MR ENTSCH: I have to say to that there is no way in good conscience that I can support legislation that strips away people’s religious rights or, for that matter, any other rights.
It’s the right of all Australians not to be discriminated against, including those of faith.
Our society rightfully does not accept people being discriminated against on account of their gender, race, age or disability.
Nor should we accept or tolerate discrimination because of a person’s faith or religion.
However, while it’s important to protect the rights of people and organisations of faith, I strongly believe that these protections should not come at the expense of others.
I understand that this is, of course, a very sensitive issue to many people in my community.
However, my role as an elected official is to ensure that the legislation gets the balance right and we don’t end up with legislation that has a negative impact on others living within our community.
I have to say, too, as somebody who has long advocated for the rights of the LGBTIQ+ community in particular, I certainly have concerns about a number of elements within this legislation.
So it has been a very difficult journey for me in trying to get some sort of balance here.
Quite frankly, I don’t believe that the bill currently before the House is necessary.
If anything, it has highlighted the fact that there has obviously been, from what I can see, a focus particularly on gay and gender diverse children and adults, and something that I’ve realised throughout the process is that a lot of these issues are not going to be able to be addressed through this bill but need to be addressed through the Sex Discrimination Act.
Clearly, there need to be some significant reforms in that area to protect individuals, both children and adults, in our society who identify as gay and/or gender diverse.
My first reaction was to blatantly refuse to accept this bill. However, over time, and having started to negotiate through some of the more difficult and unacceptable elements of the bill, I believe that some progress has been made.
I think it’s important that we bank these successes, as we work on other issues that clearly are blatant discrimination towards one section of our community.
For example, I’ve got to say I was pleased to see that we were able to negotiate the removal of the Folau clause; it was something that I found offensive, and I was so pleased to see its removal.
Irrespective of a person’s personal views, I think that, in the case of Folau, to allow him to make such disparaging comments—and not only about gender diverse people; I think it needs to be pointed out that he was also very critical of people of the Jewish faith and even heterosexuals—and to reward him by giving him a specific clause in the bill was totally inappropriate, and I welcome the fact that it has been removed.
Another aspect that I was pleased to see removed from the bill currently before the House was the conscientious objection clause; I believe it was absolutely essential to remove it.
Again, I found it to be totally unnecessary, and it would have led to levels of discrimination.
As I say, I am pleased to see that it has been removed from the bill.
However, there are some aspects of the legislation that certainly cause concern to me and to others.
One of those aspects is the statement of belief. I’m hoping that, by having other areas addressed through the Sex Discrimination Act, we might be able to cover some of these concerns as well.
I also welcome the decision to remove from this bill the ability to discriminate against gay children.
However, unfortunately, I do believe that the protection afforded is far too narrow, in so much as we’re talking about expulsion of gay children specifically.
My own personal experience over many, many years is that a lot of faith based schools would argue that they don’t expel students—and that is absolutely true; there’s no question about that.
But I can tell you that I’ve seen quite a number of children and parents, over many years, where the children haven’t been expelled, but, in these cases, the children were treated appallingly—they were taunted, bullied and made to feel uncomfortable in their school environment—so that, eventually, these children felt that they had no choice but to leave that school.
These cases are examples where it does occur.
I have to say, in my own personal situation, all of my youngest son’s schooling has been in Catholic education, both primary and secondary, and he has had a wonderful education there.
From my own personal experience as a parent, I’ve certainly seen no examples of that behaviour in that particular school.
I have a 15-year-old daughter who is at another Catholic school, and, again, her experience has been amazingly positive.
I’ve seen no evidence of that behaviour.
But the fact that it isn’t happening in these cases doesn’t mean to say that it doesn’t occur.
So I think we need to broaden our scope in this area so that we’re talking not just about expulsion but also about the reasons that children feel it is necessary to leave.
At the end of the day, in providing that security for the children, it’s not only the parents but the school itself that has to embrace those children.
We see so many examples, which I would like to acknowledge, of schools that adopt best practice, where not only the parents but the school community itself embraces those children.
For whatever reason, whether it be because they are gender diverse, they are embraced, they are loved and they actually do great.
I’m talking about focusing on those areas where there are problems, and I would have much preferred to see those elements included in the bill.
I appreciate the discussions that I’ve had in recent times with the Attorney-General.
The Attorney has agreed to send through a request to the Australian Law Reform Commission to broaden the scope of the review that is happening to focus on not only the expulsion of gay children but also the various discriminatory actions that would force these children to leave a school.
I have also requested that the review includes other gender diverse children such as transgender children, who at this point, unfortunately, have been excluded from this very narrow remit, along with a referral to address the concerns I have in relation to gender diverse teachers and other adults working within faith based schools or school organisations generally.
My concern is that, if we just reject the bill now, we could lose the opportunity of capturing the positives we have already achieved.
It may well be that a future government might be reluctant to step into this space and that these discriminations, given that they have existed for many years, could continue to remain unaddressed.
Another written commitment that I have received, and which I welcome, is that, in relation to the referrals to the Australian Law Reform Commission, the time frame for the review period has been shortened from 12 months to six months.
I am certainly working very closely with the Attorney and the Australian Law Reform Commission to make sure that all the concerns that I’ve raised are fully addressed and considered within this review, and I also expect that any recommendation that addresses these concerns will be submitted and implemented without delay.
This bill has been a very difficult one for me to address, and I know that people will probably be critical of the fact that I am not blocking the bill.
But I do believe that we need to back in the positive outcomes and lock them in now and make sure that we’ve got commitments for accelerated processes that will address the other areas of concern that have been identified as needing to be amended in legislation outside of this bill.
In my own personal journey—and I’m going to focus on transgender people here. I’ve been given permission to share this story with you.
I was interviewed some years ago by a budding young journalist called Colin Doak. Colin came to my office, and we went through a whole process, just sharing my experience in the advocacy that I was involved in.
During the course of that period, I could see that he was feeling a little uncomfortable.
After a bit of time and a little bit of prompting, he shared with me—and I had the privilege of being the first person that he had actually shared this with—his desire and intention to transition.
It was a very difficult and very emotional time for him and for me.
He was very fearful of the impact that was going to have in his community, and I have to say to you: these are the types of feelings that I know are out there for so many people that don’t—with his family, with his community.
I have to say to you that, at that time, when I embraced him and offered my support, I’d never felt somebody tremble so strongly.
Over time, I have shared Colin’s journey. Colin is now Kate.
She’s quite a capable journalist in her own right, and it has been amazing to see how well she has developed; she has really progressed in her life.
It was an amazing experience when, a couple of years ago, she came to my office very excited and she said to me, ‘Warren, you’re not going to believe this, but dad called me “Kate”.’
The emotion that was there and the fact that somebody who was from a very rural area with a very set mindset on this was able to accept his beautiful daughter for who she was—it was quite amazing in terms of the impact that it had on her.
I make reference to Kate’s story because it just shows you that, with the right sort of nurturing environment, people can absolutely thrive. It worries me that there are elements within this that are going to be quite prohibitive and that people are going to feel quite marginalised.
So, while I’m not going to vote against the bill, I’ll certainly be very much focusing on changes.
I’ll be voting for the changes that we’ve already achieved and locked in, and I’ll certainly be looking for very significant additional changes as well.