The Australian – May 19, 2016
Joe Kelly – Political reporter
Labor will review the carve-outs in Australia’s anti-discrimination laws, with Bill Shorten leaving open the door to removing further exemptions for religious institutions.
The Opposition Leader also committed to extending funding for the contentious Safe Schools program beyond 2017 while providing no solid defence of religious freedoms amid a fresh push to tighten anti-discrimination measures.
While the Greens this week tied themselves to a termination of the religious exemptions in the national anti-discrimination framework, Labor’s own policy platform commits the party to a re-examination of the appropriateness of the existing carve-outs. The review leaves open the prospect of a Shorten-led Labor government winding back or even removing religious exemptions from Australia’s anti-discrimination laws.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman Mark Dreyfus suggested a strong approach would be taken on this issue. “Labor believes that no faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion,” Mr Dreyfus told The Australian.
“Condemning anyone, discriminating against anyone, vilifying anyone is a violation of the values we all share, a violation which can never be justified by anyone’s faith or belief.”
Asked last night if Labor supported or opposed removing the religious exemptions as per the Greens proposal, The Australian was referred by Bill Shorten’s office to the ALP platform, which argues the carve-outs must not prevent people from accessing “essential social services”.
No clear answer was given by Mr Shorten on whether he supported the removal of religious exemptions. When pressed on this issue on the campaign trail in Sydney, he said: “We do believe that people shouldn’t be discriminated against in their employment on the basis of the criteria which currently exist. So we are not as keen to just simply start changing everything, denying people their employment rights.”
The Safe Schools program triggered a conservative backlash for introducing students to the concept of gender fluidity and encouraging school kids as young as 11 to role-play being in same sex relationships.
Malcolm Turnbull ordered a review of the scheme this year following a revolt by a majority of the Coalition backbench, with Education Minister Simon Birmingham then limiting the program to secondary schools, removing inappropriate content and involving parents.
Yesterday the Prime Minister said the program had been modified to the extent there was more parental involvement and consent in it “which I think most parents would find reassuring’’.
“Labor and the Greens are heading in a trajectory of their own,’’ Mr Turnbull said.
Asked about the Safe Schools program yesterday, Mr Shorten confirmed Labor would continue to fund the scheme but did not say whether he would keep the heavy curtailments introduced by Senator Birmingham.