Labor Rages As Government Blocks LGBTQ Students Bill
"Call an election" was the demand from Labor's Penny Wong, as the government managed to block debate on a bill to remove discrimination against LGBTQ school students.
Wong on Monday blasted the government's "shenanigans", which all but ensured that a push to remove the ability for religious schools to expel gay students would not pass until 2019.
Wong had last week introduced the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Removing Discrimination Against Students) Bill 2018, aimed at shutting down the ability for schools to expel or otherwise discriminate against students on the basis of their sexual or gender orientation.
It comes after leaked sections of the long-anticipated Ruddock Review into religious freedoms highlighted the ability of religious schools to discriminate against gay students and teachers.
The exemptions encoded in the Sex Discrimination Act caused widespread controversy and outrage when they came to wider public attention, with calls to tighten the laws to prevent such discrimination.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison had supported such a move to remove the exemptions, and Labor's bill had been expected to attract wide bipartisan support.
"To address this issue I will be taking action to ensure amendments are introduced as soon as practicable to make it clear that no student of a non-state school should be expelled on the basis of their sexuality," Morrison said in a statement in October.
"I believe this view is shared across the Parliament and we should use the next fortnight to ensure this matter is addressed."
The proposed timeframe set out by the PM did not come to fruition however, so Labor presented a bill last week to resolve the matter.
Wong had reserved time for Labor's bill to be debated and possibly voted on during Monday's parliamentary sitting. But in a surprise move, the government suspended standing orders, remove the debate from the day's schedule, and instead refered the bill to a lengthy committee process.
Centre Alliance senators Rex Patrick and Stirling Griff, who had previously signalled they would support Labor's bill, voted with the government to remove the bill from the schedule.
Government Senate leader Mathias Cormann claimed "a number of crossbench senators" had been concerned about the "complexity of issues" on the bill, necessitating its referral to a committee, but Wong was not happy.
"I think that has just belled the cat, hasn't it?" she claimed, calling out the Centre Alliance senators as they stood up and walked out of the chamber after the vote.
"[Cormann] is worried about the survival of the Government on the floor of the House of Representatives. He has lost control. This is an indication of the chaos that is the Morrison Government."
"That they have to upend the Senate and not vote on protecting LGBTIQ kids, because they are so worried about the lack of control they have of the House of Representatives."
On a day when the government was already reeling from the Craig Kelly pre-selection issue, as well as calls from former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to go to an early election in March, Wong demanded the government take action.
"Do you know what the decent thing to do would be? Call an election. Call an election and stop perverting the processes of the Senate," she roared.
"Voting against the position the Prime Minister has had, trying to desperately avoid a vote in the house, call an election instead of lying the way you have about this issue through the Wentworth by-election and through this week."
"And shame on you. Senator Patrick, shame on you for doing this and aiding and abetting it."
Greens senator Janet Rice called the government move "appalling" and claimed it had left "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in despair".
Senator Derryn Hinch said the government had effectively "kicked it all in the long grass" in a hope to delay the vote.
"What happened here today is a disgrace," he said.
The bill will be referred to committee, but Labor signalled on Monday it would seek to bring the bill back on for debate sometime this week.