Asked whether LGBTIQ students would be protected before the election, Senator Stoker said: “We are trying to make it happen and I expect we will make it happen but I’m not going to sign it in blood for you.”
Senator Stoker said the government was “prepared to legislate to ensure that no gay child faces expulsion on the basis of their sexuality” but questioned whether the straight repeal of s38(3) was the correct approach.
“If you just take out section 38 carte blanche, without having regard to all of the other things that provision does, you could have a bunch of unintended consequences and we don’t want to see that,” she said.
The uncertainty within the government over the best way forward comes as two federal parliamentary inquiries into the bill will hand down their findings on Friday.
The flagged amendment is a major departure from the government’s public position until now. Originally, the Coalition insisted the best avenue for addressing the potential repeal of the Sex Discrimination Act exemptions was through a 12-month review by the Australian Law Reform Commission after the passage of the religious discrimination bill.
A number of moderate Liberal MPs – including Dave Sharma, Katie Allen, Fiona Martin and Angie Bell – are pushing for the s38(3) provision to be immediately scrapped, but it remains unclear whether the amendment will involve the full repeal of the section.
Several Liberals indicated the repeal of s38(3) would not be enough to win their support for the bill.
Mr Sharma said he had made clear that discrimination against teachers on the same basis must also be addressed as well as his concerns about the wide scope of the “statement of belief” provisions.
Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer said she had serious concerns about the intent of the bill to “explicitly override Tasmania’s gold-standard anti-discrimination laws”.
“As I have said previously, while I agree there should be freedom from discrimination on any attribute including religion, I’m not prepared to stand by and see our state laws eroded to privilege one group over another,” she said.
The confirmation of the amendment by the Prime Minister on Thursday surprised some moderates, as other options had been floated by Mr Morrison’s office in recent days including truncating the timeline for the ALRC review to six months.
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