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Australia politics live: Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins at NPC, parliament considers religious discrimination bill

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Scott Morrison has responded and an investigation has been launched after Grace Tame made an explosive allegation during her speech today.

Welcome back to our live coverage of Australian politics, that most enthralling and inspiring of subjects. It’s the second sitting day of the parliamentary calendar.

Former Australian of the Year Grace Tame and former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins both appeared at the National Press Club this afternoon, 24 hours after parliament’s formal apology to survivors of alleged sexual harassment, assault and bullying.

Inside parliament itself, much of the focus is on the government’s proposed religious discrimination bill. Scott Morrison is keen to pass it, though a handful of his own MPs are torn on the issue, and Labor is proposing multiple amendments.

Mr Morrison is also proposing to amend the existing Sex Discrimination Act to prevent schools from expelling students for being gay. However, critics are concerned that transgender students will not be given the same protection – and of course, expulsion is not the only form discrimination can take.

You’ll find the latest updates below.

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PM responds to Tame’s phone call allegation

The Prime Minister’s office has issued a statement about Grace Tame’s allegation, made during her speech to the National Press Club today, that a “senior member of a government-funded organisation” pressured her to refrain from publicly criticising Scott Morrison.

The statement says Mr Morrison (and his office) had no knowledge of the phone call before Ms Tame’s speech, and it calls for the person who phoned her to apologise. It describes that person’s behavoiur as “unacceptable”.

“The first the PM or PMO became aware of that allegation was during today’s Press Club speeches,” Mr Morrison’s office said.

“The PM has not and would not authorise such actions and at all times has sought to treat Ms Tame with dignity and respect.

“Ms Tame should always be free to speak her mind and conduct herself as she chooses. The PM has made no criticism of her statements or actions.

“While Ms Tame has declined to name the individual, the individual should apologise. Those comments were not made on behalf of the PM or PMO or with their knowledge.

“The PM and the government consider the actions and statements of the individual as unacceptable.”

A short time ago, government frontbencher Anne Ruston has told Sky News an investigation into the allegation had already been launched.

To refresh your memory, here is exactly what Ms Tame said at the Press Club.

“On August 17 last year, not five months after being named Australian of the Year, I received a threatening phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation, asking for my word that I would not say anything damning about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year Awards,” she said.

“‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said. What kind of fear, I asked myself. A fear for our nation’s most vulnerable? A fear for the future of our plan? And then I heard the words, ‘with an election coming soon.’

“And it crystallised. A fear for himself and no one else, a fear he might lose his position or, more to the point, his power. Sound familiar to anyone? Well it does to me.

“I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure, being threatened in just the same veiled way. I remember him saying, ‘I will lose my job if anyone hears about that, and you would not want that, would you? No.’

“What I wanted in that moment is the same thing I want right now, and that is an end to the darkness, an end to sexual violence, safety, equity, respect, a better future for all of us. A future driven by unity and truth, not one dictated under the politics of division and spin.”

Ms Tame was subsequently asked about the phone call, and specifically whether she would reveal what she said back to the unnamed individual.

“My answer to your question is that I act with integrity,” Ms Tame replied.

“Can you tell us what you said back to that person?” the reporter pressed.

“Nope. Doesn’t matter now, does it?” she said.

Another reporter asked whether she would reveal the identity of the individual or the organisation they worked for.

“I reckon if I was willing to name either, I would have put them in the speech,” Ms Tame responded.

One word brings parliament to a halt

My dream of getting through just one Question Time without listening to silly procedural arguments really is fanciful, it seems.

The catalyst this time was a question from Labor’s deputy leader Richard Marles, directed at Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Or to be more precise, a single word in that question.

“Can the Deputy Prime Minister confirm he’s served with the Prime Minister in the parliament for 15 years, and he has served with the Prime Minister in the Cabinet for six years, including as Deputy Prime Minister? When the Deputy Prime Minister says the Prime Minister is, ‘A hypocrite and a liar in my observations, and that’s over a long period of time,’ he knows what he’s talking about, doesn’t he?” asked Mr Marles.

The context: that quote comes from a text Mr Joyce sent in March of last year, when he was a backbencher (i.e. before he returned to the leadership). He says he no longer holds such a dim view of Scott Morrison, having worked with him more closely as Deputy PM.

Speaker Andrew Wallace pulled up Mr Marles, saying his question included unparliamentary language because of the word “liar”.

“The challenge I have is, you can’t just quote someone else that’s using an unparliamentary term,” Mr Wallace said.

“To use the word ‘liar’ is unparliamentary, and there are many examples where it has been ruled as unparliamentary. The fact that it is used as a quote by anyone – doesn’t matter who it is – doesn’t negate the fact that it’s unparliamentary and it shouldn’t be used.”

He asked Mr Marles to re-word the question. Then Tony Burke, the Manager of Opposition Business, got to his feet.

Mr Burke argued there was no precedent in which the words being quoted had been uttered by the very minister being asked a question.

“The assertion that this is somehow requiring a new ruling by you is nonsense,” Mr Burke’s opposite number, Leader of the House Peter Dutton, countered, speaking to Mr Wallace.

“The practice is clear in relation to this … it’s a cute attempt to work around, but it doesn’t have any substance,” said Mr Dutton.

Mr Wallace decided to issue a ruling, and ruled it was indeed unparliamentary. He again offered Mr Marles a chance to re-word the question, and he did so, replacing the direct quote of Mr Joyce with a general reference to Mr Joyce’s “observations” about Mr Morrison.

At last, we got to the bit where Mr Joyce had to answer.

Mr Joyce pointed out that he’d worked with Mr Marles for the same amount of time as he’d worked with Mr Morrison in parliament (the implication being it was possible for him to not have much direct knowledge of the PM, and therefore form an inaccurate assessment of him).

“I’d never worked worked with the Prime Minister on defending our nation until we worked together,” said Mr Joyce.

“I have worked with this Prime Minister as we built dams.

“I worked with this Prime Minister as we dealt with one of the greatest pandemics of modern times. During that period of time we had one of the (world’s) greatest successes.

“Our working relationship has made sure we have kept this nation staying in work.

“I am only too happy to tell you all the things that I work with this Prime Minister on, and I believe that he is quite obviously the better choice for the next election.

“So I absolutely stand by this person. This is a great Prime Minister doing a great job.”

At this point, alas, Mr Joyce’s time expired.

‘How is it possible?’: Pointed question to PM

The government and opposition have spent a fair bit of time re-enacting and re-litigating yesterday’s disagreement regarding the scope of answers during Question Time. Once again, the catalyst is Treasurer Josh Frydenberg using the part of a question asking about “alternative policies” to recite some sound bites attacking Anthony Albanese.

We covered this rather pointless argument extensively in yesterday’s blog, so if you’d like a blow-by-blow breakdown, by all means follow this link. And spare a thought for Speaker Andrew Wallace, who like most of his predecessors has adopted the air of an exasperated teacher trying to reason with five-year-olds.

On another matter, Labor’s Catherine King has asked Scott Morrison about the Brittany Higgins rape allegation, and when staffers in his office knew about it.

“How is it possible he still doesn’t know who in his office knew what, and when?” Ms King asked.

Mr Wallace also took the opportunity to remind all MPs to choose their words responsibly when referring to criminal proceedings.

Mr Morrison told Ms King that the investigation he ordered his chief of staff, Phil Gaetjens, to conduct was suspended, as the Higgins allegation is now before the courts.

“(Gaetjens) advised in August, 2021 that he had suspended his inquiry until the criminal proceeding had been finalised, and this was based on legal advice that any furhter action on the Gaetjens inquiry could be highly prejudicial to those proceedings,” he said.

The Speaker interjected to issue a warning to Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who had shouted “cover up”.

“That the alternative highest law officer would willingly ask the government to disregard (the legal) advice reflects poorly on his own legal judgment, and shows why he is unfit to hold that office,” Mr Morrison said.

PM defends action on violence against women

Anthony Albanese started question by bringing up Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins’ call for firm targets to be incorporated in the national plan to address violence against women.

“I commend the question from the Leader of the Opposition and commend all of those who worked so hard to ensure that issues, particularly regarding ending domestic violence and violence against women and children, receive such national prominence,” Scott Morrison responded.

“That’s what the national plan is all about, (it’s) a bipartisan, multi-jurisdiction commitment that was begun by Prime Minister Gillard. At that time it was supported by the Coalition in opposition, and it has been most heavily supported by the Coalition in government, some $2 billion invested.”

Mr Morrison said the government would work “continually” to support the national plan “in a way that no previous government has”.

“We will continue those investments, because they are getting results. $2 billion on women’s safety has already been committed and spent by this government since 2013, and $1.1 billion on women’s safety in the package handed down in the Budget for 2021-22.”

He ran through a few examples of how the money was being spent.

Tame, Higgins asked about discrimination bill

Last thing from the Press Club, unless I realise I’ve forgotten something later. SBS asked Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins for an opinion on the religious discrimination legislation currently occupying so much of parliament’s time.

“When you look at the debate over gay, lesbian and trans students, do you think the parliament is doing enough to protect their rights?” the reporter asked.

“No,” said Ms Tame.

“Why does one group of people have more of a right to be themselves than another? That’s what I have to ask the government.”

Ms Higgins stressed the need for there to be “a real sensitivity afforded in the dialogue”.

“I just implore (people to have) sensitivity when having these discussions, because these are people’s lives, these are people’s identities, and it’s a deeply triggering and difficult time for them.

“I can’t even imagine how they’d be feeling, having to listen to all this play out right now.”

Question Time has started, by the way. We shall bring you the highlights shortly – or lowlights, if it’s anything like yesterday’s nonsense.

Parliament complaint system insufficient

Back to the Press Club. The Daily Telegraph’s Clare Armstrong asked Brittany Higgins about an answer she extracted from the Prime Minister during his appearance last week.

“Last week I stood here and asked the Prime Minister what he thought made parliament safer today than it was 12 months ago. One of the things he cited was the implementation of an independent complaints process – obviously, something that didn’t exist for you when you went through your experience,” Ms Armstrong said.

She asked Ms Higgins whether that complaints process could have changed her own experience, if it had been in place at the time.

“To an extent,” said Ms Higgins.

“I think it would have been helpful for me in my circumstances, but I’m cognisant that at the moment it is very limited. It is only for serious complaints, or what is deemed serious by a certain small team, and it’s not an all-of-parliament mechanism.

“So it is still quite limited in scope.”

She said it did not go “far enough”, and endorsed the recommendation for a “more fulsome version” of the complaints system from the Jenkins review.

Labor reveals position on discrimination bill

There’s more to report from Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, but a brief interruption here, as Labor has revealed its intentions regarding the religious discrimination legislation.

“Scott Morrison’s bill, currently before the parliament, goes some way towards protecting Australians from religious discrimination,” Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said in a media release.

“But it also has some big flaws that Labor will seek to change through amendments in the parliament, and if we are unsuccessful, in government.”

To that end, Labor is going to move a number of amendments to: “prohibit religious vilification, prohibit discrimination against children on the grounds of sexuality and gender identity, make it clear that in-home aged serve providers cannot discriminate on the basis of religion”, and “make it clear that the ‘statement of belief’ provision does not remove or diminish any existing protections against discrimination”.

These amendments will be moved in both the House and the Senate. If any of them are successful in one of the two chambers, Mr Dreyfus says Labor will “insist on them”.

The question is what that means, exactly. If the government refuses to pass the amendments, will Labor begrudgingly support the legislation anyway, or block it? This rhetoric suggests the latter, but we’ve heard similar language before.

Higgins says she is ‘partyless’

There is, of course, an election approaching. The Australian’s Olivia Caisley asked Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins which party would be “better for women”.

“Are you working with either on any policies, and can we expect to see you on the campaign trail? And if so, for which party?” she asked.

“I am stateless and partyless. I belong to no one. I am an island in and of myself,” Ms Higgins joked.

“I do not fit in anywhere, but I think we need to listen to messaging as we get closer to the election about who is committed to actually doing something. It is all well and good to serve out platitudes, but it is about tangible commitments and timeframes.”

Ms Tame had a bit of fun with the question.

“Permission to use side eye?” she asked, before appearing to wink at Labor leader Anthony Albanese in the audience.

Another questioner asked Ms Tame what “specifically Anthony Albanese would do better” than Scott Morrison.

“All Anthony would have to do is none of the things that Scott’s done,” she replied.

‘Deeply traumatic’: Higgins reveals vile comments

Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins have been fielding a lot of good questions at the Press Club, which I’ll work through in the next little while for you.

For now let’s start with a question from our political editor Samantha Maiden, which was directed at Ms Higgins.

“When you first came and sat in my living room on January 2, 2021, one of the things that we talked about was Rachelle Miller, and your reflections on listening to those women being disparaged in the corridors of power after Louise Milligan’s Four Corners program came out,” Samantha said.

(Ms Miller alleges she was bullied by Education Minister Alan Tudge while conducting an affair with him, which she revealed on Four Corners. He denies the bullying allegations. Full context here if you need it.)

“I was wondering if you have any reflections on what it was like to sit in that office, and what was said.”

“It was deeply traumatic,” Ms Higgins replied.

“Not everyone in Michaelia Cash’s office knew about it. Only the minister and the chief of staff were aware of the (alleged) assault, no one else was privy to it, and they spoke quite freely about Rachelle Miller – which I am very sorry about – and it was very disparaging.

“It was this idea that she was a disgruntled staffer, and it was this very negative connotation, that it was this woman that just could not hack it, and I saw so much of myself in her story and in her lived experience.

“Even the year before that, with Chelsey Potter, it was this re-traumatising thing of this idea that these women were letting down the team, and this frenetic gossip that went around the building that they were talking about.

“And it deeply impacted me, to the point at which that is why I think I am here today, because of the bravery of those women coming before me.”

Tame slams ‘photo ops’, ‘facades’ and ‘false hope’

Grace Tame criticised the federal government for, in her view, doing little of substance to address violence against women.

“The federal government’s approach to social issues seems to consist of nothing but empty announcements, placatory platitudes, superficial last-minute acknowledgments and carefully staged photo ops,” she said.

“Facades and false hope. Reviews, reports, delays and distractions, if not downright denials. All deliberate spin tactics designed to satiate the press and the general public.”

Ms Tame went on to identify three “key asks to better our nation”: a government which “takes the issue of abuse in all its forms seriously”, “adequate funding for prevention education” and “national, consistent, structural change”.

Regarding the question of adequate funding, she brought up the tens of billions of dollars spent on submarines “that might be ready by 2040” to combat “a potential offshore threat”.

“Compare that to what they’re prepared to spend on the very real epidemic of violence against women and children.”

Grace Tame reveals ‘threatening’ phone call

Speaking after Brittany Higgins, former Australian of the Year Grace Tame hit out at her treatment by sections of the media.

She went on to recount a phone call, which she described as threatening, in which “a senior member of a government-funded organisation” allegedly pressured her to refrain from publicly criticising the Prime Minister.

“Certain members of the commentariat have consistently labelled me as politically divisive, failing to mention that I spent most of last year having frank, productive meetings with politicians on all sides at both the state and federal level,” Ms Tame said.

“So, after a year of being re-victimised, commodified, objectified, sensationalised, delegitimise, gaslist, thrown under the bus by the biased mainstream media, despite my inclusive messaging.

“I would like to take this opportunity to – take a glass of water. (That prompted laughter). And remind you that I really have nothing to lose.

“On that note, brace yourselves. On August 17 last year, not five months after being named Australian of the Year, I received a threatening phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation, asking for my word that I would not say anything damning about the Prime Minister on the evening of the next Australian of the Year Awards.

“‘You are an influential person. He will have a fear,’ they said. What kind of fear, I asked myself. A fear for our nation’s most vulnerable? A fear for the future of our plan? And then I heard the words, ‘with an election coming soon.’

“And it crystallised. A fear for himself an no one else, a fear he might lose his position or, more to the point, his power. Sound familiar to anyone? Well it does to me.

“I remember standing in the shadow of a trusted authority figure, being threatened in just the same veiled way. I remember him saying, ‘I will lose my job if anyone hears about that, and you would not want that, would you? No.’

“What I wanted in that moment is the same thing I want right now, and that is an end to the darkness, an end to sexual violence, safety, equity, respect, a better future for all of us. A future driven by unity and truth, not one dictated under the politics of division and spin.”

Ms Tame was subsequently asked about the phone call, and specifically whether she would reveal what she said back to the unnamed individual.

“My answer to your question is that I act with integrity,” Ms Tame replied.

“Can you tell us what you said back to that person?” the reporter pressed.

“Nope. Doesn’t matter now, does it?” she said.

Another reporter asked whether she would reveal the identity of the individual or the organisation they worked for.

“I reckon if I was willing to name either, I would have put them in the speech,” Ms Tame responded, drawing a laugh.

‘My patience has run out’

Brittany Higgins argued the government, and society more broadly, has failed to examine its past failures in reducing violence against women.

“The plan laments, wistfully, that more needs to be done. But it is more of the same, compounded by a refusal to examine the past failures, let alone examine them, then this plan will not be worth the glossy paper it will eventually be printed on, and Australian women and children will suffer through another decade of violence and abuse, while politicians and policymakers wring their hands about the fact that we need to turn things around by 2040,” Ms Higgins said.

“As I think you have gathered by now, my patience has run out.”

‘Offensive’: PM savaged over daughters remark

Brittany Higgins thanked Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese for their statements during parliament’s formal apology to sexual harassment and assault survivors yesterday.

But she stressed that actions matter far more than words.

“The women and girls of Australia deserve so much better than an improvement in the way we publicly discuss the dangers they face at home and in their daily lives,” she said.

“Last year wasn’t a march for acknowledgment. It wasn’t a march for coverage. It wasn’t a march for language. It was a march for justice. And that justice demands real change in our laws, as well as in our language, our national culture.

“That starts with the Prime Minister.”

Ms Higgins expressed her disappointment with Mr Morrison’s remark last year that being the father of daughters helped him understand the gravity of her alleged rape.

“Yes, some of his language last year was shocking, and at times, admittedly, a bit offensive. But his words wouldn’t matter if his actions had measured up,” she stressed.

“What bothered me most about the whole ‘imagine if it were our daughters’ spiel wasn’t that he necessarily needed his wife’s advice to help contextualise my rape in a way that mattered to him personally.

“I didn’t want his sympathy as a father. I wanted him to use his power as Prime Minister. I wanted him to wield the weight of his office and drive change in the party and our parliament, and out into the country.

“One year later, I don’t care if the government has improved the way they talk about these issues. I’m not interested in words anymore. I want to see action.”

Higgins: Why I decided to speak

Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame’s National Press Club appearance is underway. Ms Higgins is speaking first.

She spoke about her alleged rape in Parliament House, and explained why she decided to speak out.

“I was raped on a couch in what I thought was the safest and most secure building in Australia,” Ms Higgins alleged.

“In a workplace that has a police and security presence 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The parliament of Australia is safe, it is secure, except if you’re a woman.

“If what happened to me can happen there, it can happen anywhere. And it does. It happens to women everywhere.

“A little over a year ago, I sat down with my partner David, and I told him that I’d decided to speak publicly about my assault. Knowing that it would mean quitting my job and likely leaving Canberra, knowing it would mean subjecting myself to judgment, to vitriol, to political hit jobs and online hate.

“I made my decision to speak out because the alternative was to be part of the culture of silence inside Parliament House. I spoke out because I wanted the next generation of staffers to work in a better place.

“And above all, I decided to speak out because I hoped it would make it easier for other women to speak out too.”

‘Unnecessary’: Perrottet’s view on discrimination bill

Great news, folks: after weeks of depressingly barren shelves, the local Woolworths had my favourite meat lovers sandwich back in stock today.

Anyway we’re a few minutes away from Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins’ appearance at the National Press Club. While we wait, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has offered some mild criticism of the religious discrimination bill.

“I’d be reluctant to provide a commentary on it, because I think that would simply be a distraction from the issues at hand,” Mr Perrottet told reporters.

“I’ve made it very clear that I don’t believe legislation in this space is necessary, and I think it can end up creating more problems.”

Mr Perrottet has been very open about his own faith in the public sphere, and like Scott Morrison he is a Liberal, so his view on the matter does carry a bit of weight.

The religious discrimination legislation will undoubtedly come up during Question Time, so Mr Morrison will get his chance to argue in its favour.

Pointed ‘reminder’ for China

Foreign Minister Marise Payne has been holding a press conference with her counterpart from Lithuania, Gabrielius Landsbergis.

Ms Payne said the opening of Lithuania’s first embassy in Australia “demonstrates the warmth of the ties that Australia and Lithuania enjoy”. She highlighted the two nations’ shared values – democracy, rule of law and so forth.

Mr Landsbergis took a bit of a shot at China for “using economy and trade as a political instrument” or “weapon”.

“I think we need to remind countries like China, or any other country that would wish to use trade as a weapon, that the like-minded countries across the globe have tools and regulations that help withstand coercion,” he said.

Broadly though, it’s just been a lot of chill, inoffensive diplomat-speak, which I must say makes for a nice change from the usual rancour of parliament.

‘Not up to the job’: PM blasted

In the same week that Sky News host and conservative columnist Andrew Bolt declared Scott Morrison “looks finished” and “is making a fool of himself” with campaign-style stunts (like washing someone’s hair), The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen has told the Prime Minister he’s “just not up to the job”.

So what, you might think. An opinion writer ripping into a politician is hardly interesting. By all means send your “this is not news” tweets to @SamClench. But I’d argue it becomes interesting when the critic is from the same side of politics as the critiqued, and is writing in sorrow rather than partisan anger.

While Ms Albrechtsen describes herself as a “small-L liberal”, that hasn’t stopped her from criticising the Liberal Party or its leader in the past. In her column, she acknowledges that some readers “believe I am too hard on Scott Morrison”.

“I am not on the Liberal team. Nor am I a Labor-loving sycophant,” she explains.

“No government enjoys criticism, but they ought to respect it more from a liberal than the demented hit jobs from the left.”

Anyway, Ms Albrechtsen’s core criticism of Mr Morrison is that he lacks political courage.

“Though his colleagues may describe him as ‘horrible’ and a ‘psycho’ and a ‘liar’, my disappointment with him is less gaudy but no less real,” she writes.

“I can’t put my finger on a single important policy Morrison has made his own, where he has chanced his arm in the political marketplace of ideas because he believes it is important to carry people with him.

“The gold standard is John Howard and guns, taking on his opponents in the Coalition barely six weeks into his first term as prime minister. Three years into the job, Morrison hasn’t met the bronze level of conviction.

“He never braves the harder stuff, the values a democracy depends on to function. Truth be told, I can’t work out what values excite him politically. Except winning.”

She goes on to describe the Prime Minister as “a mix of middle management and marketing man”. I’m sure he would vehemently disagree with that assessment.

If you’d like to read the column, you’ll find it here.

PM fails to sway independent MP

While we’re running through everyone’s position on the religious discrimination thing, I may as well note the opposition of independent MP Helen Haines. A bit of personal lobbying from Scott Morrison yesterday did not sway her.

“I’m absolutely a no. I met with the Prime Minister last night, who sought my view, and I made it very clear to him I am a no,” Dr Haines told News Breakfast today.

“Did he try to persuade you to come on board?” she was asked.

“Well, the Prime Minister had a conversation with me and gave his point of view. I don’t agree with him, and I’m firmly a no,” Dr Haines said.

Asked whether Mr Morrison offered to “further amend the bill” in an effort to win her vote, she said he didn’t.

“Fundamentally, I believe that we do have a gap in our anti-discrimination laws. We do need to remedy that by having a religious discrimination bill. But this bill is not ready to be passed,” said Dr Haines.

“I have serious concerns, and most particularly I have real concerns about the safety and protection of young gay students, our LGBTIQ+ students and transgender students, and I am of the view that I will not be saying yes to his bill in its current form.”

‘Horrified’: Liberal MP to cross floor

Andrew Barr mentioned the prospect of government MPs crossing the floor to vote against the religious discrimination bill. We know, for certain, that Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer will be doing so.

In a speech on the floor of the House last night, Ms Archer said she was “horrified” that, under the proposed legislation, transgender students would not be protected from expulsion on the basis of their gender identity.

“After so much progress, how did we get back to a place where we ignore the harm we place on children when we tell them they are other, less than and do not deserve rights and protections afforded to others?” she said.

“I fear it may risk lives.”
So, Ms Archer is a definite no.

Another government MP with doubts is Dave Sharma, who represents Malcolm Turnbull’s old seat, Wentworth. Mr Sharma has been on something of a media blitz in the last 24 hours, including an interview on The Project. He’s made it clear he is still undecided.

“I’m still listening to the debate on the bill and the points that people make, and I’ll consider my position when the bill comes to a vote,” he reiterated this morning.

Mr Sharma said he was of the opinion that issues of “ongoing discrimination” against gay and transgender students needed to be addressed “sooner rather than later”.

He also suggested that protecting children from expulsion was not enough.

“We need to bear in mind that a student can quite easily be forced out of a school without being expelled,” said Mr Sharma.

“If they’re harassed or intimidated or bullied, or made to feel unwelcome or unsafe, of course they’re going to leave.

“I think that’s the sort of stuff we need to be addressing. I’d hope to do it in this bill, but if not I want to make sure there is a process set up and underway that will address these things very quickly.”

It does sound as though he could genuinely vote either way. Oh, the suspense.

‘Problematic’: Labor’s discrimination dilemma

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr, who is Australia’s only openly gay government leader, has urged his federal counterparts to oppose the religious discrimination bill, unless significant amendments are made.

“If they wave it through without amendment and Liberal members are crossing the floor against their own government’s bill, and Labor votes for it, that is problematic,” Mr Barr told ABC radio.

Asked whether he was comfortable with the bill in its current form, he said no.

Labor convenes an emergency meeting

So, to business.

Labor needs to settle its position on the government’s proposed bill to prevent discrimination on the basis of religion. To that end, it has been holding a shadow cabinet meeting this morning, followed by a full caucus meeting.

Sharon Claydon, the MP who will chair that caucus meeting, held a media conference earlier. She said there was “robust discussion” about the legislation within the party.

“We have always said people should have the right to practice their religious beliefs, but the whole point of anti-discrimination law is that the rights given to one group don’t override the right of others,” Ms Claydon said.

That is the crux of the issue here: will Scott Morrison’s attempt to protect people from discrimination based on their faith enable discrimination in the name of that faith?

Mr Morrison is also proposing amendments to the existing Sex Discrimination Act to stop schools from expelling students for being gay. That protection would not extend to students who are transgender, and critics fear it would allow other types of discrimination.

This has been a tough issue for Liberal and National MPs as well. The Coalition had to reconvene its party room meeting after Question Time yesterday (the party room meetings happen before QT) to resolve its stance. It decided to support the legislation.

A handful of moderate Liberals still have doubts, though. Bridget Archer says she simply can’t support the bill, and David Sharma has “significant concerns”.

The Greens are opposed, and Mr Morrison will find little support from the rest of the crossbench either.

Two important stories you may have missed

There are a couple of stories from last night I’d like to highlight, in case you missed them.

First, our political editor Samantha Maiden wrote about the significance of Brittany Higgins’ presence – along with four other women – at yesterday’s apology in parliament.

The names of those other women are important too. They are former Liberal staffers Chelsey Potter, Josie Coles, and Rachelle Miller, and sexual consent advocate Chanel Contos.

The enormous bravery these women displayed in telling their stories publicly, which has caused them to endure an avalanche of personal attacks, was on display as they sat in the public gallery staring down the Prime Minister again.

And that moment almost didn’t happen. Do have a read of Samantha’s piece.

The second item you may have missed was a powerful speech from Labor MP Stephen Jones, in which he explained how the suicide of his nephew, and concerns about his own 14-year-old son’s wellbeing, had shaped his opposition to the government’s proposed religious discrimination laws.

Scott Morrison’s proposed changes to the Sex Discrimination Act would prevent schools from expelling students for being gay, without providing the same protection to transgender kids.

“He wears heels that give me vertigo and has more handbags than his sister,” Mr Jones said of son.

“He has more courage than any boy I have ever met. He swims against the tide.

“I know that the love and protection that he enjoys with his mother, with his friends and family, is very different to the reception he may receive in the world outside.

“Could this be the day when we get a call telling us something has happened? That he has been attacked just for being who he is?”

Mr Jones said the recent death of his gay nephew had reminded him that sometimes, a family’s love is not enough to protect people from a judgmental outside world.

“He was uncertain about his gender and struggled with his mental health. Now he is gone,” Mr Jones said.

“Clearly the love and acceptance of his family and friends was not enough.

“I’d ask the Prime Minister and every other member in this place to put themselves in the shoes of the parents, or the heels of their kids, as they step out in public.”

You can read that full story here.

Read related topics:Scott Morrison





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