Schools Dr PHELPS (Wentworth): My question is to the Prime Minister. During the recent Wentworth byelection campaign you committed to urgently eliminating discrimination against students on the basis of their sexuality. I draw your attention to recent reports of the brave statement by Finn Stannard, a year 12 student at St Ignatius College, Riverview, coming out as gay to his school community and saying that he hopes to start a teaching degree next year. Does the Prime Minister believe that any Australian school should have the right to expel students like Finn or to reject or sack him as a teacher when he graduates?
Mr PORTER (Pearce—Attorney-General) (15:13): Of course the government doesn't support a young brave student like that being expelled. Of course we do not. But let me explain to the House what the issue is that is now before the Senate and that I have discussed with the shadow Attorney-General. Since 1995 in workplaces and other places there have been rules of general application and they have stipulated commonsense things that needed to be taken into account when determining the reasonableness of the rules. The Human Rights Commission is tasked with the job of determining whether or not a workplace rule that might have an indirect effect on one group of people based on their gender or sexual identity is a reasonable rule. We have committed to the complete removal of section 38(3), which is the section that would allow for the expulsion of any student based on their gender identity or sexual orientation. What we have asked is that, at the same time that that section is removed, a very modest addition be made to the provisions of the act at 7B, which tell the decision-maker—at first instance, the Human Rights Commissioner—the types of things they should have regard to in determining the reasonableness of the rule. The reason we have done that is we think an equally important balancing issue here is not merely people's right to be free from discrimination, which is critically important, but also the right of the one million people in Australia who choose religious schools to see those schools conducted in a way that is reasonably consistent with their faith. The example I've used at several points is the notion that a religious school might have a rule of general application that applies to all students, irrespective of their gender identity or sexuality, that says: 'At our school you have to go to chapel once a week.' We think that is a fair rule. We're not at all convinced that the terms of 7B provide adequate protection. What we want to put into that section is simply a provision that would draw the decision-maker's attention to two things: if a school has a rule like that, have they taken into account the best interests of the child, and is it a rule that is reasonably necessary to protect the religious sensibilities of that school? That is all we have asked for. We could deal with this thing today if we could agree around something as reasonable as that. But what members opposite have insisted on is a bare removal of section 38(3), and we simply do not believe that achieves the right balance between these two very important and competing rights: the right of people of religion to see their schools associate and organise themselves in a way that's consistent with their faith; and the right to be free from discrimination. We would like to see this passed now, but it has to be a balanced passage.