LGBT students attending religious schools could be kicked out, under a proposal reportedly recommended by a religious freedom review.
The government has been sitting on the report on religious freedom chaired by former Liberal MP Philip Ruddock since May, but Fairfax Media reported on Wednesday that among some of the proposed changes to Australian anti-discrimination law, religious schools should be allowed to discriminate against students based on sexual orientation, gender identity, or relationship status.
That is already the case in some states, where teachers can be fired for being gay in a religious school, but the proposal would extend it nationally. The proposal would only target new enrolments, meaning people already out at their school could not be kicked out.
LGBT groups are already gearing up for a fight against the recommendations. NSW independent MP and former co-chair of the "yes" campaign Alex Greenwich said the reported recommendations were offensive to parents, teachers, and schools.
"The government should be focusing on reducing, not increasing bullying in schools,” he said in a statement.
“Allowing direct discrimination against LGBTI kids and teachers will do nothing to protect religious freedom or our diverse and accepting communities."
Last month prime minister Scott Morrison announced $4.6 billion in funding for Catholic and non-government schools as part of a peace offering for the sector, which had long complained about cuts.
Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesperson Rodney Croome said any school that takes money from the government should not get different rules on discrimination. He said the proposed change would put federal law in conflict with Tasmanian anti-discrimination law.
"For twenty years Tasmanian law has prevented discrimination by religious schools against LGBTI students and teachers, and the sky hasn't fallen in," he said in a statement.
"Tasmanian religious schools and the broader community are safer and more inclusive thanks to our strong discrimination laws."
Greens senator Janet Rice described the reported recommendations as a "disaster" for LGBT Australians.
The religious freedom review doesn't go as far as to recommend more changes to the Marriage Act as a result of the legalisation of same-sex marriage last year, and doesn't recommend carve-outs in anti-discrimination legislation to protect so-called Christian bakers and florists from having to work on same-sex weddings.
But while a teacher could be fired for being gay, if another teacher expressed anti-gay views they could not be fired. If, for example, a person working in a school makes comments against homosexuality and says it is based on religious understandings, the person could not be fired for those comments, according to the recommendations.
Despite the proposed law not existing in every state and territory, Morrison claimed that the proposal to fire teachers and expel students was "existing law".
The prime minister insisted that the government had yet to determine its response to the Ruddock report.
"It's a report to government, not from government," he said. "It's a report that the government will be considering and developing a balanced response to, and we will do that in our orderly process, taking it through cabinet. This has not been through cabinet at this point," he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, The Australian reported that Fairfax had erred in its reporting, and said that the Ruddock review doesn't recommend any expansion of the law.
This was backed up by attorney-general Christian Porter, who has actually read the report, and said that the Sex Discrimination Act, as amended by Labor in 2013, already allows religious schools to make employment and student administration decisions that could be discriminatory to LGBT students.
"And, despite reports today, the Ruddock report does not recommend any changes to this regime – Labor’s regime," he said.
The government has so far refused to release the report to clear up the confusion.
The panel, chaired by the former Liberal minister and now mayor of Hornsby, Philip Ruddock, convened in January, accepted over 16,500 submissions, and held over a dozen hearings in private.