Senate debates

Wednesday, 29 November 2017


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

9:47 am

Photo of Eric AbetzEric Abetz (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

On behalf of a loose but quality group of senators that supported the Fawcett and Paterson amendments, I have the privilege of rising to express certain views in relation to further amendments that will be moved today. I just want to place that on the record.

In relation to Senator Hanson's contribution, can I acknowledge that the postal survey may have had its certain weaknesses, but I think, at the end of the day, we can accept—and this is coming from me as a 'no' voter—that the will of the Australian people was, regrettably, to allow same-sex marriage in the Marriage Act. And whilst we can argue around the margins, and it's an interesting debate, at the end of the day I don't think it makes, with respect, any material difference to the outcome. It might have been 59 per cent instead of 61 or 62, but, at the end of the day, I think there was a clear expression by the Australian people. I want to place that on the record and move onto Senator Hinch's very stereotypical commentary.

He assumed and presumed to talk on behalf of gay people. As Senator Hinch and others in this place know, there are many gay people who voted no and advocated for the 'no' vote. So this attempt to pigeonhole everybody that might be gay or lesbian into a particular category does a great disservice to our fellow Australians. Just as much as there were good straight or heterosexual—to use those terms—men and women who voted yes for same-sex marriage, there were same-sex attracted people who voted no and advocated for the 'no' vote. That is where genuine tolerance comes into this debate—recognising that there are heterosexuals and homosexuals who do not fit your stereotypical view of the world. That is where I would just invite Senator Hinch to acknowledge that there are those varying views in the Australian community—and they are all valid views. They are all views that ought be allowed to be given expression.

If, as I suspect, the definition of marriage is changed later on next month when the House of Representatives deals with it, I trust that the same tolerance will continue to be allowed for people to say that this was a regrettable change. That is what a free democracy is all about, not trying to shut down people and say, 'We've heard too much of them' or 'Senator Bernardi allegedly boasted that there would be a lot of amendments.' Well, in this place, a lot of people who are genuinely motivated want to move amendments to make legislation better. It happens each and every day. To say to somebody who's done a lot of work and put a lot of thought and consideration into amendments that they are just doing it so they can boast on Sky, I think, once again, displays an intolerance. It has been amazing to me how often those who preach tolerance are often the most intolerant to people who disagree with them.

I will now turn to the actual amendments moved by Pauline Hanson's One Nation party and indicate support for them. As a Liberal, I think the less bureaucracy the better. There is no need to categorise people into two different categories. On human rights, as I have said through this debate—and I will continue to say it—there are certain human rights where religious freedom, conscientious objection or conscientious freedom are just as vital. So men and women of no religious disposition should be given just as much right as people of a religious disposition in relation to these matters. I have said previously that, just as there ought be rights given to the person standing at the front of a congregation clothed in clerical garb—if that is what their particular denomination is—why should those rights then be denied to the people sitting in the congregation and in the pews? Why should a minister of religion be clothed with extra rights than the congregants or, indeed, those that never darken the doorstep of a church but have conscientious beliefs? Their rights should be protected in a tolerant society.

To try to categorise and pigeonhole certain people, saying, 'We will register you because of your religious beliefs and, therefore, we need a special register,' is, I think, unnecessarily divisive and unnecessarily bureaucratic, and no case has genuinely been made out as to why a change such as that being suggested in the original bill is needed. That is why we support Senator Hanson's amendments.

Whilst we are talking about percentages, I would note that over 50 per cent of the Australian population still identify as Christian, and there are a host of other religions as well. When you start adding them all up, dare I say it, you get close to that magic figure that Senator Hinch always likes to announce—namely, 62 per cent—in relation to the postal survey. But, all of a sudden that 62 per cent in the postal survey—you know that survey that was non-binding, irrelevant, of no value at all—is cast iron; it has to be absolutely followed to the letter of the law. But, of course, we're not doing that in this bill, because the only question that was asked was about same-sex marriage as opposed to all the other things.

That aside, when there is a 62 per cent majority of Australians that are of a religious belief, people like Senator Hinch don't want to hear that 62 per cent figure, nor do they want to hear the figure in the same polls that were taken, which predicted the outcome of the survey, of an even greater majority in favour of protecting people's freedoms. Those percentages, those figures, are conveniently discarded, ignored, as though they don't exist. The simple fact is you can be a 'yes' voter—and I know many who did vote yes—but still believe in religious freedom, in freedom of speech, in conscientious objection, in parental rights and especially protections for charities which this Senate so arrogantly threw out last night. In so doing, a lot of 'yes' voters will feel aggrieved.

Coming back to the amendment, the amendment makes sense. There should only be one category—and that is the authorised celebrant—and the need to try to categorise two different lots is completely unnecessary. In a society that celebrates—dare I use the words—diversity and tolerance, we should say to people, be they celebrants of a religious disposition or celebrants not of a religious disposition, 'You are free and able to celebrate those marriages that you seek to solemnise and, should you wish not to, there is no pressure on you.' Some, for example, religious celebrants are of the view that you should not be celebrating the remarriage of a divorced individual. That is something that is understood. I'm not sure that I necessarily agree with it, but that is their right. In a free and tolerant society, they should be able to say, 'Unless you are part of our congregation, unless you subscribe to our beliefs, unless these characteristics apply, because of our faith or because of my beliefs as a civil celebrant, I'm sorry, I cannot assist you on this occasion.' This is, in fact, about tolerance. This is, in fact, an amendment about giving individuals their fundamental freedoms and rights, and the group of senators that I have the honour of speaking on behalf of support these amendments.


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