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Religious bill won’t be debated in Senate

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The Morrison government’s contentious religious discrimination changes are highly unlikely to be debated in the Senate on Thursday.

Debate on the package was expected to be held on Thursday after it passed the lower house in a marathon debate on the issue that finished just before 5am.

But a motion required to give approval for the bills to be debated so soon after they were introduced for consideration failed to go through the Senate on Thursday.

While a further motion could be moved later in the day, this is thought unlikely.

The coalition had launched last-minute talks with stakeholders to determine the future of the bill after five Liberal MPs crossed the floor to make amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act.

Government senators had indicated they would move to overturn the amendments in the upper house, due to it changing the nature of the original bill.

Thursday was the last day the Senate will sit before the federal budget in late March.

Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker said the coalition had spoken with several groups after the package of reforms had been altered.

“We are really intent on honouring commitments we made to multicultural groups and religious groups and LGBTI groups in the consultation process,” she told Sky News.

“We’re checking in with them, trying to make sure we fully appreciate the implications of that amendment before we have to deal with it in the Senate.”

Asked by reporters whether there was a chance nothing would end up passing parliament, she said: “That is, always in a parliamentary process, an option.”

Australian Christian Lobby national director of politics Wendy Francis said the bill should be withdrawn due to the changed position.

She told AAP the lobby has been in touch with all government senators.

“The rights of religious schools in this country will be significantly diminished if this passes,” she said.

“Taking away protections for Christian schools is a price too high to pay for the passage of the religious discrimination bill.”

LGBTQ+ advocacy group Equality Australia has called for the Senate to approve amendments preventing existing anti-discrimination laws being overridden.

The five MPs who crossed the floor of the House of Representatives on the Sex Discrimination Act amendment included Bridget Archer, Trent Zimmerman, Fiona Martin, Dave Sharma and Katie Allen.

Mr Zimmerman said his decision to vote against the government was a matter of conscience.

“(Supporting the amendments) would be a bad signal to send to the transgender community,” he told ABC Radio.

“It’s hard to cross the floor and people feel passionately about these issues.”

– AAP

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