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Religious freedom bill back in the Senate

UPDATE: Labor has withdrawn its bill from the Senate this morning and rejected the PM’s call  for a conscience vote to break the stalemate on amendments to sex discrimination laws aimed to ban discrimination against students in religious schools. For more updates on this moving story, see today’s Eternity story.

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The Labor bill to remove discrimination against gay school students will be debated again in the Senate tomorrow. A motion to re-debate the bill despite it being sent to a committee for review was passed late this afternoon.

The Australian reports that the Centre Alliance senators from South Australia who voted to review the bill will now support it with some amendment.

Christian lawyers have expressed concerns that the “indirect discrimination” provisions of the Labor bill would capture the teaching activities of Churches, Synagogues or Mosques and theological colleges.

The procedural motion passed by the Senate will call the bill on for debate from 11am to 12:35pm tomorrow and provides that even if debate has not finished the motion will be voted on. This means that the motion could pass all stages in the Senate fully by tomorrow afternoon.

Labor is committed to bringing the Bill into the Lower House where the Coalition has lost the majority. A key member, Rebekha Sharkie from South Australia will follow her Centre Alliance Senate colleagues and support the bill. Other moderate conservative independents such as Cathy McGowan and Julia Banks from Victoria will also be critical votes.

It is not clear which government amendments they will support but one contender is a proposal to put a test of “reasonability” on schools’ ability to maintain their ethos.

Tests of compulsory chapel, uniforms, religious instruction and student behaviour would then be tested by the courts.

For the bill to pass will require compromise. Labor has been reported as saying it won’t support the Government’s amendments.

The Australian reports Senator Stirling Griff from the Centre Alliance as saying, “Our position was we needed time to properly evaluate the proposed amendments and if we couldn’t do in short time, refer to inquiry. We are keen like all to have this dealt with prior to break and are close to finalising our support on an amendment.”

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