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Life Support Religious Discrimination Bill, Scott Morrison unlikely to see bill passed before election | the lawyer

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Scott Morrison is set to break a key campaign promise after putting his religious discrimination package on ice amid a new dispute over protections for transgender students. The Morrison government joined Labor and the Greens in agreeing not to debate the package in the Senate on Thursday, after an overnight marathon of sitting in the lower house. The decision came as Attorney General Michaelia Cash warned that new protections for transgender students in religious schools – which were passed by the lower house against the wishes of the government – risked increasing grounds for discrimination. against other students. Senator Cash accused Labor and MP Rebekha Sharkie of rushing the amendment, prompting an angry response from both parties. The Coalition also risked more rebellion if it had put the amendment up for debate on Thursday, with NSW Senator Andrew Bragg confirming to The Canberra Times that it would have crossed the floor. The Religious Discrimination Bill passed the lower house with the support of the Labor Party early Thursday morning. But a separate amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act to protect transgender pupils in religious schools from discrimination has passed, after five Liberal backbenchers joined Labor in backing Ms Sharkie’s proposal. Labor had proposed an identical amendment. The changes prompted the Australian Christian lobby and some Conservative coalition members, including Tasmanian Eric Abetz, to push for it to be scrapped. “There is now a decrease in freedom of religion as the bill currently stands,” Senator Abetz told The Canberra Times. “Having solemnly promised to grant freedom of religion in return for same-sex marriage, the Labor Party amendments offer even fewer freedoms than currently exist.” The Senate is only expected to sit twice before the likely election in May, leaving little time to push the controversial bill through both houses before Australians go to the polls. Mr Morrison has promised to introduce a bill to protect believers from discrimination in this Parliament, meaning failure to do so would represent a broken promise. The agreement to delay the debate avoided a showdown in the Senate, where Labor planned to push again for further changes to the bill – including the effective removal of the controversial declaration of belief clause. The government, including the prime minister’s office, held talks with religious groups immediately after amendments to protect transgender students passed the lower house on Thursday morning. The government wanted to change the Sex Discrimination Act to protect gay students from expulsion, but did not want to immediately extend protections to transgender students. Earlier this week, Senator Cash warned that denying religious schools the right to discriminate against transgender students on the basis of their gender identity could “undo” the ethos of gay schools. In Question Time on Thursday, Senator Cash said the amendment passed Thursday had “very, very serious potential consequences” and risked increasing the grounds for discrimination against current and prospective students. Senator Cash sent letters to Ms Sharkie and shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus on Thursday afternoon outlining her concerns, including a warning that the amendment could potentially allow religious schools to discriminate against students because of their sex or intersex status, or if they were breastfeeding. The media suggested his stance was based on advice from Australia’s Solicitor General. But the letter, which The Canberra Times has seen, does not refer to legal advice as the basis for its position, but only to concerns that have been “raised with me” by anonymous parties. In a statement, Ms Sharkie said she had sought the legal advice underlying Senator Cash’s letter. READ MORE: The Mayo MP said she was ‘deeply concerned’ about invisible legal advice, given her experience with refugee medical evacuation laws that were passed, against the government’s wishes, then repealed after the last elections. “If the government were really worried about the so-called unintended consequences, they could draft their own amendments in the Senate to address these issues,” Mr. Sharkie said. “I am disappointed that the government has decided to play politics with an issue that is so important to so many Australians.” Mr Dreyfus said the government was trying to hide its “humiliating defeat” from the lower house. ‘It is high time Mr Morrison stopped trying to blame everyone, stopped playing politics with children’s lives and worked with Parliament to settle his bills,’ he said.

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