Senate debates

Tuesday, 28 November 2017


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

6:39 pm

Photo of Concetta Fierravanti-WellsConcetta Fierravanti-Wells (NSW, Liberal Party, Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

I really am concerned about where the debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill is going. Senator Rice—really!—if you're going to make those sorts of statements you need to come in with some evidence. I'm sorry, Senator Pratt, perhaps I misunderstood you, but equating concerns about marriage to concerns about a pork chop—I mean, really! Is that what we have deteriorated to?

I would like to make some observations about the Ruddock committee. As senators will recall, Philip Ruddock and I were appointed in 2005 to embark on a national conversation about citizenship. As a consequence of that appointment, Philip and I undertook extensive consultation. It took us about a year to produce a report, and it took even longer for the recommendations to ultimately find their way into our parliament to be enacted as legislation. It is very disappointing—and I associate myself with the comments that have been made by other senators—to see members of the Labor Party who we know hold views and have expressed concerns in relation to this effectively being muzzled, because they're not allowed to exercise their conscience on this very important thing. Of course, they have now been told there's going to be this Ruddock report. But, rest assured, if you are going to do a comprehensive report and take a comprehensive look at this issue—which I think is a lot more complicated than the citizenship work that Philip and I did—it's going to take a long time. So we are not going to have recommendations coming to our chambers for a long time, and this issue is going to continue for all of that time. Some of you are saying, 'No, we don't want to put in any protections at this point.' Does that mean we are going to continue with this debate for the next year or two?

Senator Rice and others who have spoken: you too need to accept that, for some people, marriage between a man and a woman is a fundamental bedrock issue for their family. Many millions of migrants to this country hail from traditions and cultures where the family, and marriage between a man and a woman, has been the bedrock institution upon which their heritage has been founded for millennia. Many Australians of different heritages and faiths strongly believe this and want this to continue. They are very concerned about a change to the definition of marriage—and rightly so. They have a concern that their culture, which has been focused on the family, is going to change if marriage is redefined. Their concerns centre on the rights of parents in particular—I know because they have raised this directly with me in many different settings. Parents from different backgrounds want to raise their children and have them taught in schools consistent with their own culture and their own religion. Their concerns centre on their freedom to think and to speak their own cultural and personal views. Their concerns are centred on their faith. With many different faiths practised among Australia's diverse communities, and with many different faith based schools in Australia, their right to practise their faith freely and fully is absolutely of concern. These are the very people that those opposite profess to represent, especially in Western Sydney. I'd like to be a fly on the wall when people like Sam Dastyari and others—

The CHAIR: Senator Fierravanti-Wells, please remember to address senators by their correct title.

I'd like to be a fly on the wall when Senator Dastyari and others have the conversation with leading community and faith leaders in Western Sydney. What are they going to say to them?

They will say: 'We let you down. We're really not interested in your views. We're happy to have you. We're happy to stack you into our branches, but we're not interested at all in protecting your rights, listening to your concerns and affording you the protections that we know you deserve but that we are not prepared to give you, because we've been gagged. Sure, we want you to vote for us, we want you to stand in our booths and we want you to sit in our branches, but we're not going to be prepared to respect your religious views and most especially your concerns about issues pertaining to parental rights and issues in your schools.'


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