13 Oct 2018

Aus PM changes tune on schools' right to ban gay students

1:23 pm on 13 October 2018

Non-government schools will be prevented from expelling gay students on the basis of their sexuality under new laws to be introduced in Australia.

Australia's incoming Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks at a press conference in Canberra on August 24, 2018 after a stunning Liberal party revolt instigated by hardline conservatives unseated moderate Malcolm Turnbull.

Photo: AFP

Prime Minister Scott Morrison previously said he had no plans to change the legislation.

After days of controversy over the leaked recommendations of a government review into religious protections, Mr Morrison announced the coalition would legislate to protect children from discrimination.

"Our government does not support expulsion of students from religious non-state schools on the basis of their sexuality.

"I also know that this view is widely shared by religious schools and communities across the country."

The prime minister said to address "anxiety" and "confusion", he would take action to ensure amendments were introduced as soon as possible to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality.

"I believe this view is shared across the Parliament and we should use the next fortnight to ensure this matter is addressed."

After last year's same-sex marriage debate, the coalition commissioned Liberal Party veteran Philip Ruddock to review religious protections to placate those who were concerned marriage changes would restrict the ability of individuals to practice their faith.

Leaked sections of the review were revealed in the media during the week and stoked debate about state laws that gave religious schools the power to reject gay students.

Some government insiders feared the issue could hurt the Liberal Party's prospects of holding the socially progressive seat of Wentworth, held by former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"Any changes in this area should always take into account the best interests of children..

"Given recent misreporting, we have an opportunity here to bring forward a simple amendment to end the confusion."

Mr Morrison's changes look set to have the support of Labor, after opposition leader Bill Shorten wrote to the prime minister on Friday.

Mr Shorten's letter offered Labor's support in passing a bill to amend the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 to remove the exemptions that allow religious schools to discriminate against children on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

"These exemptions are anachronistic and are a denial of the dignity of children at any time," Mr Shorten wrote.

Mr Shorten has also urged the prime minister to release the full religious freedom report.