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It’s looking increasingly unlikely the Federal Government will fulfil an election promise to legislate a religious discrimination bill before Australia next heads to the polls, after the draft laws were sensationally dropped from the Senate’s agenda.

At one stage, five Liberal backbenchers crossed the floor to vote with Labor and the crossbench on a change to the law designed to protect students being expelled because of their sexuality or gender identity.

Anthony Albanese and Scott Morrison in the House of Representatives
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the debate was “very constructive” – for the most part. (SMH/Alex Ellinghausen)

The Opposition Leader touted it as a win this morning, but said the battle wasn’t over, vowing to push for further changes in the Senate.

“It’s not our job to sit back, see bad legislation just carried, not participate, not trying to improve it, and then just complain about it from the sideline,” Anthony Albanese told reporters.

However, just hours later, Labor and the government voted to scrap the legislation from today’s agenda, with the Coalition saying it has legal advice suggesting the amendments would have unintended consequences.

With only two more Senate sitting days before the election is due, the chances of the bill becoming law are fading.

The Prime Minister promised to enshrine protections for people of faith before the last election, but Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker insisted if it doesn’t happen, it’s not a broken promise.

“I don’t think we could be marked down in circumstances where we’ve really moved heaven and earth to make it happen,” she said.

MPs debate bill in overnight sitting of Lower House

The central issue in the overnight sitting was over the bill not protecting transgender children from being expelled from religious schools.

The backbenchers crossing the floor meant the amendment passed 65 to 57.

This led to the government voting against its own bill, but it lost and the legislation was sent to the Senate.

Scott Morrison and Barnaby Joyce managed to get their religious discrimination legislation past the Lower House, but the Senate is unlikely to dealing with the bill before the next election. (Sydney Morning Herald)

Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie signalled the bill could face further hurdles in the Upper House if and when it is eventually dealt with.

“I will not be voting for it,” she told Today.

“We have a gold-plated legislation that we have in Tasmania.

“It works very, very well and I remind the Liberal and Labor parties that your people down there, your state people voted to put that in.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has also criticised the bill.

“I’ve said from the outset when I was previously the Treasurer, when this bill was introduced, that I don’t believe it’s necessary to have this legislation,” he said.

“We haven’t needed it for over 100 years and I think in many ways it might create more problems than it’s trying to solve.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

But he said it was ultimately a matter for the federal government.

The legislation does already include protections against expulsion for gay school students.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison secured majority Coalition support for it earlier in the week, though several MPs voiced their opposition.

Labor MP Stephen Jones also delivered a personal and moving speech that spoke against it.

In it, Mr Jones mourned his gay nephew, who took his own life recently, and hailed the bravery of his gender non-conforming son.

“He has more courage than any other boy of his age that I’ve ever, ever met,” Mr Jones said. 

In pictures: Sydney marks ‘Yes’ triumph with jubilant street party

The Religious Discrimination Act would ​​seek to make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their religious beliefs, with changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to prohibit expelling students for being gay. 

Labor has said it supports religious freedom, but that extra protections need to be in place.

Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has argued an exemption for trans students would create problems for religious single-sex schools.

Source: 9News

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