Gay student protection vote deferred to February

Scott Morrison with the proposed bill yesterday (ABC News)

Scott Morrison and Bill Shorten have failed to secure a deal to protect gay school students from discrimination after clashing over how best to preserve the core freedoms of faith-based educators. Source: The Australian.

The issue has been deferred until February when parliament returns, with the Opposition Leader and his deputy Tanya Plibersek appearing to offer different messages to explain the impasse after rejecting the Prime Minister’s offer of a conscience vote.

Mr Shorten said the deferral of the issue was a “sensible course of action” to help secure a better legislative solution that would balance the competing rights of students and schools.

But Ms Plibersek argued the solution was “simple”. She said existing protections for religious schools, allowing them the ability to discriminate against gay students, should be removed, and dismissed concerns from the sector as part of a right-wing “scare campaign”.

Defending its decision to reject a conscience vote on a bill proposed by Mr Morrison, Labor said it had obtained legal advice showing that it would “replace one form of discrimination with another”.

The Morrison bill would have ensured that any “teaching activity” undertaken “in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a religion” would be protected from a discrimination claim under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The legal advice to Mr Shorten, provided by Mark Gibian SC, said this provision would further entrench discrimination against gay students.

Labor was forced in the Senate to agree to the deferral of its own bill to better protect gay students after Centre Alliance, which controls two votes in the upper house, made clear it would support a crucial government amendment.

The amendment contained the same protection for religious schools as that contained in the Morrison bill. Its adoption by the Senate would have forced Labor to vote against its own bill.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said Labor was responsible for the failure to better protect gay students because it was “not prepared to accept the common-sense principle that religious schools should be able to impose reasonable school rules evenly on all of their students”.

The delay paves the way for another round of lobbying on both sides, with the Church arguing Mr Morrison's "compromise" bill did not go far enough to protect religious freedom, The Age reports.

"It provides more protection to religious schools than the alternative, but is not an adequate solution to the challenge of how to balance the rights of students and schools," said Melbourne Archbishop Peter A. Comensoli, who is also the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference delegate for religious freedom.

FULL STORY

Labor at odds on failed bid to protect gay students (The Australian)

Parliament paralysed on laws to prevent religious schools expelling LGBTI students (The Age)

RELATED COVERAGE

Labor risks voter whirlwind with attack on faith-based schools (Sydney Morning Herald)

A conscience vote is a smart way to end this impasse on religious schools and gay students (The Age)

PM offer conscience vote of MPs vote bill on sex discrimination changes to religious freedoms (The Australian)

Labor accuses Coalition of ‘weaponising’ gay student discrimination ban, after Prime Minister’s ultimatum (ABC News

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