Margo Kingston

Margo Kingston

Co-publisher and editor-in-chief at No Fibs
Margo Kingston is a retired Australian journalist and climate change activist. She is best known for her stint as Phillip Adams’ ‘Canberra Babylon’ contributor and her work at The Sydney Morning Herald and #Webdiary. Since 2012, Kingston has been a citizen journalist, reporting and commenting on Australian politics via Twitter and No Fibs.
Margo Kingston
Note from Margo: I’m thrilled to publish the courageous speech of Bridget Archer tonight. It’s the speech of a politician representing the values of liberalism and Tasmania. It’s been a long struggle. The road to Parliament passing Labor’s 1994 sexual privacy law overriding Tasmania’s criminal laws against homosexuality was long and tortured. Rodney Croome led the movement. I covered it in Canberra and will dig out my scrapbooks tomorrow. See for the complete history.

Mrs ARCHER (Bass) (17:58): Over the past few years, I’ve consulted extensively with organisations, schools and individuals from a variety of backgrounds on the potential impact of this bill. I’ve truly sought to understand all sides and believe that I have a thorough grasp on what the outcome of this legislation might mean for the northern Tasmanian community that I represent. It’s on that basis that I find that I cannot support this bill. While I acknowledge that there was a commitment to deliver a religious discrimination bill, this bill, in my view, goes far beyond that orthodox antidiscrimination bill.

It’s important at the outset to realise and to stress that there absolutely should be freedom from discrimination for all people, including people of faith, and that there are many wonderful faith based schools in my region. I have met the warmest, most inclusive teachers and staff from these schools, who I know wouldn’t dream of excluding, bullying or intimidating a member of their community based on their sexuality or disability. However, the simple fact is that this bill would allow for discrimination to happen. And while I support the desire to employ religious school leaders or teachers who share a school’s religious ethos, I don’t think that anybody would want to do so if it might cause harm to others.

One question I’ve constantly asked myself through this process is: what is the problem that we’re trying to solve? If the answer to that is that we don’t want to see discrimination against people of faith, which I think we all recognise we don’t, then that’s simple enough and we have to find a way to do so that isn’t privileging those rights above others.

I’m deeply concerned about the potential far-reaching and unintended consequences of this bill. Through the incident that unfolded last week at Citipointe Christian College, I believe that we’ve already begun to see the potential impact of this legislation, which is a slippery slope to setting our society back decades. Nobody should be discriminated against because of their religion, but this bill goes further and beyond protecting somebody’s faith.

I stand with the member for Clark, Andrew Wilkie, who doesn’t want to see Tasmania’s gold standard antidiscrimination laws eroded. This will have a bigger impact on our state than on any other. Anyone around my age who grew up in our state would remember a time when homosexuality was a crime and would remember that the laws that followed to protect Tasmanians were incredibly hard fought for. For 24 years Tasmania’s Anti- Discrimination Act has prevented discrimination—and provided protections, including protecting employees in all sectors; and teachers, staff and students—on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, disability or race. Our laws are considered first-rate; and Queensland, the ACT and Victoria followed suit. However, ours still remain the strongest in Australia.

The Tasmanian community statement issued yesterday was signed by the Liberal Deputy Premier of Tasmania, Jeremy Rockliff; Tasmanian Labor Justice spokesperson, Ella Haddad; University of Tasmania vice-chancellor, Rufus Black; disability advocates; and more than 20 organisations. It highlights the significant challenges this legislation presents. As outlined in the statement, currently in our state, teachers in faith based schools are protected from being sacked for being gay or in a de facto relationship. Nurses who are unmarried can work in faith based hospitals. Our workplaces, schools and hospitals are safer and more inclusive. Our current antidiscrimination act sends the message that abuse and mistreatment are unacceptable, no matter who you are, who you love, where you work or what faith you have.

This bill takes away these discrimination protections, which have been in place for almost a quarter of a century, explicitly overriding our state’s incredibly robust laws. I would not be doing my job as a representative for the people of Tasmania—and specifically the northern electorate of Bass—if I were to support this override. I’m not prepared to stand by and see our state laws eroded to privilege one group over another. It’s not okay to be cruel, offensive or humiliating just because you can say it with conviction or point to a religious text to back it up. This is a view supported by many Tasmanian politicians, on all sides, as well as unions, business groups, community organisations, and countless Tasmanians.

I know and recognise that my actions will upset some in the religious communities which I represent, but I also take heart from the conversations I have had and the correspondence I have received from pastors, religious sisters and those who considered themselves to be of faith, who do not want to see this bill passed due to the hurt and pain it may cause to others. Over the weekend the Tasmanian chamber of commerce and Unions Tasmania joined forces to voice their opposition to this bill. As they said in their opening statement, ‘When business and unions stand together you know it’s time to take notice.’ They pointed out many of the flaws of this bill, which will have devastating consequences if enacted. Scenarios they cited included a manager telling a female co-worker that her divorce was a sin and that women should submit to their husbands, or a worker with disability who could be urged by co-workers to seek faith healing because their disability is a result of sin.

As Mary Henley-Collopy, expert consultant on living with disability for the Australian Federation of Disability Organisations, has said, ‘I wish I was exaggerating when I tell you that for every one of my 60 years of life I’ve been regularly approached by people, mostly on their first meeting of me, who have made comments such as, “If you come to our church you could be healed.” These offensive, hurtful and degrading statements imply I am not whole and that I need to be repaired to fit the norm. I work very hard not to absorb these comments and to remain content with who I am, but it’s tiring to have to do so, and some days I feel quite hurt by such comments. I’m completely gobsmacked that the proposed Religious Discrimination Bill is even being considered. I find it incomprehensible that this proposed bill will override all antidiscrimination legislation in place. You may scoff and think that you wouldn’t say such things or know anyone who would, but the reality of this legislation is that it gives permission for it to happen.’

Just weeks after anointing the wonderful Dylan Alcott as Australian of the Year, what message are we sending by giving licence to those who seek to degrade or belittle, whether intentional or not? While in Tasmania, currently, these situations can be resolved with mediation through the antidiscrimination commission, the Religious Discrimination Bill could cut this avenue off and protect the perpetrator, as noted by TCCI and the unions.

Then, of course, there is the override of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act as it relates to employment in faith based schools and services. Currently in Tasmania, staff can’t be sacked or denied a promotion based on a number of attributes, including sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. In my many conversations about this bill, I’ve spoken with an incredible number of teachers and staff who are distressed about what may happen to them if it should be enacted. From unmarried heterosexual teachers who may have had a child to straight divorced teachers and those who identify as LGBTIQ, all hold grave concerns about their professional future and have constant anxiety about missing out on a well-earned promotion or, worse, losing the job that they love.

This was a genuine concern expressed by one teacher I spoke to, who shared their story anonymously in a local paper this weekend. I’d like to read an excerpt of their story:

No matter how good we are as teachers there will be a sword hanging over our heads.

It will be a return to the dark old days when we could be shown the door just because of who we love.

I am a teacher in a Tasmanian Catholic school, I’m gay, I’m married to my wonderful partner and the teachings of Christianity play an important part in my life.

I love teaching, I get along well with other staff and with students. I am out at work, as are several of my colleagues.

Over the many years I have worked in the Catholic school system I have seen the positive impact Tasmania’s top-notch laws against discrimination.

They mean staff like me no longer have to pretend we are something we are not, hide our relationships, find excuses not to bring partners to work events, or watch on in silence as another staff member slag off LGBTI people.

Our anti-discrimination laws also mean LGBTI students are able to disclose who they are, seek the support they need and confidently stand up for themselves when they are attacked.

Faith-based schools are far from perfect when it comes to inclusion and respect, but in Tasmania they have come a long way since the bad old days when prejudice ran amok in the staff room and school yard.

Jesus said “do unto others”, not “treat others badly in my name”, and the Anti-Discrimination Act embodies His command.

In contrast, the Religious Discrimination Bill seeks to take us back to the Old Testament stories of exclusion, division and enmity between people.

I am advanced in my teaching career. I could probably get a job elsewhere if I was pushed out.

My concern is for young LGBTI and unmarried teachers for whom it would be a terrible blow to be turned away or sacked.

I’m concerned for parents who will be left wondering if they want their child taught by schools that discriminate, and by staff selected because they’re pious, not competent.

I’m particularly concerned about students in faith-based schools.

I have seen with my own eyes how they flourish when they are given support, and how they have to withdraw and hide when faced with unchecked prejudice.

When young people feel they do not belong, and are unable to live and flourish as their authentic selves, the results can be catastrophic, as the suicide rates among young LGBTI people show.

This teacher highlights another serious concern of mine, which is centred around the rights of all children. Whilst I’m very pleased to see that there would be an amendment to protect gay students, I’m horrified to see that it does not extend to children who identify as transgender. More than horrified, I’m utterly distressed by this exclusion, so I can’t begin to think how the children themselves or their parents feel. What message are we sending? After so much progress over the past few years, how did we get back to a place where those of us who hold such privilege in this House can ignore the harm that we might place on children by telling them that they are other and less than in this country and do not deserve the rights and protections afforded to others? I can’t wrap my head around this, and I fear that it may risk lives.

I implore everyone here to think about the long-term consequences that this will have. Can anyone really tell me that they’re emotionally, mentally or physically distressed to the point of self-harm because there’s a trans student in their class, in their church or in their workplace? I find it incredibly hard to believe that this would be the case. However, for a trans child the impact of this legislation that leaves them open to bullying, exclusion, sacking or expulsion could well lead to higher rates of self-harm and poor mental health. Why on earth would we want to inflict that upon anyone?

It’s 2022, and I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. As an elected representative, my job is to come here and vote on legislation that I believe will best serve my community. This bill is an overreach, and I cannot use the role that I have here to endorse a bill that erodes the rights of so many in my community—rights that they already enjoy, and the loss of which may cause them harm. If the government wants to come back with a bill that protects people from religious discrimination without these other consequences, then I would be supportive of that bill. But in its current form I cannot support this bill.