Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 September 2018


Scrutiny of Bills Committee; Scrutiny Digest

5:19 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I deal with this one, I flag that hopefully I will be dealing with one other report at some point over the next hour. We're waiting on finalisation of that.

On behalf of Senator Polley I present Scrutiny Digest 11 of 2018 of the Standing Committee for the Scrutiny of Bills.

5:20 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

I thought it was worth bringing to the chamber's attention some of the findings of the Scrutiny of Bills Committee on the legislation that we were considering in scrutiny of bills. In particular, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee was considering the proposed private senator's legislation from Senator Hanson regarding making it an offence for a person to have a full face covering in a public place—her 'ban the burqa bill'. The Scrutiny of Bills Committee had some quite firm views on this proposed legislation. The committee said:

… it may be considered that the bill might restrict both religious freedom and freedom of expression, and as such, may unduly trespass on personal rights and liberties.

The committee notes that the provisions of the bill may unduly trespass on personal rights and liberties. I thought this was worth bringing to the attention of the Senate this afternoon, given that religious freedom is such an ongoing issue in our deliberations at the current time, particularly with our Greens motion that just passed through the Senate in the last hour calling upon the government to table the final report into religious freedoms conducted by Phillip Ruddock. We're wanting the government to table that. The government's now been sitting on that report for the last four months. I think it is important to bring to attention the fact that we have to be paying attention to these issues of both religious freedom and religious discrimination. This is in the context of the rise of religious intolerance in our society today. We need to be very clear in this place that not only do we want to be tolerant but we should be celebrating religious diversity.

As I said, the Scrutiny of Bills Committee says that Senator Hanson's private senator's bill may unduly trespass on personal rights and liberties and restrict both religious freedom and freedom of expression. We know that Senator Hanson does such things regularly in this place. In terms of attacking the rights of people to be of the Muslim faith, she attacks them mercilessly. She insults, humiliates and intimidates, in the words of the 18C legislation. She vilifies, denigrates, defames, belittles, abuses, insults, smears, slanders, stigmatises and denounces. This bill fits into that context. We know that we have got far Right senators in this place who are intolerant and who will attack people on the basis of their religion. We need to know where this government stands and where our new Prime Minister stands. It seems, from our new Prime Minister, that he's all in favour of religious freedom when it comes to further discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people but is silent on protecting religious freedom when it's protecting the freedom to hold that religion and express that faith, particularly if that faith is not Christianity.

The Scrutiny of Bills Committee noted that, in the event that Senator Hanson's bill progresses further through the parliament, the committee may set out its scrutiny concerns in greater detail in a further Scrutiny Digest. I think it would be very helpful to both the scrutiny of bills consideration of Senator Hanson's bill and for all of us to actually have a lot more information on the table. The Ruddock review was intended to do that. Following the passage of the marriage equality legislation, the Ruddock review was intended to place all that information about balancing religious freedom and religious discrimination. It's way beyond time that we as a parliament and the Australian community had the benefit of those findings of that Ruddock review.

As I said, the Prime Minister and his predecessor, former Prime Minister Turnbull, have now had this review for four months and yet it is still in the dark. We—not only us as parliamentarians but the wider community, and particularly the LGBTI community—are being left in the dark. It's our rights that are being considered. We want to know what Philip Ruddock's review said and how the Prime Minister is responding to those findings. We need to see the Ruddock review. I'm hopeful that the government in fact will see fit to respond to our order for the production of documents and table the Ruddock review so that we can see for ourselves all of this consideration of the various weighing up of religious freedom and religious discrimination—if this is tabled here in this place at 9.30 tomorrow morning, which is when the motion of the Senate has asked it to be tabled.

It's worth noting, when considering these issues of religious freedom, what our Senate inquiry into the exposure draft of the marriage amendment bill said when considering the issues of how you weigh the rights of LGBTI people. Yes, we achieved marriage equality, but the Ruddock review is considering these issues. Our Senate inquiry reached consensus that the right to religious freedom should be positively protected, and the committee suggests that this could be most appropriately achieved through the inclusion of religious belief as a protected attribute in federal discrimination law. That was the finding that our Senate inquiry had. We need to know whether the Ruddock review has in fact embraced that.

You would think that protecting religion as an attribute would be something that Ruddock would have canvassed. Given that we reached consensus in our Senate inquiry, you'd hope that it would be given due consideration, but what we need to know is: does the Ruddock review go further? Does it recommend further discrimination against LGBTI people? We don't know that yet. Even more, we're concerned about it because of what we have heard Prime Minister Morrison say in recent weeks. He has said that he wants to go further and allow people, schools, hospitals and institutions to discriminate further against LGBTI people in the name of religious freedom. These are important issues that need transparency. We need to have all the information on the table to have a full debate.

We achieved a lot last year in reducing discrimination against LGBTI people through achieving marriage equality, but we have a lot further that we need to go. We have to get rid of further discrimination against LGBTI people. I and the Greens are concerned that, unless we keep a focus on this and keep focused on reducing discrimination, we are going to see further religious intolerance. We will see the religious intolerance that has been identified in our Scrutiny of Bills report. We will see intolerance towards LGBTI people in the name of religion, as has been evidenced in some of the statements by Prime Minister Morrison. In conclusion, I think it's very worthwhile to draw the attention of the Senate to the findings of our Scrutiny of Bills Committee. I implore the government to take note of the order for the productions of documents motion and to see fit to produce the Ruddock review tomorrow morning, as requested, for us all to consider.

Question agreed to.