A Senate inquiry has recommended that parliament reject a bill seeking to remove exemptions for religious schools from the Sex Discrimination Act.
Instead, it has said that the Australian Law Reform Commission should fully and properly consider matters relating to religious schools and anti-discrimination law.
The recommendations come after a five-member delegation from the Catholic Church, led by Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge, urged a Senate Committee to allow issues relating to students to be considered not in isolation, but within the context of other discussions occurring around religious freedom.
The Senate Committee was tasked with receiving submissions and testimonies relating to the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill, which was introduced into federal parliament late last year by Senator Penny Wong.
Proponents of the bill argued that it would protect students from being expelled or otherwise discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
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However concerns were raised that the effect of the bill would be to limit what schools could teach about marriage and family. At the hearings, Archbishop Coleridge refuted allegations that Catholic schools unjustly discriminate against students on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.
“It’s simply not true—it doesn’t happen,” he told the Committee. “Suggestions that they do, at times driven more by ideology than by facts, it would seem to me, have misrepresented and undermined the work of Catholic schools and caused needless anxiety in the community.”
Archbishop Coleridge cautioned the Committee against hastily passing a piece of legislation that could have unintended consequences for faith-based schooling in Australia.
“Our preference would be very strongly to set this particular issue about the treatment of students in schools within the much larger context which helps us to understand the implications of any decisions which we or the parliament may make,” he said.
The majority of the Committee appeared to agree, recommending that the bill not be passed and that the matter be referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission.
With only a handful of parliamentary sitting days remaining in this term, it is not anticipated that the bill will be dealt with until after the federal election.