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Speech: Discrimination Free Schools

Speeches in Parliament
Mehreen Faruqi 18 Oct 2018

I rise to speak on the Greens sex discrimination amendment bill, the Discrimination Free Schools Bill 2018, and I do so very proudly. This is the reason I joined the Greens. We do not accept discriminating against people on any basis. We will not accept and allow discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status, pregnancy or breastfeeding. The current act eliminates these discriminations as far as possible in areas of work, accommodation, education, the provision of goods and services, facilities, the disposal of land, the activities of clubs and the administration of Commonwealth laws and programs. But when it comes to religious education institutions, the law exempts them so they can discriminate against teachers, staff, students and their families. How is this even acceptable in 2018? That's why our bill removes these unfair and highly discriminatory exemptions that allow religious educational institutions to discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identification, marital status or pregnancy for both staff and students. I have to say a heartfelt thankyou to my colleague Senator Rice and her staff for the work they have done to bring this bill to debate in the Senate.

After the leaking of parts of the Ruddock review into religious freedoms, we found out the review will recommend that religious schools' ability to legally discriminate against LGBTIQ students and teachers in federal law will be reaffirmed and entrenched. Liberal Prime Minister Scott Morrison then promised to ensure protections for students against discrimination, but we have not yet seen hide nor hair of that bill. The cynic in me thinks that, yet again, this is a political ploy to try and hold on to Wentworth. As soon as the election is done and dusted, we won't hear much from them on this issue. Even in this political move, principle played very little part. If it had, we would have heard something from them on removing discrimination against teachers and staff in religious schools as well. It seems also that even the Labor Party can't fully make up their minds on whether religious schools should continue to discriminate against LGBTIQ teachers. They started off saying no. Then they said they want to have conversations. Then they said they want to see the submissions made to the review to understand why some schools want discrimination against LGBTIQ teachers to continue. Now it seems that they have joined us here in the real world.

Discrimination in schools is just plain wrong. It is bigotry, plain and simple. The idea that religious schools can do this, with billions of dollars in public money, is even more utterly offensive. We are a society committed to equality and acceptance. No school should be allowed to discriminate. Any school or organisation that chooses to accept public funding must also accept the secular values that come with it, or not a cent of public money should go to them. These views are horrifically out of step with community values, let alone basic decency. So don't tell us that this is complicated. This is pretty straightforward. It's an issue of justice, it's an issue of fairness, it's an issue of equality and it's an issue of respect. That is why it is so important that we are debating this bill today. The community needs to know that we stand with them, that we will stand up for basic rights of human dignity and respect and that all people are equal, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Let me be absolutely clear about another thing: no religious school, whether they're Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu or any other religion, should be allowed to discriminate. The laws that allowed them to do this—brought in by the Labor Party, with the support of the Liberals—need to be consigned to the history books. Australians are asking for this. The people are speaking with one voice on this. Nearly 80 per cent of respondents to a Galaxy poll are against exemptions for religious schools in LGBTIQ antidiscrimination law. For too long religious schools have been allowed exemptions from the rules that the rest of society actually follows. The Greens' bill would answer the overwhelming demand for this.

The government has indicated that it will bring a bill to remove the exemptions for students only. Of course, if it ever happens, it will be a huge thing for our LGBTIQ young people and their families, who at the moment receive the very public message that they are not accepted. Many will feel that they have to live their teenage years in silence and hide their identity for fear of being expelled. But what about the teachers? On what possible basis could we agree that it is okay to be fired or to be refused a job simply for who you are? The very existence of the right to discriminate is certainly enough to harm the students' mental health and sense of belonging in a society that is already hostile for young LGBTIQ people.

Laws that allow discrimination against teachers mean they're forced to live double lives and constantly worry about the risk of losing their job if they are outed. Look no further than the story of the Western Australian relief teacher, Craig Campbell, who was fired last year after the Baptist school he was teaching at found out he was gay. State laws made that perfectly legal. Around the world, the picture is pretty horrifying. Earlier this year, a primary school teacher in the US was fired after daring to post wedding pictures with her wife online. Time and time again, the government has capitulated to the interests of private and religious schools, handing them enormous amounts of public funding and entertaining their wish to discriminate. Let's show some leadership for once. Our schools should be places where social inequality and social injustice is actually undone, where all students are accepted and where staff are able to teach as themselves and instil in their students an appreciation for all people.

It is incredibly saddening that in 2018 we're still defending the most basic rights to nondiscrimination instead of putting our focus on how we include desperately needed acceptance and celebration of diversity in the curriculum of all schools in Australia. We must fight this backwards push with all our might and stand with students and teachers to remove all existing exemptions that allow religious schools to discriminate. I commend the bill to the house.


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