A 2019 Australian Federal Election Policy Guide

SECTION 12 

 

 

POLARISING ISSUES (5 OF 8)

 

 

LGBTIQ+ RIGHTS AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION

Source https://swassets.visitcanberra.com.au/atdw/0002/19/thumb_118407_atdw_gallery.jpeg

DISCLAIMER :  People may think I  should be silent on this issue. I have no 'skin in the game' because I am 'straight' and my Buddhist 'religion'- if you want to call it a religion- takes an all encompassing, all welcome attitude towards inter-personal relationships including a person's sexuality. Therefore, l should keep silent and listen to those directly living with what comes down to a 'discrimination' issue, no matter how you frame it. 

 

We discriminate all the time: People who break social mores are subject to established laws. We call them 'criminals' and put them in jail and do our best to keep the 'innocent' out. However, when we use our discretionary powers to pick out certain groups of human beings, put an LGBTIQ+ label on them, and subject them to different laws and restrictions that we would not accept for ourselves, and for no good reason, there is no social justice in that, no values system espousing "love" as a central tenant can defend.

 

Imagine a school rejecting children on the basis that they are Christian, Jewish, Muslim. Or a bakery refusing to make a wedding cake for a 'straight' couple; Or an employment interview panel rejecting an applicant wearing a christian cross on a chain around her neck; Or a teacher being dismissed for repeatedly having his bible on his desk in the classroom.  Wouldn't happen, would it ?  

 

I have famlly members who (if forced to put a label on themselves) would identify with one of the so called  LGBTIQ+ groups. They tell me they are involuntarily caught up in a public debate about their lives which others would never tolerate for themselves.

 

For my two cents, i beleive It is a damaging, often purile "debate" based on unhinged  discrimination, abusive intent and sometimes frightening behaviour. 

 

No-one asks me who I sleep with before making me a wedding cake, offering me a job, registering my grand-children (if i ever have any) at their school or putting me in an ambulance if i get caught up in car accident. There is something very wrong wiith this "debate". It harms people for no good reason. 

 

Christian institutions, in particular, are claiming their right to freedom of religion and freedom of association are being discriminated against and encroached upon by LBGTIQ+ people and their supporters. Christian institutions might claim that they are defending themselves against hateful allegations of homophobia. At the same time, -with Christian love- they appear to be hanging on grimly to one of the vast threads of institutionalised discrimination that pervade the lived experiences of selected human beings. What do i know, I'm not an LGBTIQ+ labelled person living with it in my face 24/7.  

Source: https://media.apnarm.net.au/media/images/2017/12/06/b881121718z1_20171206182116_000gubt77t33-0-wjwz6r7to9k2ngctdp2_fct2249x1687x202_t460.jpg

BACKGROUND

 

Former Justice MICHAEL KIRBY 

 

One person who has lived with being  'gay' all his life is former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. A good place to begin to understand this subject is to be silent and let someone who lives with this issue 24/7 introduce the issue, verbatim.

 

 

Michael Kirby 

 

 

 

 

Jury still out: Does Scott Morrison love gays?

 

Following the passage of laws to allow same-sex marriage in Australia, important opponents of same-sex marriage in the Federal Parliament called for the enactment of new federal laws (and the amendment of present laws) to counter “the creeping encroachment from the State on religious beliefs” and “the use of political correctness to marginalise and silence the religious perspective” and to respond to a supposed modern “problem” arising “where religious freedom rubs against laws written to protect other rights”.

 

To respond to these views, the Turnbull government established an advisory committee to provide a report on reforms that might be needed to better protect religious freedom in Australia in the federal sphere. The report was provided to the Turnbull government on May 18 2018.

 

None of the members of the panel charged with reporting on the subject identified publicly as LGBTIQ+. Most, if not all of the members had known associations with Christian or Jewish religious traditions or beliefs. No committed rationalist, secularist or non-believer was involved.

 

The issue has become more sensitive to the LGBTIQ population of Australia following the removal of Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister and the appointment of Scott Morrison.

 

Following his appointment, Mr Morrison promised immediately to change Australian laws to further protect “religious freedom”. He suggested that new laws were needed “to safeguard personal liberty”.

 

He reportedly indicated that he would act “on calls from church groups and others to enshrine religious freedom in the law, adding that public schools in Australia should not curb Christian traditions. He said, “

 

That’s our culture.There’s nothing wrong with that. The narcs can leave those things alone.”

 

The new Prime Minister, himself an active adherent to a pentecostal denomination of Christianity, suggested that “religious freedom” was in need of new legal defences.

 

The anxiety will not have been diminished by the reported statements, attributed to Mr Morrison in an early radio interview as Prime Minister,

 

that a Victorian schools program about teen sexuality made his “skin curl”;

 

that instruction on building “respectful relationships” was simply “a fancy word for Safe Schools”;

 

that public schools should be “focused on things like learning maths and science”; and inferentially they should not teach values of respecting diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.

 

While not supporting the discredited procedure of “gay conversion therapy” our Prime Minister, in answer to media questions, refused to condemn the procedure stating that he had “never really thought about it”. He said that he “respected people of all sexualities”.

 

The Prime Minister’s choice of a Baptist religious private schools for his daughters is, of course, a matter for him and his wife, doubtless in discussion with the daughters. However, there appear to be resonances in his reported statement of the old approach to sexual orientation and gender identity in Australia.

 

That approach, at least during the time I was growing up, knew scientifically that there were LGBTIQ people, including children, in our world and in our country and its schools. It knew that they were subject to harsh criminal laws. However, such people basically were left alone so long as they were completely silent about their reality; basically ashamed of it; and willing always to pretend that their reality was different. That they were straight, heterosexual.

 

This was the world of silence in school about anything that could make a gay child’s reality open and understood by teachers and fellow students. And by themselves. That silence was the coin in which was paid a fee for being left alone. For avoiding causing “skin curling” to those who were heterosexual and did not like to be reminded that a minority were not.

 

It has to be said quite bluntly to our new Prime Minister, that from national leaders, leadership is expected. Such leadership must be based, eventually, on scientific truth and rational understanding. To be unaware of “gay conversion therapy” and the victims it has caused throughout the world, is not good enough. Certainly, it cannot last as an excuse for not thinking about the issue for very long.

 

To forbid any reference in school to respecting sexual and other minorities may be acceptable in Baptist schools, although I doubt it. The essential message of all religions is love for one another. That is why I welcomed Prime Minister Morrison’s identification with that message as a badge of his political program. But the jury is still out on whether he really does “love” LGBTIQ citizens. Or simply knows that they exist and tolerates them, because he has no choice and so long as they remain silent.

 

No laws on “religious freedom” should be accepted in Australia which allow people, on the basis of their religion, to isolate, denigrate and humiliate minorities. Whether those minorities are indigenous, racial, gender based, religious, disabled or gay Australians. If that means a bit of “skin curling” for certain religious Australians who have not given enough thought to these issues, so be it.

 

 Looking back on the great changes that have occurred in my lifetime on gay rights, they can make us optimistic; but also impatient to complete the changes. Whether institutionalised disgust and contempt will be lifted or whether “blood curling” will delay that process, is the question.

 

The answer depends on all of us. In the end our blood will curl when we look back on these present times and times earlier and think of how we have treated LGBTIQ citizens and LGBTIQ human beings. And especially the children and the weak and the vulnerable. And of how long it took us to realise how wrong the old ways were and how our blood was curling for so very long for the wrong reasons. 

 

 

 

Source: Michael Kirby. Jury still out: Does Scott Morrison love gays? 30 September. Sydney Morning Herald. https://www.smh.com.au/national/jury-still-out-does-scott-morrison-love-gays-20180930-p506x8.html

This is what freedom of religion advocate Rowan Dean had to say about LGBTIQ+ people in a newspaper tirade

 

 

“To play identity politics, you have to have a full house of as many ‘diverse’ and ‘inclusive’ identities as you possibly can in your hand at any one time. The gayer, more leftie, more gender-fluid, more racially colourful the better. For a royal flush, you need five LGBTIQ cards in your hand — including a queen, obviously. Alternatively, you can play with two of a kind: two gays and two greenies. Or perhaps a Muslim, an indigenous Aussie, a transgender and an ecowarrior. Take your pick. The only hand you dare not play is a set of straight whites.”

 

Source: Rowan Dean. Cited in Charlie Lewis. Pinpointing the exact moment Rowan Dean lost his mind: a Crikey investigation AUG 22, 2017 Crikey https://www.crikey.com.au/2017/08/22/how-rowan-dean-went-from-from-standard-conservative-to-maniacal-right-winger/

 

 

 

 

LGBTIQ+ STUDENT RIGHTS AND FREEDOM OF RELIGION

 

 

In October 2018, the ABCs Matthew Doran reported leaked religious freedom panel recommendations which were presented to the Government in May.

 

Members of the religious freedoms panel included Christian Phillip Ruddock, Human Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher, former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett and Australian Jesuit priest Frank Brennan.

 

--Central to the recommendations was formalising the ability for religious schools to turn away gay students on a consistent national scale.

 

--The legislative provisions allowing religious schools to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or relationship status would be made consistent around the country.

 

--Schools would have to publicly outline their policy on the matter, and the measures could only be used in expelling current students if their parents were warned of the school's policy prior to enrolment.

 

Special Minister of State, Alex Hawke described allowing religious schools to discriminate against students as an "absolutely" acceptable proposal.

 

"I don't think it's controversial in Australia that people expect religious schools to teach the practice of their faith and their religion, That's the point of a religious school, and in Australia you have choice of schooling — you have the public system, you have the private and independent system, and you have religious and faith-based schools."

 

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek says this was a "disturbing proposition".

 

In the last sitting week of Parliament in December 2018, Prime Minister presented a ‘Bill’ on the issue, previously unsighted and unheard of, and demanded Labor accept this Bill and pass it before the end of the sitting week.

 

Labor rejected the Morrison bill on the grounds that it would exchange one form of discrimination for another.

 

After the Parliament had risen for the year, the Prime Minister announced on December 13th a proposal for a dedicated Religious Discrimination Act to the next election.

 

He also announced that the federal Coalition

 

• has accepted around 15 of the 20 recommendations of the review, including a dedicated piece of legislation to enshrine protections for religion.

 

Another Morrison proposal for a Religious Discrimination Commissioner to handle religious discrimination complaints was not recommended by the Ruddock review.

 

The Prime Minister's language when announcing this new policy was precise and targeted — he was keen to argue it was central to Australia's multicultural identity.

 

Mr Morrison pointed out that religious belief is higher among some migrant groups.

 

"If you support a multicultural Australia, you'll be a supporter of religious freedoms. You'll understand that religious faith is synonymous with so many different ethnic cultures in Australia. Seventy per cent of Australians identify as having a particular religious belief. Much has been made of the fact that the 30 per cent of those who don't has been growing. That's a description of the diversity that exists in Australian society. If you look at some of our largest, our most long-established, as well as some of our most recent arrivals to Australia, the proportion of those in those communities expressing an identification with a religious belief is far higher." 

 

 

A Political Football ?

 

One of the ironies of these Morrison announcements about a ‘Religious Discrimination Act’ and the appointment of a ‘Religious Freedom Commissioner’ is that these are no more than proposals which would not be put into place or defined clearly for the voting public until after the 2019 election.

 

The same ‘kick the can into the long grass’ approach was apparent in the Governments’ announcement that it would

 

“continue to consult with the states and territories on the five recommendations it has yet to agree to”.

 

These five outstanding recommendation matters would also be “referred to the Australian Law Reform Commission for advice due in the second half of 2019".

 

One of those five issues, how to deal with potential discrimination against LGBTIQ+ students at religious schools from discrimination, will not be finally resolved until at least ‘"the second half of 2019"’, long after the 2019 federal election.

 

On Friday December 14th, ABC report Patricia Karvelas reported

 

“There is despair from some MPs who say with the federal election so close and the Government so on the nose with voters, the last thing they need is a polarising and divisive debate about religious freedom”.

 

The Prime Minister sought to frame the debate away from legislation which would appease conservative white Christians will to further entrench the legal right to discriminate against LGBTIQ+  people in schools, bakeries, wedding planners businesses and many other sites.

 

Rather, the Prime Minister was very keen to reframe this reality as a debate about ‘national diversity’ and ‘religious freedom’, citing ABS statistics showing 70 percent of Australians claim attachment to some form of ‘religion’.

 

Australian Labor Party Policy

 

Labor has been careful and strategic in its response, avoiding rebuking the Prime Ministers proposal.

 

Instead Labor continue to argue the urgency of the protection of gay students. Labor will not oppose the concept of a religious freedom act per se but strategists say the devil will be in the detail.

 

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten attempted to neutralise the issue of religious freedom by stating he is open to the idea of a Religious Freedom Act.

 

This careful approach may be due to the electorate reality that the high proportion of people who voted no in the same-sex marriage plebiscite in Labor-held seats in western Sydney.

 

There were 17 no-voting electorates in Australia, all with a significant immigrant and ethnic diversity presence. Twelve were in western Sydney with nine of those twelve held by Labor MPs.

 

HOW TO MAKE A PRIME MINISTER'S "SKIN CURL" 

 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says a public school program aimed at reducing rates of sexual assault and gender-based violence makes his "skin curl" and is part of the reason he sends his daughters to a Sydney private school. He was being interviewed by  conservative mouth peice Alan Jones' on a 2GB radio program when he made the comments. 

 

Mr Morrison went on to say that a scenario --aimed at year 9 students that is part of the Building Respectful Relationships program taught in Victorian government schools and involves a 17-year-old bisexual woman who has had 15 sexual partners-- does not meet his

 

"values".It's not happening in the school I send my kids to and that's one of the reasons I send them there ... they're at an independent Baptist school. I don't want the values of others being imposed on my children in my school and I don't think that should be happening in a public school or a private school. When it comes to public schools, as you know they're run by the state governments, but how about we just have state schools that focus on things like learning maths, learning science and learning English?"

 

The scenario is an optional case study within the Victorian government's Respectful Relationships program that is also implemented at Catholic and private schools. It is part of a broader unit on "domestic violence and sexual assault in the context of power, social and institutional structures, and young people's lives" within the Building Respectful Relationships resources.

 

Victorian Education Minister James Merlino defended the Respectful Relationships program, saying it was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. “We make no apologies for doing everything we can to put a stop to family violence," he said.

 

Debbie Ollis, the author of the Building Respectful Relationships material and an associate professor of education at Deakin University, said Mr Morrison's comments

 

"indicate a lack of understanding of what respectful relationships education is about. Specific discussions about sexuality and diversity are also an important part of education.The current research about young people's sexuality, levels of self-harm and levels of depression and anxiety shows the importance of reflecting the community of young people that we have. This is about looking at issues around student safety and inclusion and providing them with a safe and supportive learning environment. If those things aren't addressed, young people can't learn maths and science."

 

 

Source: Pallavi Singhal.  Why Scott Morrison sends his daughters to private school Sydney Morning Herald. 3 September 2018. 

 https://www.smh.com.au/education/skin-curling-why-scott-morrison-sends-his-daughters-to-private-school-20180903-p501gl.html

CONCLUSION  - ELECTION IMPLICATIONS AND CONTINUING AMBIVALENCE

 

This issue will not come to any substantive conclusion before the election because the Prime Minister has 'kicked the can into the long grass'. That is,  he has referred five of the 20 Religious Freedom Review recommendations handed to the Government in May 2018 to 'further consultation' processes which not be finalised until "the second half of next year". That is, after the 2019 election.

 

This indecision will bother both the LGBTIQ+ communities and those wanting to entrench "freedom of religion"/ discrimination deeper into law and make it nationally consistent.  See the related chapters on same sex marriage and the Embassy in Israel chapters for further comments. 

 

For the LGBTIQ+ people frustrated at this impasse, remember there is hope, after all....