Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; In Committee
I rise in support of the final amendment moved by Senator Fawcett and I, and I want to reassure senators that the ambition and scope of this amendment is much narrower than I think Senator Wong believes it is. Effectively, what this amendment seeks to do is to make sure that an organisation that may currently be classed as a charity established for welfare purposes, but which is also religious in nature, is able to access all the existing protections that a religious organisation does. It doesn't seek to include any new protections. It doesn't seek to widen any existing protections. It just seeks to ensure an organisation that is substantially religious in nature can access the protections that other religious organisations already have.
To put a particularly fine point on that, I refer again to the explanatory memorandum to my bill and quote from it, because I think this is an extraordinary case. Some of you—in fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say I suspect all of you—are familiar with the work of the charity called St Vincent de Paul Society. The EM states that the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Tribunal held that St Vincent de Paul Society is not a body established for religious purposes under the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act 1991, with the result being that 'St Vincent de Paul could not require that a president of a local conference be a Catholic'. Does any senator seriously think that St Vincent de Paul Society is not a religious organisation? I think they have a fairly good hint in their name that they are a religious organisation: St Vincent. It is a fairly good advertisement that it is a religious organisation that was established for a religious purpose. It was established by good people, who happened to be Catholic, who want to do good works in the state of Queensland. Yet an Anti-Discrimination Tribunal decision in Queensland has found it is not a religious body. That decision means that they are not eligible for the protections that do exist for religious bodies. I think that is absolutely absurd. This is clearly a religious body, established for religious purposes, that also does good work in the welfare space.
We hope that they are able to continue doing that work and we want to make sure they are able to continue doing that work. This amendment seeks to establish that clearly religious organisations, like St Vincent de Paul Society, are classed as such and access the existing legal benefits and protections of being so.