Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) — I rise to speak briefly on Ms Pennicuik’s Equal Opportunity Amendment (Equality for Students) Bill 2016, and that is what it is — it is an equality for students bill. We keep hearing this talk about religious freedom and that this is all about religious freedom. This is not; this is about the freedom for students not to be discriminated against on the grounds of their gender, on the grounds of their sexuality or on the grounds of whether they have an unwanted pregnancy or if they are single parents. It is as simple as that. This is about stopping discrimination. I have heard in the previous contributions that this is not a problem, that religious schools do not discriminate. Well then, great, why would you not support this bill? If there is no problem here, then why should religious schools have the special privilege to treat some students differently to others? This is clearly what it is. It is a simple bill that says, ‘Why should religious government-funded schools be allowed to discriminate against people and discriminate against their students?’. It is as simple as that.
We have seen in other states — Queensland, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Tasmania — that this type of discrimination has been abolished. Religious schools in those states are not allowed to discriminate against their students, and guess what? They still have religious schools in those states — very successful ones — so this bill is not going to end religious schools as we know them, as we might hear the Australian Christian Lobby screech. I have to say in relation to some of the ways the bill is drafted that I preferred Ms Pennicuik’s amendments on yesterday’s bill to the way that this bill has been drafted, but nonetheless why should religious schools be allowed to discriminate? I have not heard a single reason for that from people opposing this bill. In fact they have even argued that they do not discriminate, so if that is the case, then why do we have this privileged exception that allows religious schools to discriminate against students for being single parents, students for being gay and even students for being women or girls? These exceptions to the equal opportunity bill should not be allowed in the 21st century.
Why would a Christian school with Christian values of acceptance and forgiveness want to discriminate against anyone, I ask you? I am yet to hear any reason. This does not seem to be about religious freedom. This seems to be about the freedom to be a bigot, if you want to be. That is what this bill does: it enables religious schools to be bigots if they choose to be.
I will certainly be speaking more tomorrow on this broader issue around religious exceptions when we continue the debate on the Equal Opportunity Amendment (Religious Exceptions) Bill 2016. I do support this bill. I do think there is no reason why we should be giving these large, powerful organisations the privilege and the right to discriminate against people. It is not right. We have not heard any argument outlining why they need to do it, and I fully support this bill.