News

Discrimination to continue

By Tara Whitsed

A long-awaited review into religious freedoms in Australia does not recommend any changes to the basis on which faith-based schools can reject students or teachers, the attorney-general has confirmed.

Some states — but not all — already allow schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status.

But Goulburn Valley Pride secretary Damien Stevens said the findings, nonetheless, were not in the best interest of children and were likely to add to the already unacceptably high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among young LGBTIQ people.

‘‘All schools should have some relationship to representing the broader Australian society,’’ Mr Stevens said.

‘‘If religious schools are permitted to exclude LGBTIQ children from their schools, around one third of Australians will continue not to have any natural connection with LGBTIQ people, potentially ingraining homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Australian society indefinitely.’’

The comments come after a Fairfax Media report suggested the religious freedoms review recommended the right be enshrined in the federal Sex Discrimination Act to ensure a consistent national approach.

The review’s panel, chaired by former Liberal minister Phillip Ruddock, said it accepted the right of schools to select or preference students who uphold their religious convictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison played down the proposal on Wednesday and said such exemptions to anti-discrimination laws already existed.

‘‘We’re not proposing to change that law to take away that existing arrangement,’’ he told reporters.

Attorney-General Christian Porter later clarified that no changes to the current arrangement, created by Labor in 2013, are proposed in the report.

But Mr Stevens pointed out that the report’s findings had coincided with a Federal Government push for a productivity commission review into mental health programs in Australia, conflicting its message.

‘‘On the one hand, the Federal Government is seeking to improve mental health outcomes, and on the other proposes to implement policies that will continue to create mental health issues within the LGBTIQ community and in particular younger LGBTIQ people,’’ Mr Stevens said.

‘‘LGBTIQ people suffer a significantly higher rate of mental health issues, leading to dramatically higher self-harm and suicide rates than the general population.’’

Opposition leader Bill Shorten said he couldn’t believe the prime minister hadn’t ruled out the ‘‘silly’’ idea completely.

‘‘The fact is every child is entitled to human dignity. We shouldn’t even be having this debate,’’ Mr Shorten said, demanding the government release the report.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Labor’s concerns about discrimination against children were jumping the gun, insisting the government would ‘‘get the balance right’’ and leave existing laws untouched.

The Ruddock review was commissioned after the 2017 national same-sex marriage vote and handed to the government several months ago, but is yet to be released.

The panel reportedly did not accept that businesses should be allowed to refuse services on religious grounds, such as denying a gay couple a wedding cake.

The review also found civil celebrants should not be entitled to refuse to conduct same-sex weddings if they became celebrants after it was was legalised, Fairfax Media reported.

— with AAP