Thursday, 7 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Consideration in Detail
Labor opposes this first part of the amendments, which, to make it clear, is an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act. It would radically unwind discrimination provisions through changing legal tests in unprecedented and legally unorthodox ways. Our discrimination laws set the standard for acceptable behaviour in Australia, and Australians do not want to wind the clock back 30 years. That is not what Australians have just voted for. The existing test in the Sex Discrimination Act is largely replicated in state and territory discrimination laws, which would mean that, if the first part of these amendments were to pass, Commonwealth law would be radically out of step with Australian law in the rest of the country. It would be legally unorthodox and extremely broad.
These amendments would dramatically lower the threshold for discrimination. The amendment appears to incorrectly import a concept from a Canadian Supreme Court case, Syndicat Northcrest and Amselem, out of context, to dramatically lower the bar for the definition of 'belief', amending the test from acts or practices in 'conformity' with religious belief to being 'consistent with religious belief', and from being 'in order to avoid injury to' religious susceptibilities to 'because of' religious susceptibilities. That is what it would do. That would lower the threshold for when a religious body can rely on an exemption in discrimination protections, altering the way in which incorporation of religious doctrine is assessed by the courts. The other thing that this amendment would do is to extend the types of organisations which are defined as a body established for religious purposes.
I do need to clear up one thing. It's been suggested that St Vincent de Paul supports this amendment. That is simply not correct. The amendment is inconsistent with the Senate report. The Senate committee emphasised that a marriage equality bill should be consistent with existing antidiscrimination laws. To deal with something that the member for New England has suggested: this debate has thus far been conducted without any partisan rancour. Labor aims to continue to debate this bill without partisan rancour. The note that was introduced to the debate just a moment ago by the member for New England should be discarded.
The amendment is unrelated to marriage. The bill before the House—and I have said this already in the debate—changes the law relating to marriage. That's all it does. It has within it religious protections. I want to refer to what the Prime Minister said at a press conference on 17 November. He said: 'Senator Smith's bill does include important protections for churches and for ministers of religion. It doesn't impose any restrictions on religious practice or religious speech or preaching or anything of that kind.' I agree with that and Labor agrees with that. And the Prime Minister said this: 'Freedom of religion is a critically important right of all Australians. It is part of us. It is recognised in the Constitution. So the protection of freedom of civil rights and freedom of religion in particular is one that's very important. But I have to say I do not see it as being threatened or impinged in any way by the Smith bill.' He's right about that too. Labor agrees with that, and that's the way in which this bill should be approached.
Finally, this amendment singles out LGBTIQ Australians. It's an amendment that would override state and territory laws in relation to LGBTIQ people in a way which cannot be justified, and Labor will not be supporting the first part of the amendment.