Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019


Religious Freedom, Blair, Dr David

8:12 pm

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

When Budi Sudarto came to Australia, he thought this to be a country that provided social and cultural protection for LGBTIQ people. Sadly, in recent times he's realised that this sense of safety is fragile. 'I'm scared,' he said to a room of MPs. Budi is queer. He's also Muslim. He shared his reflections on the current debate around religious freedom and the impact it will have on him and others like him, and he shared this heartbreaking realisation: 'In the next six months, I might not be safe.' Budi was speaking at the Parliamentary Friends of LGBTIQ Australians event last night about the government's draft religious discrimination bill. He and five other queer and trans people of faith shared their personal stories and discussed the complexities of the bill and its potential impacts.

The voices of queer and trans people of faith need to be heard and taken seriously now, more than ever, as the Morrison government forges ahead with its so-called religious freedom agenda. We must remember that this bill hasn't happened in a vacuum. Its beginnings can be traced back to the marriage equality debate. Make no mistake: it's the latest attempt by the government to curtail the rights of LGBTIQ+ communities. We must not be fooled by the coalition's attempt to make this bill seem uncontroversial, likening it to other federal antidiscrimination law. It's not comparable. This bill is unprecedented in its overriding of Tasmanian and Commonwealth laws and its privileging of some rights over others. It weakens the Sex Discrimination Act and the Racial Discrimination Act and explicitly undermines the protections of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act. It will expose people to being humiliated and intimidated in a way that is currently unlawful.

The conservative forces within and surrounding the coalition government have been unrelenting in their attempts to pit LGBTIQ+ people and people of faith against each other. It has become a tale of God versus the gays. But the speakers at the event last night told a different story, a story that all of us in this place need to hear right now. We were encouraged to come together in our diversity and were told of the importance of ensuring that we were protecting the rights of all people. We were reminded that those few, powerful conservative voices, however loud, do not speak for all people of faith; they are pushing a prejudiced agenda under the guise of religion.

It's vital that any bill that comes to this parliament ensures that all Australians are treated equally. That's why the Greens oppose this bill in its current form. Yes, we need to protect people of faith, but we must do it in a way that doesn't give special legal privileges to prejudice. I'd like to personally thank Nurul, Jo, Neha, Chris, Nathan and Budi for speaking at our event with such conviction, strength and integrity. These are the voices we need to amplify. These are the stories we need to hear. I'm going to finish with another quote from Budi, and I encourage all senators and MPs to hear his message loud and clear:

I hope all of us will realise we cannot legitimise hate. One of the most beautiful things about being human is our ability to connect, to love, to establish understanding and respect, because we all belong to the human race. We must embrace the thing that makes us human—our humanity.

It was raining on Sunday afternoon in Toolangi in Victoria's Central Highlands, but we couldn't feel bad about the rain. The mountain ash forests of the region only grow as they do—towers of strength, inspirational giants—with the rain they get. My wife, Penny, and I walked the short distance from the car to the CJ Dennis Hall to squeeze our way in and join a crowd of hundreds of people spilling out the doors. We were there to celebrate the life of Dave Blair and to mourn him, faced with his tragic, untimely death as a result of an accident while skiing in remote country.

Dave lived life to the full. He gave of himself, he revelled in the company of his family and friends and he loved nature. He immersed himself in nature in his work and through walking, cross-country skiing, rock-climbing and bike-riding. He loved spending time with his kids in nature and taking his Scout group out to explore and appreciate nature. He was an amazing, inspirational Scout leader. As his mother, Margaret, said to me over a cup of tea after the service, Dave was lucky in that he was able to work doing what he loved. Dave was a forest scientist. He had only fairly recently completed his PhD while simultaneously working for the Australian National University. Both his studies and his work were focused on the ecology of the mountain ash forests of central Victoria—that critically endangered ecosystem.

One of the last times I saw Dave was in November last year, when he and Professor David Lindenmayer were the expert ecologists who led a site visit to these forests for our Senate Environment and Communications References Committee inquiry into our animal extinction crisis. Dave showed us around the forest he loved so much, showed us his worksites where he measured, observed and helped build our understanding of these forests. Observing how the forests have been recovering from the Black Saturday bushfires had been a particular focus of his work, seeing and recording the damage done to these forest ecosystems from intensive, damaging logging.

Our Senate committee benefited from his time, his expertise and his passion. As chair of this inquiry I express my gratitude on behalf of all of us. I knew Dave as a gentle, selfless person, someone who was deeply passionate about the health of the vast, interconnected web of life on our planet, someone who knew that science can both show the threats that life is under and show the way forward. But we have to listen and act on what the science is telling us, rather than ignoring it because of powerful vested interests.

I want to finish by quoting some of the speech given by Dave's wife, Sera, at the memorial service on Sunday. I hope I can get through it. Sera said that she wanted to try to share the formula she thought Dave used to have such a happy and valuable life:

Be kind. Dave truly was an all-round nice guy.

Work hard. Participate fully in your life.

Take on the hills, don't just stick to the flats because they are easier.

Stand up for what you believe in.

Use your voice.

Head for the top of the mountain but enjoy the effort of getting there and the route along the way.

Be part of nature. Learn about it, be in awe of it, spend time really in it.

Get into the wilderness. Full your lungs with fresh air and take in the view.

Have fun! Never grow up entirely.

Get dirty. Build a massive rope swing and give yourself a thrill.

Stay fit and healthy. Keep moving. Dig lots of holes.

See the world. Embrace diversity. Empathise with people less fortunate than yourself.

Get to know people from all walks of life.

Get involved in your community. Pitch in.

Create opportunities for everyone to thrive.

Love your work. Do something that makes you proud.

Surround yourself with people who help you grow and succeed.

Get up early and make the most of each day.

Love your children.

Spend as much time with them as you can.

Teach them to look after themselves and to be good people.

Encourage them, cuddle them, make them feel safe and supported always.

Find someone to share your life with who helps you to grow, who supports your passions and who lets you be you.

Bring them cups of tea and pancakes in bed.

Find happiness in making others happy.

Don't wait. Make things happen.

All my love to Sera; Sera and Dave's sons, Jasper and Leo; Dave's parents, Margaret and Andrew; his wider family; and the many, many people whose lives were touched and influenced by David Blair and who are grieving for his loss.