Bill's Speeches

SEX DISCRIMINATION AMENDMENT (REMOVING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST STUDENTS) BILL 2018 - CANBERRA - MONDAY, 3 DECEMBER 2018

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I move that this Bill be now read a second time. 
 
In the final parliamentary sitting week of last year, this chamber – overwhelmingly – voted to make marriage equality a reality.
 
No-one who sat in the house for that final vote on that day will forget the emotion of that moment.

And yet it is not even a year passed – barely 360 days – the Australian people are entitled to ask if their government has already forgotten the lessons of that day and that change.

On marriage equality, it's fair to say that our parliament followed behind the people of Australia, trailed the people of Australia – by years.

Too many times, the simple question of every Australian’s right to be equal in the eyes of the law was contorted and distorted and delayed, weaponised in a culture war, employed as a proxy for internal struggles. 

And then, in a final admission of failure, the decision was outsourced to a postal survey.

Now for too many of our fellow Australians, this survey was a gruelling, emotional ordeal.

What a cheek for loving couples to have their relationships subjected to the judgment of 16 million strangers.
 
Our young Australians some of whom grappling with their identity, listening to people publicly argue that somehow they were second-class citizens.
 
It’s a powerful testament to the resilience and courage of our LGBTI community that they came through last year unbowed.

It is a tribute to the wisdom and generosity of our fellow Australians.

And in particular to our young Australians.

But that is no reason to revisit it in another form, no reason to re-open scars still in the process of healing.

Our country does not need another nasty, ill-informed debate about whether people’s sexuality somehow diminishes their right to equality.

Especially when the Australians we are talking about are children and young people.

There are many parents and aunts and uncles and neighbours here in this chamber.

All of us want our children to be happy at school, to make friends, to be resilient.

To learn character and values as well as maths and science and reading and writing and coding.

I’m sure all of us try and teach our children to be kind and respectful.

I'm like most Australians, I don’t make a habit of talking about my faith publically as a rule – but as the beneficiary of a Jesuit education, this is what I was taught.
 
I was taught the lessons of the beatitudes, perhaps the most famous  speech in human history, from the sermon on the mount.

It was a message of universal love, tolerance and service.

The instruction to judge not, for in the same you judge others you will be judged.

In everything, do to others that you would have them do unto you.

When I was at school, this was called the golden rule.
To do to others, what you would have them to unto you.

And today this parliament has a chance to write the principle of the golden rule into the laws of our land.

I believe we should be able to do this without a protracted or heated debate, without a whole lot of delaying tactics and diversionary arguments.

Because surely as a parliament and a people – we can agree that every Australian child has the right to be treated equally.

That’s precisely and solely what this legislation seeks to do.
 
Simply put, this legislation will prevent any child from being denied an education because of their sexuality.
 
Voting for this bill would repeal s38 (3) of the Sexual Discrimination Act.
 
Which currently makes it lawful for religious educational institutions to discriminate against another person on the ground of the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity….in the provision of education and training.
 
Or put another way, this legislation removes the power of schools to discriminate against a prospective or current student on the basis of their sexual orientation.
 
I want to be clear about this, the power to discriminate is something that many of the religious school administrators I have spoken to in preparation of this legislation, have made it clear to me that they do not want and do not use.
 
Catholic schools. Anglican schools. Baptist schools, have all said so.
 
The archbishops and the bishops I’ve spoken to do not seek its retention.
 
Our legislation seeks the balance between protecting the religious freedom of faith-based schools – and protecting the essential human dignity of every Australian child.
 
And that’s what voting for this proposition would achieve.
 
And Mr Speaker, I also want to be clear about what this legislation does not do.
 
This legislation does not affect the teaching of religious education.
 
This legislation does not prevent schools from including Chapel, or prayer in the timetable.
 
This legislation does not prevent religious schools from setting out reasonable requirements on their students, in accordance with their beliefs and values.
 
The legislation is not about bible colleges training people for missionary work, or priests and ministers.
 
I recognise that almost all religions are engaged in ‘education’ as part of their weekly worship and their community life, it’s core business – and it will continue.
 
And this legislation does not release any of the thousands of straw men and slippery slope arguments of ‘political correctness gone mad’.
 
This legislation is neither a Trojan Horse, nor Pandora’s Box, it is neither an assault on Western-Judeo-Christian society nor the expulsion of faith from the public square.
 
It’s a simple change driven by unarguable basic decency - it’s something the parliament can pass today, with support from all sides.
 
I understand the Prime Minister did not vote for marriage equality, he was always clear about that.
 
But he has publicly – and repeatedly - said that he supports protecting kids from discrimination.
 
So has the Treasurer. So has the Attorney-General. So have many more government members – frontbench and backbench, Liberal and National.
 
And it would be a better and stronger statement of respect and equality, if this law was passed this week, with the support of the Government, the Opposition and the crossbench.
 
In fact, that’s the major reason the legislation as drafted deals with the question of discrimination against students but not teachers.
 
I’ve already said that Labor supports protecting teachers and school staff from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality or marital status or pregnancy.
 
I don’t believe any Australian should be denied employment because of who they are or who they love.
 
A teacher’s marital or relationship status or sexual orientation or gender identity or pregnancy has no correlation whether they are a good person or a good teacher.
 
But I recognise that there isn’t quite yet the same degree of consensus in the parliament on this question.
 
So rather than seek to use that as wedge or a cause of division or as a bargaining chip in negotiations - Labor is prepared to prioritise students immediately before the parliament rises.
 
And I will seek a Private Member’s Bill dealing with protecting teachers and staff from discrimination in the first sitting fortnight of next year, following the school holidays. 
 
This will be done in a way which ensures that schools can continue to make employment decisions in line with their beliefs.
 
And in this specific context – and across the board - Labor has repeatedly said we are open to a discussion about how religious freedom can be better protected in this country.
 
But surely the starting point for anything the parliament does in regard to this must involve the release of the Ruddock Review.
 
It reflects poorly on the Government that they have withheld the review from Labor, from the parliament, from the people of Australia for seven months to try and gain some kind of political advantage from something as deeply personal as people’s faith.
 
Labor believes that this is a situation where religious organisations can teach according to their faith but we can have a situation which doesn't authorise discrimination against teachers or students.
 
We don't have to have a situation where people on basis of their sexuality are accused of being able to impinge upon other people's faith - it is not an either or.
 
This is another issue which a substantial majority in this parliament agree with each other.
 
But the determination of some in the Government to play politics runs the risk of getting in the way.
 
So therefore, we’ll rise at the end of the week for – as has been widely noted – quite some time.
 
And I’m sure that every member of this place, when they’re back in their local community, will hear from people who are frustrated and bewildered by politics at the moment.
 
I am sure - like me - honourable members have heard, on more than one occasion:
 
“Surely isn't this a bit of show on television, colour and movement"
 
Surely as we say back, "most of the time parliament is a productive, co-operative place."
 
Now actually that does happen to be true on many occasions - but today is an opportunity to restore people's faith in our system. 
 
Let us not tie ourselves in knots trying to manufacture a fight on this argument.
 
The schools don't need this exemption to discrimination laws, they don't seek this exemption and we shouldn't be arguing about it here.
 
We don't need to complicate the process with needless amendments, raising issues which are not actually in contention dressed up as a question of principle.
 
For that matter, let’s not waste a minute arguing over whose signature goes on the front page of this Bill.
 
If the Government want to match this mirror legislation, exactly as we have it, they can sign the bill.
 
There’s currently a bill in the Senate, we’re happy to look at that too.
 
This shouldn’t be too hard.
 
Let’s change the law before the House adjourns for 2018 – before school starts again in 2019. 
 
Politics can be a complicated business – but today is a simple test of our decency.


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