The stage is set for a major showdown in parliament today, but what does it all mean? Here’s all you need to know about the contentious issue.
The stage is set for a Senate showdown on Scott Morrison’s contentious Religious Discrimination Bill following a marathon sitting of the lower house.
The Bill would remove discrimination on the basis of faith, but a major sticking point for Labor and some Liberal backbenchers had been the Bill’s statement of belief clause and the impact the Bill would have on the Sex Discrimination Act – allowing for educational institutions to discriminate against students based on their sexuality or gender identity.
So what happened overnight?
Five Liberal MPs crossed the floor to support an amendment proposed by South Australian independent Rebekha Sharkie that removed the right for religious institutions to discriminate against children on the basis of sexuality of gender identity.
But three other changes to the Bill that Labor had hoped to get over the line failed.
It had hoped to amend the statement of belief clause, which would protect religious statements even if they offend, insult or humiliate others on the basis of protected attributes, to make it clear the provision does not diminish any existing protections against discrimination.
But the vote tied after Liberal MPs Bridget Archer and Trent Zimmerman crossed the floor. The move forced the Speaker to cast a vote, which is rare. He ultimately sided with the government.
Additional amendments on aged care and prohibition on religious vilification also failed.
What happens now?
Coalition senators came out fighting on Thursday morning, vowing to remove the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act that protect transgender students.
But the numbers in the Senate – where the government does not have a clear-cut majority – mean the day will be filled with backroom negotiations for a vote that could come down to the wire.
Senator Jane Hume indicated the government would move amendments to revert the Bill to its original form. Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker also conceded it was entirely possible the Bill would not pass the parliament before it rises on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Labor will move the same amendments it proposed in the lower house in the Senate.
One Nation has already indicated it will vote with the government to pass the legislation, while senators Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick have both raised serious concerns with the package.
The Greens have said they will vote to block the Bill in the upper house.
And then what?
That’s where it gets tricky. No matter what form the Bill passes in, it will have to return to the lower house to be voted on again.
It’s entirely possible that if the Coalition could drum up the numbers, the Liberal backbenchers who voted against the government could be forced to do so again.
Labor has refused to outline what it will do if this situation occurs. Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus told ABC Radio National that he was confident Labor would have the numbers in the Senate.
It’s also possible the government could pull the Bill if it cannot get the numbers it needs to stand it up in the form it wants to.
There is still a day of debate and political negotiations and deals ahead.
Long story short
The changes made by Labor and the crossbench are a win for transgender students and teachers, but the victory is reliant on the Senate agreeing to the amendments.