Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Legislation on religious discrimination and the protection of gay students and teachers is set to become hotspots in the competition between progressive independents and liberal moderates in inner-city seats.

Already facing challenges from independents fighting for climate change, liberal moderates such as Dave Sharma in Wentworth and Trent Zimmerman in northern Sydney are urging the Prime Minister to deliver on a promise to change gender discrimination laws to prevent expulsion of students or teachers being fired on based on their sexuality.

Critics of the Religious Discrimination Bill, which recognizes the right of religious groups to employ people who are in line with their beliefs, fear that it could pave the way for religious schools to expel gay students because of their sexuality or to fire teachers, unless there is a loophole in the laws on sex discrimination is closed.

A group of moderate liberals has called on Scott Morrison to intervene against both laws at the same time.

“It has a real world impact,” Zimmerman said. “As someone who has been through the process of getting out, the fear that you will not have a supportive school environment is a real fear.”

Morrison, who promised to address the issue in 2018, said he would now prefer to refer it to the law reform commission.

The issue may flare up in progressive inner-city cities in Sydney and Melbourne, where independents are already running a narrative in which moderates talk about climate change but vote in the same way as conservatives like Barnaby Joyce.

Sharma, who represents the eastern suburbs, Sydney’s seat, Wentworth, adjacent to some of Sydney’s iconic gay areas, has been a consistent advocate for action on both sides of the legislation. In recent days, he has taken to Twitter and Facebook to call for action and point to his record.

“I support the need for a law on religious discrimination, but believe that we must also move quickly to address the potential risks that gay students and teachers in faith-based institutions face,” Sharma said.

“No teacher or student should be fired or expelled because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and we must make this crystal clear.”

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His opponent in Wentworth, the independent Allegra Spender, also wants to see both parts of the legislation put forward, but said voters should be aware of how Sharma is voting as well as his advocacy.

Allegra Spender runs against Dave Sharma in Wentworth's seat.
Allegra Spender runs against Dave Sharma in Wentworth’s seat. Photo: Carly Earl / The Guardian

“I think it is absolutely crucial that people are not discriminated against because of their religion, but one should not proceed with the bill on religious discrimination until one is absolutely sure that students and teachers are protected and that they are not can be expelled on the basis of their sexuality, “she said.

“These are really important societal issues. There is a significant LGBTQI community in Wentworth, and there are many religious schools and deep-seated religious beliefs, so it’s important to both.

“I think it is appropriate that he is in favor of this. It’s nice that he [Dave Sharma] supports this combination of pieces, but it really depends on how he tunes. ”

Eighty-one percent of Wentworth voters supported marriage equality during the 2017 referendum, one of the highest levels of support in the country.

Zimmerman said the review by the Law Reform Commission would take too long.

“My view is that there is no earthly reason why we can not move forward with this now, instead of making a review that will last longer than 12 months,” he said.

“It is disturbing that a school can still today exercise these rights to expel a student because of their sexuality.”

He said it was too early to say whether the moderates were making progress in convincing the prime minister.

The independent who opposes him, Kylea Tink, agreed with his position.

“Believers must be protected from discrimination, but Scott Morrison must guarantee that this bill would in no way allow discrimination against students or teachers because of their sexuality if it becomes law.

“In this case, on the basis of what I have heard, Trent Zimmerman and I agree.”

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