Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee

6:14 pm

Photo of James PatersonJames Paterson (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise very briefly to respond to some observations made by Senator Pratt and one observation made by Senator Collins. Firstly, I will address in aggregate the concerns raised by Senator Collins, which I suspect reflect the concerns of her fellow-minded Labor senators, as a no-voting Labor senator. In essence, Senator Collins was putting a great deal of faith in a future process, the Ruddock review, to provide the protections for religious freedoms and other freedoms that are not in the current law. While I'm very positive about the Ruddock review, and I think it is a very worthy initiative, I don't share Senator Collins's confidence that a future process, which is not yet even started, is something that we can rest our hat on in order to deliver the freedoms that she and I—I think—agree are necessary now. The simple fact is that the review is not due to be returned to the government until April, I believe, so in between legislating same-sex marriage and that time, there will be no protections. Even when the review is returned to the government, there is no guarantee that there will be consensus either within the government or within the parliament about how to address those issues. It is quite possible that the end outcome of the Ruddock review process will be no additional protections. That means that those Labor senators who do have concerns and who are going to vote with their party and not exercise a conscience vote that may or may not be available to them—it's not really clear—are putting a great deal of faith in an uncertain protection in the future.

Coming back to Senator Pratt's comments: they were measured and considered, as always—I appreciate that—but I think they were misinformed about this part of the amendments. Senator Pratt was concerned that they are, in some way, one-sided in that they protect people who only have a relevant marriage belief or a traditional marriage belief. The reason that is the case is that it is only people who have a traditional marriage belief who may have detrimental action taken against them, because there are only laws in existence in Australia which limit their freedoms on these issues—a concrete example is the Tasmanian antidiscrimination laws. The Tasmanian antidiscrimination laws do not prevent me going out in Hobart and saying anything I like about someone who has a traditional marriage belief. There is no restriction on that. There is a restriction in those laws about going out and saying whatever I would like or whatever anyone else would like to say about same-sex marriage, my belief in same-sex marriage or otherwise. That is currently restricted. It's one-sided in the sense that it is responding to our existing laws which are one-sided.

Senator Pratt mentioned, particularly, the example of classes. No-one has ever disputed, to my knowledge, that parents should have the right to remove their child from a religious instruction class, for example. Parents do that all the time. I'm aware of it extensively in my home state of Victoria. But it is not clear that parents have that same right to remove their child from a class that, for example, teaches the Safe Schools program and teaches values inconsistent with the values of marriage of the parents. It is one-sided in the sense that it is responding to the existing status quo, which is one-sided.

That equally applies to the antidetriment clause. Senator Pratt characterised the antidetriment clause as a sword, which I think is a very unfair and untrue characterisation of it. It is, as Senator Fawcett described it, a shield. All that it stops is detrimental action being taken against someone who has a traditional belief in marriage. What that means is that they cannot be unfairly treated based on their views or their values. It is a protection that already exists for people on the basis of their sexuality or their gender identity but which does not exist for people who have a traditional belief in marriage. It is a new provision but a necessary one, in my view.


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