Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
On this amendment, some people have raised questions about whether or not this is a real risk, given what the taxation commissioner and charities commissioner have issued, but the reality is under the funding side of things. Funding for bodies often comes from state governments. What we are seeing in the Northern Territory is an active review by the state government over the exemptions which are available to religious bodies. At the moment around Australia, particularly under federal law, those are exemptions in legislation which roll on from year to year. What's being proposed in the Northern Territory means that the very status of a group as a religious body and having the exemptions that they do—therefore their status, their ability to employ people aligned with their philosophy and outlook on life and their potential to continue to receive state or territory funding—is being looked at. What we see in the Northern Territory is that they are looking at whether that should be removed on a permanent basis and then renewed on an ongoing basis so people have to rejustify why they should have those exemptions. This is not something that is just in overseas law; it's not something that's going to be solved by letters from the commissioner. This is something that goes to the very heart of how nearly two-thirds of the welfare in Australia is distributed through NGOs, many of which are faith-based bodies. It goes to the heart of whether we view these bodies as charities because they do charitable work, or whether we view them as religious groups who do charitable work as a result of their religious beliefs. These amendments are appropriate in the Australian context because we're already seeing mooted changes in the Northern Territory that go to the heart of whether those bodies continue to be recognised and funded.