Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
I want to respond quickly to a couple of those comments. As senators would be aware, I chair the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. Following on from the Senate select committee inquiry and the evidence there that said religious freedom wasn't adequately protected in Australia, the Human Rights Subcommittee has been conducting an inquiry. Whilst I can't talk to the content of the report, which will be coming out very soon, what I can say is that the evidence given to that inquiry, including by the Australian Human Rights Commission, indicates that the protections for religious freedom in Australia are indeed lacking, in both consistency and substance, and the interplay between federal and state laws is an issue. The United Nations' sixth periodic review of Australia likewise highlighted that Australia has very poorly implemented any protections for religious freedom in law. That is why we have the issue that state antidiscrimination provisions are the things causing detriment to people, not so much federal law. While Senator Rice made the point that nothing in this bill will lead to an issue for people of faith, it is the action of state and territory antidiscrimination laws that is already, even before the law has changed, causing issues. My colleague Senator Smith said, 'Why don't you go to New Zealand and see the sky hasn't fallen in?' You don't have to go that far. Just go to Tasmania.
We heard from Senator Rice that we should stop referring to Archbishop Porteous. I won't. How about we refer to Mr Markham and Mr Gee, two gentlemen who have been taken before the commission in Tasmania because they put forward their support for traditional marriage?
Unlike Archbishop Porteous, who had the Catholic Church, with relatively deep pockets, to fork out the tens of thousands of dollars for their legal fees, here we have two people who are genuinely not highly paid in the professions they do, and tens of thousands of dollars could indeed prove to be devastating for them in terms of their family finances, mortgages, houses et cetera. Figuratively, for those people, the sky may well fall in terms of what they are exposed to currently. This is not an overseas jurisdiction. This is happening right now in Australia to two people who have expressed their view about the traditional definition of marriage. So this is not a figment and not a forecast from somewhere else; this is happening right now. The concern with pushing things off into an inquiry, as we heard from Senator Fierravanti-Wells, and as has been acknowledged the last time we tried to align antidiscrimination laws, is that it takes a long time.
I have one other comment to Senator Smith, who said, 'This government bill.' I remind senators that it didn't go through the cabinet or the party room. It was not a government draft bill that was put out with the provisions for the plebiscite, which were not supported in this place. Finally, there is another amendment which deals with charities. I will talk about that in more detail later.