Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives. Picture: Gary Ramage
Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives. Picture: Gary Ramage

Morrison wants conscience vote on gay student bill

SCOTT Morrison is making an 11th hour bid to stop religious schools from being able to expel gay students after the bill was killed off in the Senate today.

But the last-ditch effort to pass the laws before Christmas is unlikely to succeed after Labor received legal advice that one of the government's proposed amendments could permit further "direct and indirect" discrimination against students.

Penny Wong reacts in the Senate. Picture: AAP
Penny Wong reacts in the Senate. Picture: AAP

The prime minister called on Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to allow his MPs to have a conscience vote on the matter today, vowing he would put his own bill before the lower house this afternoon.

Accusing Labor of making the matter a "political football", Mr Morrison nevertheless said he intended to deal with the issue today and would allow his own MPs a conscience vote.

Mr Morrison said his proposal would completely remove the ability to discriminate against students based on gender, sexual orientation, relationship status or pregnancy and insert a clarification that "nothing in the act prevents a religious school teaching in accordance with their own religious beliefs".

But Labor has received legal advice that the last amendment could in fact further permit "direct and indirect" discrimination against students in schools.

The amendment states any "teaching activity" will be legal if it "in good faith in accordance with the doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings of a particular religion or creed" and "is done by, or with the authority of, an educational institution that is conducted in accordance with those doctrines, tenets, beliefs or teachings".

"Teaching activity" would be defined very broadly to include "any kind of instruction of a student".

 

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants a conscience vote on the issue. Picture: Kym Smith
The Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants a conscience vote on the issue. Picture: Kym Smith

 

Barrister Mark Gibian SC has provided advice that "there can be little doubt" that the amendment "has the potential to permit discrimination against students in schools, both direct and indirect".

"Such a provision would permit any discrimination in the provision of instruction in an educational institution. For example, a teacher or school could provide inferior instruction to a student on the basis of the student's sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status or, indeed, exclude that student from instruction entirely," he advised.

"A teacher or school could, similarly, impose different or draconian instructional requirements on particular students for discriminatory reasons. The exemption would apply not only in the classroom, but to any kind of instruction."

Mr Morrison rejected Labor's concerns today, saying the bill should be "uncontentious".

"I'll suspend standing orders to bring that vote on and if the Labor Party and Bill Shorten are prepared to back this bill, we will vote for it today and we will get this done," Mr Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives. Picture: Gary Ramage
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten with Prime Minister Scott Morrison during Question Time in the House of Representatives. Picture: Gary Ramage

 

"So far, the Labor Party have not been prepared to agree to those three principles together and if they can't agree to do that, I'll make him another offer.

"I'm prepared to have this dealt with as a conscience issue in my party and if he's prepared to do the same thing, then where the parties have been unable to agree, let's take the parties out of it, Bill. Let's let the elected members of the House of Representatives just decide."

Mr Morrison said the Australian people expected parliament to pass the bill and "look after kids for who they are" but also "ensure that in this country, religious freedom still means something".



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