Thursday, 7 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Consideration in Detail
On 21 August 2017, the New Zealand Charities Registration Board deregistered a charity, Family First New Zealand, a body advocating for the traditional understanding of marriage, on the basis that it 'has a purpose to promote its views about marriage and the traditional family that cannot be determined to be in the public benefit in a way previously accepted as charitable'. That will be the precise situation that charities in Australia will find themselves in if this amendment is not passed by this House and indeed by the parliament. We are threatening the very basis of those charities being able to operate for the good, the welfare, of millions of Australians, regardless of their religious background or not, by not passing this amendment.
A similar position was indicated in the United States. Some may say that the United States has a different legal system, but the United States charities law in this regard is based on English charities law, exactly the same as Australian charity law is. Indeed, no less a person than the Chief Justice of the United States, Justice Roberts, indicated that a similar situation would prevail in that country if this were passed in that form.
So the confidence being asked of us by the member for Leichhardt and the member for Isaacs is not borne out. It's not borne out by the law. It's not borne out by the experience which has occurred other jurisdictions that rely on the same common-law position as we do in Australia, and it's not borne out by the charities themselves. As Senator Fawcett pointed out in the Senate, there are many charities who are very concerned about this very provision. I've had charities come to me who are concerned about this provision, and I know from speaking to colleagues about this that many charities have spoken to them as well.
What we're doing, if we fail to pass this particular amendment moved by the Treasurer, is placing in danger the ongoing work of hundreds of charities throughout Australia, some of most well-known household names as far as the charity sector in this country is concerned. This does not stop for a moment the passage of the bill in terms of allowing same-sex marriage or marriage between any two people to occur in Australia. What the amendment does is protect the age-old position so far as charities are concerned. Simply to rely on one part of the charities law—namely, the advancement of religious purposes—and willy-nilly ignore the advancement of health, education, and social welfare would be a reprehensible step by this chamber to take in this regard. I ask all colleagues—colleagues who will see the passage of this bill and the passage into law of same-sex marriage in Australia—to at least look at what's being done here.
We've got a situation in the Labor Party where the idea of a conscience vote has been totally thrown out the window. The idea that every member of the Labor Party in both the Senate and the House will virtually vote the same way on everything is beyond belief. I ask my colleagues on this side and I ask the crossbenchers to look at what the adverse impact of this would be so far as charities in Australia are concerned. It's absolutely clear that what was put to the chamber earlier does not cover the whole situation. We have some responsibility, surely, to the charities of Australia and the millions of Australians who are served by those charities, to ensure that their status is not adversely affected by the passage of this legislation. Therefore, I urge colleagues to look at this carefully. Do not just have some knee jerk emotive reaction and say you can't have any amendments. Look at the reality of what this will mean so far as charities and millions of Australians are concerned and support this amendment.