Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


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

6:30 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I just want to remind all of us here and those who may be listening at home that we are debating marriage, because anybody that has been listening in for most of the last hour and a half might think we have, in fact, begun the debate that we're looking forward to having sometime next year about the far-reaching, complex reform of our antidiscrimination laws. Yes, that's needed. But I want to remind you that we're here because the majority of Australians have said they want change in our marriage laws to remove discrimination so that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people can share in the rights of marriage along with all other Australians. It's pretty simple.

A lot of what we've been hearing about is, as I said, much more far-reaching discrimination—in fact, it is entrenchment of further discrimination. In fact, it's using marriage as a Trojan Horse to try to implement the right-wing agenda of the right-wing warriors of the Institute of Public Affairs. This is not about marriage; it's not what the majority of Australians want us to debate today. I would be almost tempted to leave my contribution there, because all of the other points, and certainly the far-reaching things that are included in these proposed amendments, do not belong in the Marriage Act—full stop. There are some significant issues, some concepts, some debates that we almost certainly do need to have as a country. When does one person's religious freedom become another person's discrimination? That's basically what we're talking about—how do you weigh up people's freedom to manifest their religion? When does that then becomes a discrimination?

In other countries around the world, that's done through having a human rights act, a bill of rights or a charter of rights so that you can actually have the legal cases that say, on the one hand, 'This is my right to manifest my religion,' and say, on the other hand, 'By you manifesting your religion that way, you are discriminating against me as an LGBTI person.' That's where we need to be having that debate and resolving those issues. We cannot resolve it—and we shouldn't be resolving it—in the Marriage Act.

I want to quickly talk through some of the key themes that have been raised in the debate this afternoon. Firstly, there is the completely wrong assertion that anything that is in this bill is going to impact upon freedom of speech. There is nothing in this legislation that is going to impact upon people's freedom of speech. Once this legislation goes through the parliament, our legislation over freedom of speech is going to be as it was before. It's interesting that, of the legal cases that have been raised—and we've had a range of Australian cases that have been referred to—none have been through the full legal process. We've heard about Archbishop Porteous a number of times. That legal case was not completed under Tasmanian antidiscrimination law. It probably would be appropriate for a test case of that sort to be completed so that we then know where we stand under Tasmanian antidiscrimination law. But it hasn't been completed at the moment, so you cannot use it as an example as to how this bill is going to impact upon freedom of speech. The other cases we have been talking about are all in jurisdictions that have very different antidiscrimination laws. In fact, they all have bills of rights. They all have the ability to be judging whether someone's freedom of religion is impacting too detrimentally upon somebody else's rights. They are not applicable to the Australian situation, and nothing in this law is going to impact upon Australians' freedom of speech.

The second point I want to raise is about the incredibly far-reaching elements of the antidetriment laws that have been proposed here. They've been described as a shield—absolutely, they look like a shield. They mean that anybody would have the ability to say the most outrageous, offensive, bigoted things against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex or queer people, or about their relationships, their children or how fit they are to be parents, and no-one could take action against them. Under our existing antidiscrimination laws they would not be able to take action if this antidetriment clause were put in place. That would be enabling the most far-reaching discrimination against LGBTI people, far beyond anything we have seen or are experiencing currently in Australia. It would be an extraordinary development, not in antidiscrimination but in discrimination against LGBTI people, which is exactly what the Australian people did not want to see. The Australian people wanted to see removal of discrimination under marriage.

Finally, I want to go to the issue of so-called parental rights, which is the whole issue of what is taught in schools. Frankly, I see this as being a last-ditch effort to basically not accept that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people exist. They exist in schools. Young kids know that they are trans. They know that they would like to affirm the gender that they really are. Whether parents like that, whether the schools like that, whether the authorities like that or support that, it doesn't negate the fact that they exist. We know that supporting young trans, gay, lesbian and bisexual people in our schools is incredibly important, because it does save lives. It's particularly the case where you have a young trans person or a young same-sex-attracted person whose parents are very unaccepting of their sexuality or their gender identity. They are the people who are most at risk. They're the people who most need the support of their school community, of their peers, because they are the people whose lives are going to be saved by having that supportive school environment. The sorts of discrimination against those young people that would come into place if these amendments were put into place would be extraordinary. It would almost certainly result in more young people taking their own lives. I know that's an extreme thing to say, but it is true. We know that having programs like Safe Schools in schools saves lives. It is shown; it is proven.

So that is what we are talking about. We are talking about accepting that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender fluid, gender diverse, intersex and other queer people really exist and deserve to have the support of our society so that they know they are accepted by society, that they are valued and that they are cherished. That is what is under attack by the sorts of amendments that are being proposed this evening.


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