Richard Di Natale
Greens leader Richard Di Natale

Greens leader Richard Di Natale has announced plans to introduce a bill to scrap federal laws currently allowing religious schools to discriminate against gay students and teachers.

Leaked portions of the religious freedom review panel’s report, published by Fairfax Media, caused outrage on Wednesday for reportedly recommending changes to the federal Sex Discrimination Act explicitly enshrining the right for religious schools to discriminate against students and teachers on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison argued in response that the report’s recommendation was “not a change” because existing Australian law already allows religious schools to turn away gay teachers and students.

“We’re not proposing to change that law to take away that existing arrangement,” he said on Wednesday.

Di Natale said there is no need for the exemptions in modern Australian society and they should be scrapped.

“I don’t believe that people should be free to discriminate on the basis of gender or sexual orientation. We’re in the 21st century, not the 1950’s,” Di Natale told Sky News.

“The reality is we, as a secular nation, need to make a very clear statement about the values that we uphold. There shouldn’t be any exemptions.

“If people want to show that we uphold those secular values, then the way to do that is to abolish discrimination – wherever it occurs, within our community, in business and in our schools.”

The law in question is Section 38 of the federal Sex Discrimination Act, which currently gives religious schools an exemption on sexual orientation, gender identity and relationship status when the discrimination is “in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion or creed.”

Di Natale said the Greens would put forward an amendment to the legislation to stop discrimination “anywhere, anytime, any place.”

The Greens’ amendment will draw on international human rights agreements to which Australia is a signatory that protect all Australians from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Just.equal spokesperson Rodney Croome welcomed the commitment to a new federal law protecting LGBTI students and teachers.

“We welcome the Greens’ initiative because schools should be places of learning not breeding grounds of prejudice,” Croome said.

“Queensland discrimination law already protects students at religious schools from discrimination, while Tasmanian law protects students and teachers.

“These protections are also in place in many comparable countries including the UK, where they were enacted in 2000.”

Croome said he was concerned that the changes recommended by the review panel would conflict with existing state laws protecting LGBTIQ teachers and students.

“We must be bringing national law up to the higher standard set in Tasmania and Queensland rather than reducing it to the low standard in states like NSW and Victoria, as the Ruddock report recommends and Prime Minister seems determined to do.”

‘Strip discriminatory schools of funding’

Independent senator Derryn Hinch will move a notice of motion in the Senate on Monday calling for government funding to be stripped from private schools that discriminate against teachers or students on sexuality grounds.

“Schools cannot discriminate against a child or a teacher on the grounds of sexuality. It’s just immoral,” he said.

President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Mark Coleridge said Catholic schools welcomed staff and students from all backgrounds.

“We think all people should be considered equally for employment or enrolment,” he said.

“We have not sought concessions to discriminate against students or teachers based on their sexuality, gender identity or relationship status.”