ABC NEWS BREAKFAST
THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2022
SUBJECTS: Religious discrimination; sex discrimination; protecting children.
MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Let's get more in our top story this morning. The religious discrimination bill has passed the lower house after a marathon overnight sitting of parliament. The Shadow Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones joins us now from Parliament House. Stephen Jones, good morning to you.
STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT TREASURER: Good morning, Michael.
ROWLAND: A lot of our viewers would have been moved, of course, by your speech on Tuesday night, where you spoke about the recent suicide of your young nephew Ollie. He was only 15 years old. I want to talk about the political issues of the moment. First, please tell us a bit about Ollie.
JONES: Look, he was a beautiful young man who was creative. He was intelligent. He was witty. He was so loved by his family, my sister, his friends, his community. But quite clearly, the love and support of his family wasn't enough. He was gay. He had gender uncertainty. And he struggled with mental health like so many young boys his age who are struggling with their sexuality. And tragically he reached a point where he thought he couldn't go on anymore. And it'll be the saddest call I've ever had in my life. And my sister and her family and my nephews will never get over it. But it really has been one of the things that motivated me this week to ensure that we do something to ensure that we make a better world for boys like Ollie, sons like my son and everybody else is. It's not about me. It's about every other parent and every other child who's struggling with these issues.
ROWLAND: Stephen, my sympathies to you and your family for your loss. I want to talk now about what happened overnight. I'll get to the amendments Labor move to the Sex Discrimination Act shortly. But in your view, what does the passage, albeit narrowly, of the Religious Discrimination Bill mean for Australia?
JONES: Well, it's through the House. Yet to get through the Senate. I support a Religious Discrimination Bill. You know, I've had constituents in my electorate who have complained about the fact that their mosque, or their place of worship, has been attacked, has been graffitied. That they've been hassled going to and from work, to and from home. You know, discriminated against, hassled, having their hijab torn off. Being spat at in public because they dress in a way that is conforming with their religion and because some people take offense at that. Now the law is not the answer to everything, but I think if the law sent a very powerful message that this isn't right, and in Australia you do have the freedom to exercise and practice your faith, then that will change behaviour. So I always supported, Labor always supported, strengthening protections for people of faith. But we didn't want that to happen at the expense of another group of Australians, particularly young gay Australians, who are struggling with their identity. And that was the thing that I was most worried about for all of the reasons I've said in the intro.
ROWLAND: I want to talk about now in a separate vote, Labor with the help of crossbench MPs and significantly those five, moderate liberals who crossed the floor, amended the Sex Discrimination Act to offer greater protections for transgender students. How significant a move is that in your view?
JONES: Oh look incredibly significant. We couldn't have one law changed without the other law being improved to protect transgender, gay young people. It's just not good enough that in this day and age where we're saying to our kids, if you're gay or transgender, if you’re going through these sorts of issues and all the mental health associated with that, we're going to pile on you. And in addition to all of that, we're going to kick you out of your school or we're going to discriminate against you in some other way. God, life's hard enough for people who are dealing with those things. I know from my own son that these are challenging times. He's well loved and supported and a very, very brave and talented young man. But I want to ensure that, you know, we're sending the right signal from Parliament. It's not just about school. It's about how we treat them, how we treat our kids in the broader community as well. So, it's enormously significant. I know I'm grateful for all of the, I’ve been using this expression, the bravery of our kids who swim against the tide. I want to send a bit of a nod out to the five Liberal Party MPs who swim against the tide as well and did the right thing. I'll be eternally grateful to them.