On Thursday, it was reported that Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has written to the Australian Law Reform Commission, asking for ‘detailed drafting’ to protect LGBT children from discrimination in faith-based schools.
‘It is … the government’s position that no child should be suspended or expelled from school on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity,’ wrote Cash.
There are at least six reasons why this seemingly positive expression of support for LGBT kids is a bitterly disappointing statement of hollow nothingness.
First, we’ve heard this all before. On 11 October 2018 the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, stated unequivocally: ‘We do not think that children should be discriminated against’. He promised to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination before the end of that year.
That was more than 3 years ago. 1,137 days to be exact (and yes, I’m counting). In that time, the Morrison Government has failed to do anything concrete to implement its promise.
Second, the Attorney-General was writing to ask the ALRC to do what it was already tasked to do by her predecessor, Christian Porter, back in April 2019. His original terms of reference requested the Commission to review religious exemptions, ‘having regard to… the importance of protecting the rights of all people, and children in particular, to be free from discrimination in education.’
More than 30 months later, the new Attorney-General is trying to spin a request for ‘detailed drafting’ as being something new. Exactly how that varies from ordinary ALRC recommendations is a distinction without a difference.
Third, we don’t need ‘detailed drafting’. We know how to protect LGBT students in religious schools against discrimination. Four jurisdictions – Queensland, Tasmania, the ACT and NT – have already done so. Tasmania has been protecting LGBT kids, successfully, for more than 23 years. The amendments required are simple. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel.
Fourth, there’s not even a need to invent a new Bill. In response to the Prime Minister’s promise to protect LGBT kids in October 2018, the Labor Opposition introduced their own legislation the following month (the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018). The schedule of substantive amendments came to a grand total of 70 words.
If the ALRC reports in 2023, and the Government finally takes action that same year (both of which remain big ifs), it could end up taking them 5 years to draft 70 words. At just over one word per month, they’re certainly pacing themselves.
Fifth, we can see from the time and energy expended on the Religious Discrimination Bill where the Government’s real priorities lie.
We’ve already gone through two rounds of public exposure drafts on the ‘religious freedom’ Bills package (which actually comprises three separate Bills). We’ve had 157 pages of draft legislation, before we even get to the third and final version(s) next week.
The drafting effort that has gone into the Religious Discrimination Bill demonstrates what happens when a Government wants to get something done. The comparative lack of effort in drafting straight-forward amendments to protect LGBT kids reveals what happens when they don’t.
Sixth, based on Senator Cash’s correspondence, it’s not even clear whether the Government supports ending all discrimination against LGBT students, or only removing the ability of religious schools to suspend or expel them. If it’s just the latter, then other forms of mistreatment would continue to be permitted, and the harm they experience will go on.
A child who was in Year 7 when the Prime Minister first promised to protect them from discrimination is on track to finish high school before he keeps that promise. That’s an entire generation of LGBT kids abandoned because they’re not considered a priority by their own Government.
LGBT kids don’t need more ‘detailed drafting’. They need action. What do we have instead? The Attorney-General sending the emptiest of gestures to the Australian Law Reform Commission, asking them to do something they’ve already been tasked to do.
It is a fig-leaf trying to cover up years of the Morrison Government’s inaction. But nothing can hide their lack of care about this issue. Because if they cared, it would have been fixed years ago.
The tragedy of it all is that, for as long as the Government prevaricates and obfuscates, vulnerable children are left exposed to abuse and mistreatment, discrimination, suspension and even expulsion, just because of who they are.
If you have enjoyed reading this article, please consider subscribing to receive future posts, via the right-hand scroll bar on the desktop version of this blog or near the bottom of the page on mobile. You can also follow me on twitter @alawriedejesus