Religious discrimination bill passes Lower House after all-night debate

MPs stayed all night to debate the bill’s progress, with five government backbenchers ultimately crossing the floor.

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

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce have managed to get their religious discrimination legislation past the Lower House. (Sydney Morning Herald)

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

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

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the debate was “very constructive” – for the most part.

“I support ensuring that people can’t be discriminated against because of their religion or because of their faith,” he told Today.

“But I don’t support discriminating against other people as part of this legislation.”

Mr Albanese said Labor believed further amendments to the bill were needed, after it passed with the additional protections for transgender students.

“There are other issues about discrimination against older people receiving home care, the bill covers aged care residents but it doesn’t cover home care,” he said.

He said Labor would pursue further amendments in the Senate.

But Tasmanian Senator Jacqui Lambie signalled the government’s religious discrimination bill could face further hurdles in the Upper House.

“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.”

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. 

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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.

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