Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate representing the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister announced on 22 October, eight days after the marriage postal survey results were announced, that he'd formed an expert panel to review whether Australian law adequately protects the human right of religious freedom. On 18 May the panel gave its report to the government. On the very day he received the report, the current Prime Minister said he was absolutely committed to ensuring freedom of religion is protected in Australia. We know the Prime Minister has a track record of claiming to be absolutely committed to any number of issues which are subsequently abandoned like an unwanted cat. However, if the Prime Minister is truly absolutely committed to protecting the religious freedom of every Australian, why are we still waiting for the report and the government response to be tabled?
Let me say at the outset that, of course, all Australians are free to choose their religion and are entitled to express and practice their religion and their beliefs, without intimidation and without interference, as long as those practices are within the framework of Australian law.
Senator Bernardi is right: the Prime Minister received a final report into religious freedom from the expert panel, chaired by the Hon. Philip Ruddock, on Friday 18 May 2018. That expert panel received over 1,500 public submissions and held around 90 consultation meetings with 180 individuals and groups representing a diversity of views. The government is very grateful for the work done by the expert panel. The Prime Minister has asked the Attorney-General to lead the government's detailed consideration of the report before releasing it to the public and responding to its findings. As the Prime Minister has indicated, any reforms to protect religious freedom should be undertaken carefully. The panel has considered the issues involved in the review very carefully and it is important that the government has the opportunity to do the same. It would not be appropriate for me to pre-empt the government's final consideration of the report's recommendations.
What do you say to the parents of two children, seeking to assist the national foster care shortage by caring for two others, who were rejected because of their Christian views on gender and sexuality that were deemed or rendered unsafe? Does the government accept its dithering and inaction is coming at a cost to this couple's human rights and to vulnerable kids needing a home?
It's very difficult for me to comment on the circumstances of an individual family, individual children, or people proposing to care for children without being aware of the circumstances. These are sensitive matters, as I've indicated in my response to my primary questions.
All Australians are free to choose their religion and are entitled to express and practice their religion, and their beliefs, without intimidation and without interference, as long as those practices are within the framework of Australian law. I'm not prepared to wade into the question that Senator Bernardi has asked me without having a better appreciation of the specific circumstances that he is referring to.
Minister, a same-sex couple asked a photographer to take photos of their wedding. As a professional, he said he was perfectly happy to take the commission but in the interests of transparency he also courteously explained that his faith meant he had a traditional view of marriage and they should be aware of that before making a final decision on their wedding photographer. He is now being taken to a tribunal. Does the government consider that the loss of his religious freedom is an acceptable price of government inaction? (Time expired)
(—) (): The issues that Senator Bernardi traverses obviously deal with a whole range of complexities and sensitivities that are the reason the government has commissioned the Ruddock review to assess and to consider how best to ensure that appropriate religious freedom protections can be guaranteed into the future. Obviously, it is always preferable for all Australians, having a diversity of views on a whole range of subjects, to treat each other with tolerance, courtesy and respect. That is always preferable. It is always disappointing when, whatever you view on any topic, people feel that a tribunal or judicial process of any kind is the only avenue left to them. Again, I am not aware of the specific circumstances in relation to the case study that Senator Bernardi raises, but— (Time expired)