Australia’s PM Scott Morrison backtracks on controversial plans to discriminate against gay students

Australian prime minister Scott Morrison give speech

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has backtracked on comments he made about a potential new law which could see gay students discriminated against by religious schools.

The controversy began earlier this week when reports surfaced about a government commissioned report on religious freedom which suggested that the current law should be reformed to allow religious schools to turn gay students away on the basis of their sexuality.

Morrison initially responded to the controversy by saying that schools should be run in line with their religious principles.

(Stefan Postles/Getty)

However, speaking to Sky News on Thursday, Morrison said that he would “happily take the criticism” for not ruling out sexuality as a grounds for discrimination of students sooner.

He added that he was “not comfortable” with the idea of religious schools turning gay students away, and accused Fairfax Media, which first reported the recommendation, of misrepresenting the report.

While the full report has not yet been released, reports suggest that it recommends that the Australian government amend the Sex Discrimination Act to provide “that religious schools may discriminate in relation to students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.”

The Sex Discrimination Act currently makes it illegal to discriminate against somebody on a number of grounds in Australia, however, religious bodies are exempt. Despite this, some states, including Tasmania and Queensland, have specific anti-discrimination laws in place which prohibit discrimination against students based on their sexuality.

Responding to the controversy, Morrison said that the report was focused on protecting the right to religious freedom, while at the same time not disrespecting the rights of others – including LGBT+ people.

He added that he doesn’t think someone should be “kicked out” of school “because they have a different sexuality to what might be believed to be the appropriate thing by a particular religious group.”

Earlier this week, LGBT+ campaigner Rodney Croome of Just.equal said that if a new law is introduced based on the report, it would “give new life to old prejudices.”

Mark Nolan/Getty

“There would be an upsurge in LGBTI students being excluded and teachers fired,” he added. “Mr Morrison has misled the nation by suggesting nothing will change.”

The full report—compiled by former Labor attorney general Philip Ruddock—has not yet been made public, and despite calls to publish it in advance of a byelection later this month, Morrison has said that the government plans to “deal with this by the end of the year.”

When Morrison became Prime Minister of Australia in August, many in the LGBT+ community were concerned, as he has been a vocal opponent to marriage equality, and has spoken out in favour of religious liberty.

Before getting the top position, Morrison addressed the marriage equality referendum in Australia, in which 61 percent of Australians voted in favour. He said that as many, if not more Australians, wanted to see laws introduced that would protect religious freedom.