Speeches

Protecting LGBTIQ Canberrans from discrimination in schools

October 24, 2018

Thank you Madam Speaker.

Protecting LGBTIQ Canberrans from discrimination in our schools, and right across our community, is an important part of our role as representatives in this place.

I am proud to be part of a Labor Government that advocates for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, by creating an inclusive, progressive city for all of us to call home.

In recent weeks, national political headlines have been consumed with reports surrounding the Federal Government’s Religious Freedom Review and its recommendations.

After Australians said “Yes” to marriage equality in November last year, a group of conservative Parliamentarians and lobbyists pleaded with the then Turnbull Government to review religious freedoms in Australia.

The Religious Freedom Review was commissioned in a move by the Federal Coalition Government to pander to conservative Parliamentarians who feared marriage equality would impose restrictions on the practice of religion in Australia.

We have now seen parts of the Review’s Report, and unsurprisingly to most, it found that no one in Australia has had their rights to practice their religion impinged or removed as a result of Marriage Equality.

However, it is with disappointment and a level of disbelief, that two key recommendations from the Review were aimed at attacking LGBTIQ Australians and their families.

The recommendations I’m referring to from the Religious Freedom Review, have significant potential to cause harm to students, teachers and staff in schools here in Canberra, and right across Australia.

Recommendation 5 of the Review specifically seeks to discriminate against teachers and staff based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status. The report recommends, and I quote:
“The Commonwealth should amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to provide that religious schools can discriminate in relation to the employment of staff, and the engagement of contractors, on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status provided that:

  • The discrimination is founded in the precepts of the religion.
  • The school has a publicly available policy outlining its position in relation to the matter and explaining how the policy will be enforced.
  • The school provides a copy of the policy in writing to employees and contractors and prospective employees and contractors.”

The seventh recommendation of the Review continues the attack on LGBTIQ young people, by specifically seeking to discriminate against students. It states, and I quote:
The Commonwealth should 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 provided that:

  • The discrimination is founded in the precepts of the religion.
  • The school has a publicly available policy outlining its position in relation to the matter.
  • The school provides a copy of the policy in writing to prospective students and their parents at the time of enrolment and to existing students and their parents at any time the policy is updated.
  • The school has regard to the best interests of the child as the primary consideration in its conduct.”

If enacted in legislation, both of these recommendations will be hurtful and harmful to LGBTIQ Australians.

When discussing the Reviews recommendations, it is important to acknowledge that the current Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have both spoken out against these recommendations.

However, we know that the conservative wing of the Liberal Party, including the ACT’s Senator Zed Seselja, will continue to push for the changes intended by the recommendations.

That’s why it is important that all Members in this Assembly affirm their support for students and staff in Canberra, and ensure that ACT law protects LGBTIQ Canberrans from discrimination.

 

Madam Speaker, we know that Australians are opposed to laws that would allow religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers on the grounds of their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

A Fairfax-Ipsos survey found, and I quote,

“that 74 per cent of voters oppose laws to allow religious schools to select students and teachers based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.”

That is a clear indication that the Religious Freedom Review recommendations are not in line with the views and values that the majority of Australian voters hold.

The Canberra community does not support discriminating against the LGBTIQ community, and we, as their representatives, must also stand against it.

 

We know that LGBTIQ communities here and around the world have endured significant emotional stress and trauma over many decades.

I believe it’s important to recognise that while many of us are here today to stand up and advocate for LGBTIQ Canberrans, this isn’t an easy debate for many of those people to listen to.

We are all aware of the harm caused to LGBTIQ Australians as a result of the politicisation of the Marriage Equality Postal Survey last year.

Young people across the country, found themselves coming to terms with their identity and sexuality in the midst of a debate about whether they should be accepted based on the person who they love or may love in the future.

Other LGBTIQ people were subject to repeated judgement and were forced to prove why their love is equal to everyone else’s.

Despite the negativity surrounding the postal survey, Canberrans made sure their voices were heard.

An incredible 74 per cent of Canberrans recognised that all love is equal, and voted yes for equality.

Another example of Canberrans displaying pride and respect for the LGBTIQ community can be found in the petition I tabled in the Assembly in November 2017.

1483 Canberrans overwhelmingly supported schools respecting, welcoming and celebrating diversity and encouraging children to be themselves. 

Those petitioners called on the Assembly to support the Government's efforts to ensure all children are safe and supported at any school.

 

Canberrans have shown time and time again that they value an inclusive and diverse community, so today Members should represent their views and support this motion, that seeks to remove any discrimination against Canberra’s LGBTIQ students and teachers that exists within the law.

 

Madam Speaker, I’m proud to be part of a Labor Government that advocates for the rights of the LGBTIQ community, by creating an inclusive and progressive city for all of us to call home.

ACT Labor has a strong track record of advocating for, and protecting the rights of the LGBTIQ community, through;

  • Legislating Marriage Equality in 2013
  • Establishing an Office of LGBTIQ Affairs and establishing an ACT LGBTIQ Ministerial Advisory Council
  • Supporting teachers and families to foster safe and inclusive school environments
  • Most recently, our strong 2018-19 ACT Budget commitment of $2.6 million over 4 years for programs and grants to support the Canberra LGBTIQ community,

However, this motion relates to one area where we need to make an important change.

In a city that prides itself on being Australia’s most inclusive, we as Members need to ensure that ACT law protects Canberrans from discrimination in our schools.

Students should not face discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics.

 

Canberra’s schools must be free of discrimination in all forms.

The potential for discrimination towards LGBTIQ students as a result of our existing laws, does not provide a guarantee to families and the wider community that our schools will always be a safe and inclusive environment.

Regardless of whether students or staff have faced direct discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity of sex characteristics, the sheer fact that it could legally occur, is something we must seek to fix immediately.

 

Today this Assembly has the opportunity to call on the Federal Government to formally rule out the implementation of any recommendations that seek to discriminate against the people we represent.

As stated in the motion, we seek immediate, formal confirmation from the Federal Government that it will reject any Religious Freedom Review recommendation that enshrines or expands discrimination in the provision of education

Canberrans deserve to be confident that students, teachers and school staff can live their day to day lives in an inclusive and respectful environment.

Every Canberran has the right to be safe at work and our teachers are no exception.

Teachers in Canberra’s schools provide world class, quality education to set our young people up for life.

This ACT Labor Government values teachers right across the Territory’s education system and we are committed to providing them with the best support possible to do their valuable work.

In supporting our teachers, we must make sure that they are protected from discrimination in their workplace.

Members in this place cannot claim to respect and support teachers, while at the same time supporting the recommendation from the Religious Freedom Review.

To propose that an employee can be denied employment based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics is absolutely deplorable.

Discriminating on this basis is as unacceptable as any other form of discrimination.

As representatives of Canberra’s teachers, we in this place must take a stand against those in Federal Parliament and their lobbyist influencers, who are trying to stop teachers from educating our next generation of Australians.

Whether a teacher works in a Government, Non-Government, faith based or independent school, they should be valued for their commitment to providing education, and not degraded for their personal identity.

I value teachers for the work they do each and every day. I know my colleagues on this side also do, and I call on those opposite to join us by supporting all teachers irrespective of their sexuality, gender identity, or sex characteristics.

 

Madam Speaker, It is the responsibility of Governments to protect its citizens and I know this is something the ACT Labor Government is committed to.

I firmly believe that ACT Law needs to be reviewed and amended to remove any potential for harmful discrimination towards LGBTIQ Canberrans.

As a proud member of the LGBTIQ community, I believe it’s important for me to advocate for and represent other LGBTIQ Canberrans.

And as representatives of the Canberra community, we all have the responsibility to keep the ACT discrimination free.

This motion I have brought forward today is quite simple.

All Canberrans should be able to feel safe and included right across our city.

Young people in our schools should not face discrimination on any grounds.

Teachers and staff in our schools should be able to go to work without fear of discrimination in their workplace.

 

Canberra is proud to be Australia’s most progressive and inclusive city.

Therefore, we must ensure that ACT law protects LGBTIQ Canberrans from discrimination in our schools, and the wider community.

I hope that all Members will stand against discrimination by supporting this motion.

I commend the motion to the Assembly.