People of faith in our community should be free from discrimination. I have nothing but respect for people of faith in my community and around this country, but this parliament should not be passing laws that, in protecting people of faith, discriminate against others—and that is what we are currently being asked to do. It is to the discredit of this government that the Religious Discrimination Bill 2021 and the debate that has surrounded it, like so much of what this government does, divide our country. It sets people against each other. Rather than seeking our points of commonality and building us up together as a community, it pits us against each other. It is an indictment of this government that in a global pandemic, as older Australians are dying and neglected in aged care, the government has fostered a national debate about whether it’s fair enough to exclude gay and trans kids from schools.

Young people whom we should be surrounding with love and affection, whom we should be supporting and who should know that they are welcome in our community are being made to feel like they are a problem and are not welcome. I want to thank all the gay and trans young people in my electorate, their parents and their supporters who have contacted me about this bill in the last couple of days but also over the last couple of months. I know there are hundreds and hundreds of you and I have been reading all your emails and messages. This is part of my response to you, but I will get back to you personally as well. I understand how worried you are about this bill and I am sorry for how damaging this national debate is for you. It should not be like this.

Young people in my electorate have explained how this bill and the debate around this bill have left them feeling anxious and unprotected. As one young transgender person put to me this afternoon, their generation is just starting to undo years of trauma and to finally feel like they can come out as themselves safely, and this bill, in fact, undoes decades of work. Another person, the grandmother of a year 7 transgender student, pleaded with me that we, please, don’t play politics with vulnerable children’s mental health. Surely it is a fundamental responsibility of us in this House that we don’t play politics with vulnerable young people’s mental health.

Here are some other views from my community: ‘I’m writing as a gay constituent and as someone who was a school teacher for 25 years. LGBTQI+ students need protection, as do teachers, adults, families, employees and others who would be negatively affected by this proposed legislation.’ This person explains that they lived in daily fear of losing their job in the days before antidiscrimination legislation and they feel that their human rights will be threatened by this bill. Another writes to me as an extremely concerned resident, a gay Australian, and explains how going through the plebiscite on marriage equality made them feel like their rights were up for debate and that this bill and the debate around this bill do a similar thing to them. They feel that the bill would erect a barrier to accessing health care for women, LGBTIQ+ people and people with disability at a time when we should be removing such barriers.

Beyond the people in my immediate electorate, a number of groups have raised concerns with this legislation. The peak disability groups have stated their concern that this bill will erode protections for people with disability. People with disability have explained some of the very harmful comments that they have experienced from people who put those comments as religious views, such as, ‘This is obviously what God wants for you.’ Their concern is that this bill will enable more of those types of comments and may affect their ability to access care, support and medical treatment. Advocates for women’s rights have made the case that this bill could harm efforts to build safe and respectful workplaces, something that is of great interest to those of us in this place, by protecting the expression of sexist views in the workplace. They express concerns around women’s ability to access health care. People from multicultural backgrounds have expressed their discomfort with this bill. Again I reflect there is not one view of this, but I do want to make the point that some from multicultural backgrounds have expressed their discomfort with a monolithic view being put of what multicultural communities think of this bill and how they would like it to play out. Melbourne woman Nyadol Nyuon, said that this bill ‘is trying to create this false choice by conflating multiculturalism with almost, to some degree, religious bigotry … You can support multiculturalism and support equal rights for all citizens.’

Of course there are numerous other problems with this bill that have been highlighted through the committee processes that ran over summer—committee processes that were far too short because this government did not take the time and did not do the work with this bill. They are looking for a wedge; they are not looking for a genuine outcome. Some of those concerns are raised around particular provisions in the bill—particularly that it overrides state laws and there is a potential for harm to come from that. I pay tribute to the Victorian government in my home state and the efforts that I know they have gone to and continue to go to to make young people in our community feel safe. I am concerned that this bill has the potential to override some of those efforts.

I also note, as some of my colleagues have, that we are debating this bill in the absence of our country having a bill of rights. Unlike many liberal democracies similar to Australia, we do not have a framework for how we have these discussions. Hence we are in a position where we are having a discussion without a framework—a discussion that seems to be setting communities against others and that seems to say that we will give some people rights and take those rights away from other people. I think giving consideration to a bill of rights in this country would give us a broader framework to have these discussions in and hopefully lead to a much healthier debate—a debate that does not cause the harm that this current debate, I believe, is causing to the mental health of too many young people in our community.

[Mr Katter interjecting: Have you heard of the Magna Carta?]

Thank you, I have heard of the Magna Carta. Many liberal democracies also have a bill of rights as well. Thank you, member for Kennedy.

Many people of faith I know also have concerns with this bill, and I want those people to know I’ve also heard their concerns. I want people of faith to know that they are an important part of our community. They absolutely deserve to have their faith respected. They deserve so much better than this debate and this bill which doesn’t respect them as a broader part of our community. They instead have been caught up in the Morrison government’s mishandling and in a debate that is making vulnerable young people feel judged and excluded. People of faith deserve better than a poorly drafted bill rushed through a committee process because we have a Prime Minister more focused on political wedges and on an election than on genuinely supporting rights. Young people and members of our LGBTIQ+ community deserve so much better than this bill rushed through in the dying days of this parliament. We should not be pitting sections of our community against each other. This unamended bill does that, and it is not worthy of becoming law.

I say again thank you to all the members of my community and the members of communities more broadly who have raised their concerns with this bill with me. I hope tonight I have gone some way to showing you that your views have been heard and they’ve been aired in this parliament as part of this debate. I again acknowledge how difficult and damaging this debate is and continues to be for some people, particularly for young people in our community. I don’t believe that our national parliament is a place that should be making young people feel marginalised and, again, I’m very sorry that the way this debate has operated has led to that happening.

I very much hope that Labor’s amendments being moved tonight are supported. I won’t go through them all, because many of my colleagues have and will continue to do so. They are worthy amendments and they deserve the support of this place. We can’t take away the division that has already been caused by the Morrison government’s terrible handling of this bill. But by supporting Labor’s amendments tonight, we can make it clear that the future for our country and for our communities is not one of discrimination and division. I urge all members of this House to take that into consideration as we move through this evening.

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