Government shelves Religious Discrimination Bill

The government has indefinitely shelved its Religious Discrimination Bill 2021, according to an ABC report, after a marathon sitting in the House of Representatives led to the bill passing with a key amendment to protect LGBTQI students.

Five Liberal MPs crossed the floor to support independent MP Rebekah Sharkie’s amendment to the Human Rights Legislation which would abolish the right of religious schools to discriminate against gay and transgender students.

The Morrison government will now push for a Senate inquiry rather than an immediate vote on the bill, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

The government’s failed bid to overhaul religious freedom laws leaves it heading into the election without having fulfilled a key pledge of its 2019 election campaign.

The ABC reports that in the wake of its failure to pass its latest version of the watered-down law, the government turned to religious groups to consult on the future of the contentious laws.

The Coalition had already indicated the bill would not be debated in the Senate today. Sources later confirmed the government was unlikely to bring it back for debate when the Senate next sits in March, when it will be planning to sell a pre-election budget.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis told Eternity the ACL agreed with the withdrawal of the bill on the basis that they didn’t want it presented as a package deal that removed clause 38(3) from the Sex Discrimination Act.

“This would allow competing discrimination interests that would not be able to be settled. And this is why we and Christian schools have been saying the Australian Law Reform Commission are the right people to look at it,” she said.

“We have no problem saying the Sex Discrimination Act is not perfect and needs to be looked at because we don’t want any child to be discriminated against, but to package up the Religious Discrimination Bill and remove this clause at the 11th hour is just foolishness because there are competing rights here,” she said.

“Some girls do not feel comfortable sharing a dormitory or a shower with someone who has transitioned from their biological sex.”

She pointed out that in the Senate at the same time as the RDA was tabled, Claire Chandler was presenting a private member’s bill to protect single-sex women’s sport, which was “all about transgender boys playing in top-level sport against biological girls.”

“It’s really complicated issue and it’s not just the Religious Discrimination Bill that’s struggling – this is why the Sex Discrimination Act deserves to have its own inquiry. That was what the government tried to do but unfortunately, it did so smack bang in the middle of an election period, so it became very political.”