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Scott Morrison’s religious freedom bill to protect gay students, staff from discrimination

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The Morrison government has pledged to protect gay students and staff from prejudice as part of a proposed religious discrimination law.

The Coalition party room unanimously endorsed the bill on Tuesday, but a number of Liberal MPs voiced concerns about what it could mean for gay students and teachers at faith-based schools and universities.

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In its third draft, the bill is designed to ensure freedoms for people to follow their faith.

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Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said there would be a carve out declaring no child should be “suspended or expelled from school on the basis of their sexuality or gender identity”.

The Prime Minister will personally introduce the bill in the House of Representatives on Thursday, with a vote on the cards next week.

If it passes, it will go to a Senate inquiry before becoming law.

Liberal moderates were concerned the bill would allow gay staff to be fired by religious-run schools, hospitals and aged-care facilities, and that students would be discriminated against from faith-based schools because of their sexual identity.

Senator Cash said the government had a fundamental belief that “discrimination against students is unacceptable”.

PM AND CASH PRESSER
Camera IconAttorney-General Senator Michaelia Cash says gay students will be protected should the religious discrimination bill pass. NCA NewsWire/Gary Ramage Credit: News Corp Australia

Last week, Senator Cash wrote to the Australian Law Reform Commission, clarifying the government’s “clear expectation that a student is not expelled from a school on the basis of their gender or sexual identity”, according to the Australian.

“I am writing to emphasise the government’s expectations that, in discharging its broader terms of reference for the review of religious exemptions in anti-discrimination law, the ALRC will provide detailed drafting to give effect to the government’s position stated above,” she said.

Senator’s Cash clarification is unlikely to be enough to allay concerns from human rights groups, who believe the bill overrides “existing protections for vulnerable groups”.

Greens LGBTIQA+ spokesperson Senator Janet Rice said the bill, despite now being in its third form, remained a “Trojan horse for hate”.

“Our laws should protect all of us equally. Morrison’s bill will do the opposite,” Senator Rice said.

“They Liberals are trying to increase discrimination, not reduce it.”

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