Albanese’s weakness risks LGBTIQ+ rights in schools

In a fresh demonstration of the federal government’s cowardice, Anthony Albanese has sought Peter Dutton’s support to take a bipartisan approach to religious discrimination laws that risk opening LGBTIQ+ people up to further bigotry.

Faith groups have lobbied for years to introduce legislation to protect religious people and organisations from discrimination. For some, this means demanding a continued right for religious institutions to discriminate against particular employees or school students.

Australia’s Sex Discrimination Act dates back to 1984 and is in urgent need of reform. Under the Act, religious institutions currently enjoy broad exemptions to anti-discrimination law. A religious school, for instance, can make hiring decisions based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status and pregnancy.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has recommended that the section allowing these exemptions be scrapped. This recommendation has been welcomed by Equality Australia.

But the government has distanced itself from the ALRC recommendations, making it clear that while it commissioned the report its findings do not represent government policy.

This political saga dates back to the Morrison government’s infamous Religious Discrimination Bill that would have pointedly excluded trans kids from discrimination protections in schools. The proposal was so callous that it lost Morrison support from five MPs in his own party, who crossed the floor to support an amendment to protect trans kids.

Even then, Labor’s position was shaky. According to Independent MP Rebecca Sharkie, Labor rejected an amendment to also protect staff at religious schools.

Labor then went to the 2022 election promising to implement laws preventing discrimination based on religion, while also protecting LGBTIQ+ children from discrimination, and offering more limited protections to employees of religious schools.

Now, by signaling his desire to work with the Coalition on any changes, Albanese has demonstrated just how shallow his support for the LGBTIQ+ community really is. Any input from Dutton on these laws would make them likely to enshrine further discrimination rather than prevent it.

Albanese is effectively giving the opposition, as Greens MP David Shoebridge put it, “A veto or a co-writer’s credit on the reforms that decide if kids can be expelled or teachers can be fired for their identity.”

Albanese has also floated the possibility of working with The Greens, but only if they are “willing to support the rights of people to practise their faith”. This is code for backing the right to discriminate.

Labor’s efforts to pursue the middle ground have allowed the Liberals to absurdly posture as the defenders of Muslim and migrant communities, as though demanding respect for LGBTIQ+ rights is some kind of discrimination.

But as the many LGBTIQ+ people and groups that have supported the protests for Palestine show, there is a common interest in fighting racism and oppression.

For the countless kids and teachers who still can’t come out at work or school, or risk being expelled or losing their jobs, it’s high time that the government put equality before cynical political manoeuvering.

By Matilda Fay


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