Religious Discrimination Bill “shelved indefinitely” but protests to go ahead

The Religious Discrimination Bill has been shelved, at least for now, but protests - such as this earlier rally in Sydney - will go ahead this weekend. Photo: Community Action for Rainbow Rights/Facebook.

By TILEAH DOBSON

While the Religious Discrimination Bill has been shelved indefinitely, thus leaving a Morrison Government election promise unfulfilled, planned protests against the bill this weekend will still go ahead.

After parliamentary debate went into the wee hours to dawn yesterday, the government lost its legislative majority with five Liberals crossing the floor to join Labor and the crossbench. The move followed a dramatic showdown over an amendment to protect transgender students from discrimination.

While it’s not unusual for Liberal politicians to cross the floor, it is highly unusual to have five do so at once.

The five were Katie Allen (Member for Higgins), Bridget Archer (Bass), Fiona Martin (Reid), Dave Sharma (Wentworth) and Trent Zimmerman (North Sydney). Speaking later on social media, Sharma said: “I was proud to cross the floor this morning with [five] of my Liberal colleagues to remove provisions that allowed discrimination against LGBTQ+ children. We must protect all our LGBT community, this is particularly true where children are involved.”

In its latest iteration, the Religious Discrimination Bill aimed to protect students from discrimination based on their sexual orientation at religious institutions, such as schools. While on the surface, this seemed to be a positive development, it still allowed discrimination against students with different gender orientations, such as transgender, non-binary or genderfluid.

Despite the public backlash from politicians, the media and the public, the Morrison Government continued to try and push it through.

The five Liberal MPs who crossed the floor to join Labor and the crossbench supported independent MP Rebekha Sharkie’s proposed amendment to abolish religious institutions’ right to discriminate against gay and transgender students.

Member for Wentworth Dave Sharma said: “We must protect all our LGBT community, this is particularly true where children are involved.” Photo: GetUp!/Facebook.

Liberal MP Trent Zimmerman, who represents North Sydney and is one of the openly LGBTIQ+ members of parliament, said he felt compelled to side with the opposition against his party.

“It’s an opportunity that I can’t let go past. I could not live with myself if I didn’t seek to address those issues,” Zimmerman told parliament.

The bill passed through the House of Representatives with Sharkie’s amendment at 65-59 votes, with the next stop being the Senate. However, Coalition sources have confirmed the government is highly unlikely to bring it back for debate when the Senate next sits in March.

Senator for Tasmania Jacqui Lambie has suggested that if the bill were debated in the Senate, it would receive backlash.

“I will not be voting for it,” Lambie stated emphatically.

Outside federal parliament, state premiers across the country have spoken out against the controversial bill, including Victoria’s Premier Dan Andrews.

“I want every Victorian to be confident, safe, respected, (and) included for who they are,” Andrews said.

Prominent figures such as former Australian Medical Association (AMA) president Dr Kerryn Phelps have condemned the bill. Photo: Dr Kerryn Phelps/Facebook.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet was also against the bill, stating that it wasn’t needed.

“I’ve said from the outset when I was previously the Treasurer, when this bill was introduced, that I don’t believe it’s necessary to have this legislation,” Perrottet said.

“We haven’t needed it for over 100 years and I think in many ways it might create more problems than it’s trying to solve.”

Despite the bill being placed on hold, organised protests against the bill will still go ahead across the country this weekend.

Tomorrow’s protest in Sydney will start at 1pm at Sydney Town Hall. Over 400 people have responded with ‘going’ on Facebook alone, with almost 1,000 more indicating they were ‘interested’ in attending.

Protests are also scheduled for Adelaide, Perth and other cities.

Tileah Dobson is the news and queer editor of the Sydney Sentinel.

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