Thursday, 7 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Consideration in Detail
I'll be very brief in responding to one or two matters that were raised just then. I will be opposing these amendments, but I will start by acknowledging the genuinely held and professed concerns expressed just then by the member for Menzies, as well as those members moving these amendments: the member for Cook and the member for Boothby, who I have a lot of respect for, and, before that, many other members—the members for Deakin, McPherson, Dunkley, Warringah and others.
On this matter we disagree, respectfully, about the exact line where a compromise is to be struck. I remain forever grateful, as it seems most members on this side of the House do, for belonging to the great Liberal Party, which allows for a difference of opinion, allows for debates and conscience votes, and may, in fact, be the only party these days capable of bringing a majority of mainstream Australians along for the journey together into future.
The matter that I wanted to draw out in response to some of the concerns just raised was pointed to by the member for Menzies. It is a particular sentence in the letter of the acting charities commissioner, suggesting that it required this amendment to be moved to resolve any concerns. The member for Leichhardt did table that document, but I understand he also tabled some additional emails and some correspondence between a senator and the acting charities commissioner. I'm willing to be corrected on that, and I'll read it into the record in a moment, just in case. What the acting charities commissioner said in an email dated 24 November 2017 was very relevant and interesting on this point, so I'll put it on the record now:
The commission view is that under the current ACNC and Charities Act framework, it is unlikely—
that a charity for the advancement of religion could lose charitable status by adopting and advocating for the pre-existing definition of marriage. That is, it would be unlikely—
that a lawfully held view and advocacy of that view could be against public policy or public benefit.
However, given the doubts and concerns that have been raised arising from comments in other jurisdictions — particularly New Zealand and UK, a legislative provision confirming the intention of Parliament that the charity status of such an entity should not change by reason of the new definition, would put the matter beyond doubt.
I trust this clarifies but I would be happy to discuss further if required.
I'm still quoting—
not legally necessary but could remove any legal debate.
I'll repeat that final sentence for the benefit of honourable members: 'In short, not legally necessary but could remove any legal debate.' So this is not legally necessary according to the charities commissioner and therefore I and others remain unconvinced of the need for these amendments.
The Ruddock review will provide an opportunity to revisit this and some of the broader concerns on non-religious matters that were raised very legitimately by the member for Menzies just then and that do fall outside of the remit of the Marriage Act, which we're proposing to amend here today. If the Ruddock review engages in comprehensive consultation and recommends changes to laws such as these—and presumably it would then recommend that more than just views on marriage be protected—then I and others in this place would find that very persuasive and convincing.