Australia shelves ‘dangerous, divisive’ Religious Discrimination Bill in ‘incredible’ U-turn

Scott Morrison

Australia’s Liberal–National Coalition has shelved its anti-LGBT+ Religious Discrimination Bill, and advocates hope it has been “stopped for good”.

The bill, introduced last November, would allow faith-based organisations including schools, churches and workplaces to discriminate against protected groups, including LGBT+ folk.

Initially, the only limitations were that their “statements of belief” could not “threaten, intimidate, harass or vilify a person or group”, but this week prime minister Scott Morrison backtracked and announced that the bill would no longer allow for kids to be expelled from Australia’s schools because of their sexual orientation.

These amendments were passed in the early hours of Thursday (10 February), after the House of Representatives had completed a gruelling all-night sitting, and after five Liberal MPs crossed the floor and backed protecting queer students.

Although the bill would still have allowed for trans kids to be expelled, and for LGBT+ children and adults to be subjected to other kinds of discrimination, the concession by Morrison outraged the bill’s supporters.

According to The Guardian, the passing of the amendments meant that the bill would head to the Senate, but anti-LGBT+ lobbyists have now demanded that it is withdrawn because it would “remove protections for Christian schools”.

The Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis said in a statement that the bill had been “gutted” by the amendments to protect LGB+ kids, adding: “Taking away protections for Christian schools is a price too high to pay for the passage of the Religious Discrimination Bill… With the amendments so damaging to religious freedom, the government should immediately withdraw the bill.”

Although the Religious Discrimination Bill could still make its way to the Senate, it has been stopped in tracks for now, with advocates hoping this is “for good”.

Equality Australia said in a statement: “It’s been a difficult few weeks, particularly for trans young people and queer people of faith, as our lives have once again been the subject of intense media scrutiny and political debate.

“But, in promising news, today we’ve had a win. Together, our efforts have stopped the Religious Discrimination Bill becoming law, and we hope for good.”

The LGBT+ rights organisation added: “The Morrison government today is reported to have shelved its dangerous, divisive bill indefinitely after five government MPs crossed the floor and joined Labor, the Greens and the crossbench to vote against the Government and in support of trans and gay kids.

“It’s uncertain what the future of the Religious Discrimination Bill will be, but for now our community should take heart from this incredible result. Every single one of us, no matter who we are, whom we love or what we believe, deserves to live with dignity and respect.

“Today we reflect on how far we’ve come, tomorrow, we’ll continue to work until we are all equal.”