The Morrison government has refused to commit to ending discrimination against teachers in religious schools, as it struggles to deal with the fallout from the leak of the Liberals’ “Religious Freedoms Review”.
The review was commissioned by Turnbull in November 2017 to placate the hard right of the Liberal Party in the lead up to the introduction of Marriage Equality. The Liberals under Turnbull and then Morrison sat on the report for months, likely wary of a public backlash.
The report recommended amending the federal Sex Discrimination Act to allow religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.
This discrimination is already in place in some, but not all states—a fact that has surprised many people. Enshrining it federally would undermine the rights of teachers and students in states like Tasmania with existing protections.
It would also send a message to schools across the country that discrimination is legitimate.
Community outrage following the leak of the report forced Morrison to backtrack. With three days he had promised to amend the law to stop schools from discriminating against students.
Bill Shorten has called for further changes and an end to discrimination against LGBTI teachers as well, signalling that Labor will support The Greens’ bill to remove all discrimination.
However, some in the right of the ALP are calling for changes to the bill which preserve school “ethos”—which could let discrimination in the back door.
It is encouraging that the Independent Education Union (IEU) has publicly opposed discrimination.
This is particularly important in the wake of letter from 34 Anglican schools in NSW urging Federal MPs to protect their right to sack LGBTI teachers. Thousands of current and former students have already signed a petition opposing this bigotry.
Safe Schools and marriage equality
Last year ordinary people voted overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality—but the religious freedoms review is a reminder that homophobia and transphobia are alive and kicking. Less than a week into his prime ministership Morrison was banging the Safe Schools drum and attacking a Victorian school program that trains teachers to help trans kids, tweeting “We do not need ‘gender whisperers’ in our schools.”
The Marriage equality campaign missed an opportunity when it refused to publicly defend Safe Schools and trans rights.
The fight to end religious discrimination in schools is a new opportunity to go on the front foot.
We need to fight to end all discrimination against teachers and students, and reintroduce the Safe Schools program.
By Geraldine Fela