Having noted last night that ALP-sponsored amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) impacting religious freedom were set to be debated today (Wed 5 Dec) in the Senate, this is an update on the events of the morning. The situation, to put it mildly, has been fluid, but this seems to be where we are up to.
The Senate amendments
Before the mooted amending Bill could be debated at 11 am this morning, the Government moved and received approval for a motion bringing on for urgent consideration a number of other Bills, which meant that the debate on the SDA amendments did not proceed. Comments from some cross-bench senators in Centre Alliance suggested that they were persuaded that more time needed to be given to the proposed changes. This would seem to mean that the Senate version of the amendments (Senator Wong’s Private Senator’s Bill) will not be further debated this year, and will perhaps be referred to a committee for further consideration.
Possible Government Bill in the House
Almost immediately after these events, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, held a press conference in which he expressed his desire to deal urgently with the specific issue of same sex attracted students being expelled from religious schools (a practice which, as has been noted previously, is not actually happening.) The Prime Minister offered to put forward a limited Bill which would seem to have reflected some of the Government amendments in the Senate:
- the repeal of s 38(3) of the SDA;
- recognition of religious freedom as a grounds for a “reasonable” policy to combat a claim of “indirect discrimination”; and
- a specific provision noting that teaching in schools in accordance with religious beliefs of the schools, could not be made the subject of a discrimination claim.
He expressed the hope that this could proceed with agreement of the ALP, either as a Bill supported by both major parties, or on the basis of a possible conscience vote by all MP’s.
A short time ago the leader of the Opposition made it clear in a press conference (see here at 12:44 and 12:46) that the ALP would not be supporting either option.
So the current situation seems to be that the Senate amendments are not to be further debated this year (there is only one more sitting day before the Christmas/ New Year break), and proposals for a Bill in the House of Representatives will also not go ahead.
Readers of this blog may be interested, however, to note that the Prime Minister in his press conference indicated that the Government response to the Ruddock Report (presumably along with the Report itself) will be released before the end of the year.