Coalition MPs urge caution over ‘redundant’ bill to exclude trans women from female sport

Several Coalition MPs have questioned Senator Claire Chandler’s controversial bill to restrict trans women playing in female sports, calling for caution as they believe it is “redundant” or needs more work.

It comes as the Australian Christian Lobby said it expected Chandler’s bill would be revisited in the next parliament. Conservative lobby group Advance Australia has also launched a campaign calling for Coalition moderates Trent Zimmerman, Dave Sharma, Andrew Bragg and Warren Entsch – who it described as “numpties” – to be voted out at the election over their criticism of Warringah candidate, Katherine Deves.

Chandler’s legislation, which she called her “save women’s sport” bill, proposes changes to the Sex Discrimination Act to “clarify” that the operation of single-sex sport on the basis of biological sex is not discriminatory. But critics say its aims are already covered by existing laws.

Prime minister, Scott Morrison, has expressed support for the proposal, but later noted it was only a private senator’s bill and not government policy. Deves – who founded the advocacy group Save Women’s Sport Australasia – has claimed credit for helping develop Chandler’s “Save Women’s Sport” bill. Several Coalition senators also backed the bill, but others have voiced reservations.

South Australian senator Andrew McLachlan said he wanted Chandler’s bill to be examined by a parliamentary committee before coming to a debate or vote.

“The private member’s bill proposed by Senator Chandler will be examined by parliamentary committees and these committees will report on the issue and whether legislative intervention is warranted,” he said.

‘Not a debate I want to politicise’

Queensland LNP senator Gerard Rennick said he was concerned about safety issues around trans athletes in female competitions, but did not believe the parliament needed to take action.

“I hate identity politics, we shouldn’t be using it to score points. Not just the Liberals but Labor too,” he said.

Rennick said he wasn’t critical of Chandler, but didn’t support the push.

“We should be able to have this conversation without being labelled a bigot but it’s not a debate I want to politicise,” he said.

NSW senator Andrew Bragg has said existing law “already addresses this issue” and that he was “not aware of any evidence that the law is deficient”. On Friday, he too called for the bill to be examined before progressing.

“Scrutiny of legislation is a key function of the Senate and this non-government bill requires significant scrutiny before it is put to a vote,” he said.

“I expect any Senate inquiry will show the bill is redundant due to the current legal provisions on strength, stamina and physique.”

Other government moderates, who declined to be named, have told Guardian Australia of their significant concern that Morrison was elevating the controversy during the federal election period, noting that Australia’s sporting codes were managing issues of participation effectively.

But Coalition senator Susan McDonald added her voice to senators in favour of the bill, claiming Chandler’s push was “entirely reasonable, and can be done without denying the humanity of transgender people”.

“It is wrong to dismiss these concerns or to shame parents and females as somehow being bigoted transphobes for expressing views that a small minority don’t like,” she said.

“This is an important discussion to have and it must be done in a respectful and considerate way for both sides of the debate.”

Labor leader, Anthony Albanese, this week said legislative change was not needed.

“That is covered by the Sex Discrimination Act. It’s covered that girls should be able to play sport against girls and boys should be able to play sport against boys,” he said.

“Sports currently are in control of this issue.”

Labor MP, Graham Perrett, described the proposal as “a Morrison-culture-division-war special”.

“Go and talk to some sporting clubs and schools – they are all over this,” he tweeted.

Support for Deves will boost bill

Wendy Francis, the ACL’s national director, said that although Morrison had “distanced himself” from the Chandler bill in the campaign he had strongly backed Deves.

“It’s a little bit of back and forward but certainly the support we’ve seen for Katherine Deves’ comments we’ve been grateful for,” she said.

Asked if Morrison may restate his earlier support for the Chandler bill after the campaign, Francis said: “I do think so, there’s a growing number of parliamentarians in support of Katherine Deves and that will strengthen Claire Chandler’s arm with her bill.”

“I think it will be revisited in the next term of parliament if the Coalition is re-elected, and Labor have a lot of people on the left side of politics concerned about it as well. I don’t see it as an issue going away quickly.”

Christian Schools Australia has also backed Chandler’s bill, with director of public policy, Mark Spencer, declaring that “sensible amendments” were needed to enshrine the principle that “girls should be able to play sport against girls” and boys against boys.

“Our political leaders are misinformed if they believe that the current provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act provide clear protections to ensure that this can occur – this is simply not the case,” he said in a statement.

“Senator Chandler’s bill provides clarity and support for women and girls and it still allows sports to make their own decisions on inclusion – just without the threat of litigation if they ignore the shrill claims of a small number of activists.”

Chandler wrote an email to supporters on Friday, claiming “the dam wall has broken” and that her cause had “the support of millions of Australians”.

“It was only a matter of time. Female athletes across Australia are speaking up to save women’s sport,” Chandler wrote.

“Women around the world have been intimidated into silence for too long, but not any more.”

Advance Australia, which campaigned strongly against Warringah MP, Zali Steggall, at the 2019 election, backed Deves and is calling for supporters to vote against Liberal MPs who had criticised her views.

“DO NOT let the pathetic “modern Liberal” faction and their buddies in the Climate 200 clique get you down,” the group wrote on its website.

“Trent Zimmerman, YOU should be sacked by the people of North Sydney for your woke nonsense … Warren Entsch, YOUR very, very different views are the reason you should be VOTED OUT. IGNORE Dave Sharma and Senator Andrew Bragg.”

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