WEDNESDAY, 9 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECT: Religious Discrimination Bill.
TOM CONNELL, HOST: I did speak to one Labor MP inside this Caucus meeting just before this meeting began. I spoke to Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for Treasury Andrew Leigh, and began by asking whether or not Labor intended to support the bill, whether he does intend to argue for supporting the bill as it stands.
ANDREW LEIGH, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR TREASURY AND CHARITIES: Well, I’m about to go into the Caucus committee meeting where we’ll be discussing this. So I haven’t yet seen a copy of the revised bill, and certainly want to see what changes have been made by the government. I’ve got to say it’s extraordinary we’re in this place. This was a bill proposed by the Prime Minister back in December 2018. He said he'd do it before the 2019 election. We didn't see the bill in 2020, we didn't see it in early 2021, and then it emerged just in the last parliamentary sittings of last year. We then had a very rushed parliamentary committee process in that 71-day period, which included 12 religious holidays, and a lot of the country was on school holidays during that period. There just hasn't been the time to scrutinise this bill that I think the issue deserves.
CONNELL: So if that means there hasn't been that time, Labor shouldn't support it? Because it's coming to D Day, basically.
LEIGH: We need to take our time to get this right. As my colleague Stephen Jones said yesterday, Australia's a bloody diverse place. We need to ensure that we're getting it right for people of faith who feel that they're at risk of attack. I would like it if this bill had an anti-vilification provision – it doesn't have that. We need to make sure we're getting it right for LGBT+ kids. I spoke in Parliament last night about two of the cases of transgender students in my electorate, of parents whose account is of a child that did okay in their school but who are worried that this bill might make life more difficult for kids who are coming out or who are deciding that they've been born in the wrong gender. We need to ensure that we strike that balance.
CONNELL: So is that your concern? Because there's a protection, a specific one for gay students but not transgender students. Is it as simple as creating or expanding that protection to transgender students?
LEIGH: There’s nothing simple about this bill, Tom-
CONNELL: I know that, but in terms of we don't have an hour to talk about it, is that your basic view on it? That you need to expand the protections, whatever protections go to gay students go to transgender students?
LEIGH: I think the interests of transgender students need to be taken care of, and I'm sure that's one issue that we'll be talking about. But there's also the question of ensuring that there’s protection for gay students not being expelled. The Prime Minister said that he would do that very swiftly. Again, it's one of those promises, like the anti-corruption commission, that he's made but hasn't delivered. I think it would give people a lot more confidence in this conversation if that protection had already been put in place. It’s got bipartisan support, as the anti-corruption commission does. So it beats me why the Prime Minister hasn't gone ahead and put that protection in place. I am really frustrated about this process though, Tom. I have to be clear about this, because when the government said it wanted to put in place a religious discrimination bill, I went out there and engaged with a whole range of community groups in my electorate. Those consultations took place over a year ago, and the government should not have taken until now to bring in this bill. They should not be crunching conversations of this kind, of this importance-
CONNELL: In those discussions, was there concern from any single sex schools about having no control whether a transgender student goes to that school? Are all schools and all people in the schools comfortable with that?
LEIGH: Look, that concern wasn’t specifically raised. But I know that's an issue that's come up. But of course-
CONNELL: How should it be dealt with, you think?
LEIGH: I think it needs to be pretty carefully worked through. I don't have a quick, snappy answer for you on Sky News, and perhaps that'll be elucidated in the Caucus meeting I’m going into. But there’s very clear divisions within the coalition at the moment. We've got coalition members saying that they’ll vote against the bill, or that they’re not sure about it. I think in that circumstance, it’s appropriate for Labor to take our time and properly scrutinise that.
CONNELL: I’m not being impatient, you do have to go to that Caucus. Thank you for your time today.
LEIGH: Pleasure, Tom. Thank you.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.