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Sky News AM Agenda

Senator the Hon Amanda Stoker


Subject: Religious Discrimination Bill

PETER STEFANOVIC: Joining me is the Assistant Minister to the Attorney General, Senator Amanda Stoker. Senator Good morning to you. So after Labor's success in the lower house, is it your plan to try to roll back those amendments?

AMANDA STOKER: Good morning to you, it's lovely to be with you. We're spending this morning checking in with all the stakeholder groups that we have been working with over the last three years to be able to reach the point where we think what we put to the house, as a government, got the balance right. Now that that's changed, we need to make sure that we are consulting with them, and making sure that the implications of this amendment – because it was something that we acknowledged was so complex that it required a 12 month Australian Law Reform Commission process to make sure that it properly integrated with the existing framework for regulating schools, for instance. We're checking in with them, trying to make sure that we fully appreciate the implications of that amendment before we have to deal with it in the senate.

PETER STEFANOVIC: So will you try and roll them back, or are you waiting off on that?

AMANDA STOKER: Well we're going to check in with our stakeholders first. We're going to make an informed decision, and we are really intent on honouring the commitment we made to all the multicultural groups, to all the religious groups, and also all of the LGBTI groups, in the consultation process that we've undertaken. So we want to do the right thing by the people in the community that are affected by this bill.

PETER STEFANOVIC: What is your major concern, Senator?

AMANDA STOKER: Well one of the things that has been raised with us by, for instance, religious schools is that certain changes that would be made to the Sex Discrimination Act – of course, section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act was inserted by Labor some seven or nine years ago, and it excludes people on a range of different basis from the protection of the Sex discrimination act in narrow circumstances, so that schools are able to operate according to their ethos without having the threat of litigation hanging over them. One example is that there are some aspects of religious teaching that might offend people of diverse sexuality. There are certain aspects of the management of schools – for instance, let's say a girls schools – that are challenged by the suggestion that a biological male transitioning to female could be accommodated in that school. Now I'm not making a judgement either way on those things, but they are really, really complex-


AMANDA STOKER: And we need to make sure that even as we look after transitioning kids – noting that they are small in number, but they are still important people – we don't want to make it so that the vast majority of, say, school sport isn't safe for girls.


AMANDA STOKER: We don't want to make it so that camps aren't able to be run safely. We want to make sure the boarding schools can operate safely. And so that's the kind of complexity that needs to be worked through when amendments of this kind are considered.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Yeah, I mean Karen Andrews, she was on the program earlier and she mentioned that she's worried about the impacts on single-sex schools and how that's managed. So that's- is that a short way of saying that?

AMANDA STOKER: Yeah, it is.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Ok. Labor wants to revisit some other amendments, and that includes an anti-vilification provision. What are your thoughts on those, is there any chance of success there?

AMANDA STOKER: An anti-vilification provision sounds fine at first glance, but what we're really talking about here is putting a sword into the bill. Now, we've always said that the religious discrimination act should be a shield to stop religious people from facing discrimination but shouldn't give them weapons to wield against others. An anti-vilification provision is a bit like section 18C, as it then was, of the Racial Discrimination Act, providing opportunities for people to almost enforce a rule of blasphemy against others. And I don't think that would be a good thing for having an open, and tolerant, free society where people can discuss things they don't like without the fear of being muzzled.

PETER STEFANOVIC: There is some- or there are a few people who believe that it may well come down to Andrew Bragg, who may cross the floor over this. Have you had a word to him this morning. to see where he's at?

AMANDA STOKER: Andrew Bragg is a valued member of the team and like all of us he finds these issues really challenging. That's why we continue to be supportive colleagues, we continue to work through with him any issues that he's concerned with, and at the same time try and make sure that he can see all the different sides of the story. So that we can do what's in the best interests of the vast majority of Australians as well as the small minority that is anxious about it.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Any hard feelings if he crosses the floor?

AMANDA STOKER: Well this is politics. It's not about us, it's about the Australian people. And so none of this is about personalities. We've got to work as a team, and we do. But we've all, I think, from our different perspectives and the different shoes we walk in, have got our eyes fixed on the people we serve. That's true of Andrew and that's true of me.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Are you going to have to extend the hours of the senate, to ensure a possibly longer session?

AMANDA STOKER: Look, I don't know the answer, but we often do to make sure we that we get the things done that Australians need. So I wouldn't be surprised if we did, and if we did we'd make it work.

PETER STEFANOVIC: OK. So is it going to be an all-nighter? That's a short way of asking that, I guess.

AMANDA STOKER: It could be. But that's alright. We're used to that around here.

PETER STEFANOVIC: Ok. Senator, I appreciate it. Thank you.

That's Amanda Stoker there, coming to us live from Canberra.