Katie Allen tells Q+A she stood up for her beliefs, Dylan Alcott says those with a disability deserve a chance
Liberal MP Katie Allen — who was one of five to cross the floor and side with Labor on amendments to the religious discrimination bill — told the audience of the first Q+A episode of the year that she “stood up” for her beliefs.
Q+A returned on Thursday with politics and activism at the centre of discussion
Liberal MP Katie Allen says she was happy with her decision to cross the floor in parliament
Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott called on business owners to let go of their stigma around hiring someone living with a disability
The government’s bill, which now looks set to not go back to parliament before this year’s federal election, was one of the main discussions on Thursday’s program.
It sought to repeal a section of the Sex Discrimination Act that allowed religious schools to discriminate against students and staff on the grounds of both sexuality and gender identity.
Dr Allen — along with Trent Zimmerman, Bridget Archer, Fiona Martin and Dave Sharma — voted with Labor in support of crossbench amendments to extend stronger protections against discrimination for transgender students and staff.
The Q+A panel were discussing the bill, which was debated during an overnight session in the House of Representatives earlier this week, when host Virginia Trioli told Dr Allen she looked happy that she had crossed the floor.
“I feel like I’ve stood up for what I believe in,” the Liberal MP said before receiving a round of applause from the audience.
“I feel thrilled about the whole process. Our democracy does work.”
The controversial bill was an election promise made by the federal government during the run-up to the 2019 election.
Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott told the panel he believed that many people were hurt by the debate, which has been ongoing in parliament.
“A bill that protected some people from discrimination but indirectly discriminated another group is a crap bill. It needs to go in the bin,” he said.
This was a view shared by 2015 Australian of the Year, Rosie Batty, who said she was reminded of the nasty experiences many in the LGBT community had ahead of the 2017 plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
“I think, as we enjoy the debate, it’s incredibly damaging for those who are transgender or queer or [diverse] in whatever way, shape or form it looks like,” she said. “I think that’s what’s really hurtful.”
The discussion on the religious discrimination bill was prompted by questioner Jen Van-Achteren, who asked Labor’s Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek why her party opted to amend the bill rather than simply vote against it.
The opposition front-bencher said Labor believed there were not enough protections in Australia for people of faith and these issues needed to be addressed as much as protections for the LGBTIQ+ community.
“Right now, in Sydney, if you were a Muslim woman sitting on a train and someone yells at you for wearing a hijab, you’ve got no protection under the law from that,” she said.
“It’s not fair that some Australians should feel unsafe.
“We would like to see protections for all Australians. We want every Australian to feel safe and included and that does include people of faith.”
Business owner says he feels guilty letting a disabled worker go
Joshua Costin runs a carpentry contracting business and told Q+A on Thursday that he still feels “rocked” after not employing someone with an intellectual disability after a trial.
“We had to let him go due to the fact that we were really busy and we simply didn’t have enough time to put into this individual,” he said.
“To train him up would have taken longer than others and would have required more resources to be taken up.
“I still feel guilty about letting him go.”
Mr Costin asked what more can be done to help businesses be able to take on workers who live with a disability and not bear a financial cost.
It was a question echoed by human resources worker Brigid Brinkley, who also wanted to know what barriers needed to be removed to help those living with a disability in the workforce.
Mr Alcott, who runs a disability consultancy firm, said the stigma around disability was still holding many back.
“I think the biggest thing we have to change is lifting your expectations of what people think we can do as people with disability because there’s always more than you think,” he said.
“Leave the negative stigmas and negative perceptions and the unconscious bias that’s been given to us through generations.”
Mr Alcott continued his previous calls for all parties to commit to fully funding the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) ahead of this year’s election.
The retired tennis champion said perceptions that the scheme was too expensive to fund was having major ramifications on the livelihoods of those who depended on it.
“It’s not so people can buy a nice car. It’s so people with a disability can have a shower every morning,” he said.
“So young kids with disability, high-level disabilities, don’t have to live in nursing homes or aged care facilities.”
Tom Calma calls for public to focus on issue, not ‘character assassinations’
The first question of the evening focused on Grace Tame, last year’s Australian of the Year who famously gave the “side eye” to Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month.
Questioner Anaru August asked if people in these roles should be able to advocate for their beliefs or be required to take a back seat.
“Should the Australian of the Year be bold and fearless in the eye of criticism or should they shrink to the back and nod their head, even to the most powerful in the land?” he asked.
Tom Calma — an indigenous activist and co-chair of Indigenous Voice — said he did not have any issue with how Ms Tame acted towards the Prime Minister and, instead, believed the focus needed to be on what she — along with former government worker Brittney Higgins — was advocating for.
“It’s the issues that both these young ladies have raised that we should be focusing on and we are giving them attention,” he said.
“Let’s move away from the character assassinations and the second-guessing as to why, and look at the issue.”
Ms Batty — who has said previously she would not have conducted herself in the same way as Ms Tame — said the consequences of that “side eye” has raised awareness.
“I wouldn’t have thought to do that,” she said. “However, look at what she’s been able to do because she did do it.
“I can reserve the right to go, ‘Maybe I was wrong’, because there’s a hell of a lot of people that think she was right.”