers. They did restate the ALP’s commitment to protect LGBT teachers in the future, although it is unclear what form this would take.
We will need to keep pressure on Bill Shorten, and the ALP, to protect LGBT teachers and to ensure these protections are not undermined by provisions allowing religious schools to discriminate on ‘ethos and values’.
Finally, the Greens also provided a dissenting report, supporting the ALP Bill, rejecting the Government’s amendments (for the same reasons as Labor) and calling for their own amendment protecting LGBT teachers to be passed.
The Greens have also recommended an urgent review of provisions in the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) that allow religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Overall, then, this was a disappointing Committee Report, with the Government’s proposed referral of the issue to the Australian Law Reform Commission nothing more than a delaying tactic.
It’s important to remember there was always going to be resistance to this change. There will always be some religious schools that want to discriminate against LGBT students and teachers. And there will always be some politicians who want to let them.
It is up to us to continue with this campaign until all schools are safe and nurturing environments for all students, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Because our kids are counting on us.
Start the new year right, by writing to support the right of LGBT students, teachers and other staff at religious schools to be free from discrimination.
The Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs is currently holding an inquiry into Labor’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018, and proposed amendments to it.
Full details of this inquiry can be found here.
The most important details are that:
- This is our opportunity to call for all schools to be made free from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity
- Submissions close on Monday 21 January 2019 (ie two weeks away) and
- Once you’ve written yours, it can be uploaded here or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are looking for some ‘inspiration’ about what to write, here are my suggestions:
- Personal stories
If you are, or have been, a student, a family member of a student, or a teacher or other staff member at a religious educational institution (including schools and universities), please share what that experience was like.
This is especially important if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex person, or member of a rainbow family, who has encountered homophobia, biphobia or transphobia at a religious school.
Remember, these examples can range from overt or outright discrimination (such as a student being disciplined, or a teacher being fired or not hired, simply for being LGBT) through to more subtle or insidious forms of mistreatment (being made to feel invisible, having LGBTI content excluded from subjects like health and physical education, or feeling unable to disclose your sexual orientation or gender identity, or information about your partner, to others).
The more stories that we share, the louder our collective voice for change will be.
Importantly, if your submission is deeply personal, you can ask the committee to keep your submission private. From the aph website:
If you do not want your name published on the internet, or if you want your submission to be kept confidential, you should:
- Include the word confidential clearly on the front of your submission and provide a reason for your request.
- Make sure that your name and contact details are on a separate page and not in the main part of your submission.
Confidential submissions are only read by members of the committee and the secretariat.
Confidential information may be placed in an attachment to the main part of your submission, with a request for the committee to keep the attachment confidential.
The committee will consider your request but you need to know that the committee has the authority to publish any submission.
The committee will contact you if the committee wants to publish something you have asked to be kept confidential.
If you are considering making a confidential submission, you should contact the committee secretariat to discuss this before you send us your submission.
- Call for LGBT students to be protected against discrimination
Whether you have attended or worked at a religious school or not, everyone should call for the ability of religious schools to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students to be abolished.
Labor’s Bill achieves this outcome, because it would remove both of the existing exceptions in the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 which allow religious schools to do exactly that.[i]
In your submission, you should ask for the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 to be passed urgently, so that all students can learn in a safe and inclusive environment.
- Call for LGBT teachers to be protected against discrimination
One thing Labor’s Bill does not do is remove the exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act which allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff.
This discrimination is also wrong. Teachers should be judged according to the ability to do their jobs, not whether they are heterosexual and cisgender. The billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money that is provided to religious schools each year should not be used to reject teachers and other staff simply for being LGBT.
Most importantly, in order for the classroom to be a truly safe environment for LGBT children, it must be an inclusive one for LGBT adults too.
Employing LGBT teachers means potentially having role models for kids discovering their own sexual orientations or gender identities. On the other hand, if children see teachers being discriminated against just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, they will learn the lesson that their school thinks LGBT people are somehow less worthy than other people.
In your submission, you should ask for the Greens amendments to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 to be supported. These amendments would remove the exceptions in the Sex Discrimination Act that allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff.[ii]
However, you should call for the Parliament to make similar amendments to the Commonwealth Fair Work Act 2009 as well, because that legislation also allows religious schools to adversely treat,[iii] or unfairly dismiss,[iv] teachers because of their sexual orientation.
Finally, you could ask the Parliament to take this opportunity to amend the Fair Work Act to protect transgender and intersex people against adverse treatment and unfair dismissal, because they are currently excluded entirely from these provisions.[v]
- Call for the Parliament to reject the Government’s proposed amendments
The Morrison Liberal-National Government has released its own proposed amendments to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018.
These amendments would allow religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBT students in three distinct ways.
First, the Government’s amendments would reinstate one of the two current exceptions that allow religious schools to expel or otherwise mistreat students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.[vi]
Second, the Government’s amendments would insert an entirely new provision allowing religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students as long as it formed part of ‘teaching activity’ – where teaching activity is incredibly broadly defined as ‘any kind of instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an educational institution.’[vii]
Third, the Government’s amendments would change the test for whether indirect discrimination is lawful in three differently-worded alternative ways,[viii] but with all three adding consideration of whether a ‘condition, requirement or practice… imposed, or proposed to be imposed [by a religious school is] in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.’
The Government’s changes are unnecessary, and would introduce unnecessary complexity into the Sex Discrimination Act. None of the four Australian jurisdictions that already protect LGBT students against discrimination (Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory)[ix] include similar provisions in their anti-discrimination laws.
Most importantly, the Morrison Liberal-National Government’s proposed amendments fundamentally undermine the purpose of the legislation, by allowing religious schools to continue to discriminate against LGBT students just under a different name.
You should call for the Parliament to reject all of the Government’s proposed amendments to the Bill.
Every student should be able to learn in a safe and inclusive environment, free from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Every teacher and staff member should be judged on their ability to perform their role, not according to who they love or how they identify.
Parliament has the opportunity to make both a reality in 2019. But, as with so many law reforms before, they won’t act unless we make them.
So, it’s time to get writing.
[i] The Bill repeals subsection 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act which specifically allows religious schools to discriminate against LGBT students, as well as limiting the general religious exception in subsection 37(1)(d) by adding a new subsection 37(3):
‘Paragraph (1)(d) does not apply to an act or practice of a body established for religious purposes if:
(a) the act or practice is connected with the provision, by the body, of education; and
(b) the act or practice is not connected with the employment of persons to provide that education.’
[ii] The Greens amendments repeal subsections 38(1) and 38(2) of the Sex Discrimination Act that specifically allow religious schools to discriminate against LGBT teachers and other staff, and contractors, respectively.
It also amends the proposed new subsection 37(3) so that it removes the ability of religious schools to discriminate both in terms of service provision (ie students) and employment.
[iii] Subsection 351(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
[iv] Subsection 772(2) of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth).
[vi] The Government’s amendments remove proposed new subsection 37(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) in Labor’s Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018 that limits the operation of the general religious exception in section 37(1)(d) of that Act. Therefore, even if subsection 38(3) is repealed, religious schools would still be able to rely on subsection 37(1)(d) to discriminate against LGBT students.
[vii] The proposed amendment reads as follows:
‘7F Educational institutions established for religious purposes
(1) Nothing in this Act renders it unlawful to engage in teaching activity if that activity:
(a) is in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed; and
(b) is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings.
(2) In this section:
Teaching activity means any kind of instruction of a student by a person employed or otherwise engaged by an educational institution.’
[ix] For more on this subject, see Back to School, Back to Discrimination for LGBT Students and Teachers.