Why the PM's religious discrimination bill has been shelved: 'Sham'

The government’s controversial religious discrimination laws have failed to make it through the Senate with them now unlikely to pass before the federal election.

Debate in the Lower House on the package finished just before 5am on Thursday morning.

Leader of the Opposition Anthony Albanese told parliament “no student should be discriminated against because of who they are”.

Labor supported the bill with amendments made to protect transgender people. Those amendments passed after five Liberals crossed the floor.

Girls in school uniform are pictured.
Amendments were made to the religious discrimination billl to protect transgender students. Source: Getty Images (file pic)

But a motion required to give approval for the bills to be debated so soon after they were introduced for consideration failed to go through the Senate on Thursday.

Moderate Liberal Andrew Bragg indicated he was prepared to cross the Senate floor to uphold the amendments.

"That is the policy of our government and that's what I want to see," he said.

"But I also want to see discrimination eliminated against students and teachers in schools."

Many MPs had cited concerns about it. Federal Labor MP Stephen Jones spoke of his concerns about the bill in parliament earlier this week after his nephew took his own life.

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie earlier told the Today show she would not be voting for it while NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, a Liberal, said he didn’t believe the legislation was necessary.

The bill is expected to be sent to another inquiry that will investigate the consequences of the amendments, which scrap protections for religious schools being able to discriminate against students on the basis of gender identity.

Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg in the Senate chamber at Parliament House in Canberra.
Liberal Senator Andrew Bragg in the Senate chamber said he wanted to see discrimination eliminated in schools. Source: AAP

Concerns over amended religious bill

Conservative MPs expressed concerns about what the provision's removal would mean for same-sex schools trying to accommodate transgender children.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash refused to confirm whether the government will bring it back for debate before the election.

She told parliament the government was committed to protecting people of faith from discrimination.

Senator Cash also took aim at non-government amendments that passed the House of Representatives early Thursday morning after five Liberal MPs crossed the floor.

"Do you know what happens when you rush something, and don't consider the consequences? You can make mistakes," she told the chamber.

"(The amendments) have the potential impact of increasing the grounds of discrimination against students."

The Senator claimed she was “overwhelmed with calls” about the amendments.

Greens Senator Janet Rice called it a “sham bill” and “a product of right-wing culture wars”.

Australian Christian Lobby national director of politics Wendy Francis said the bill should be withdrawn due to the changed position.

She told AAP the lobby has been in touch with all government senators.

"The rights of religious schools in this country will be significantly diminished if this passes," she said.

"Taking away protections for Christian schools is a price too high to pay for the passage of the religious discrimination bill."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison looks on during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House as the religious discrimination bill was stalled in the Senate.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Coalition suffered another blow with the religious discrimination bill unlikely to be mentioned until after the election. Source: Getty Images

Stalled bill an election blow for PM

LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Australia called for the Senate to approve amendments preventing existing anti-discrimination laws being overridden.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher said Thursday's disarray showed the government failed to appropriately consult on the legislation despite Labor supporting the principle of religious protections.

"We said from the get-go we were keen on and supportive of a bill to ensure religious protection ... but we also said it shouldn't come at the price of someone else's rights," she told the ABC.

"(But) the bill was not genuinely about bringing people together in the end, this prime minister used that as a weapon to politically campaign and wedge (and) that's really unfortunate."

The amendments come as a further blow to the Coalition ahead of the 2022 Federal Election.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison had promised religious leaders before the 2019 election of a bill which would protect religious freedoms.

But it is unlikely the bill will be broached again before the upcoming election with the focus now on the budget.

with AAP

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