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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 9120


Senator RICE (Victoria) (21:12): It is very clear from these proposed amendments that what is being attempted goes far beyond what needs to be done to protect religious freedoms or sensibilities in the Marriage Act. It is very clear. You only have to look at what is being amended. The act that's being amended is the Sex Discrimination Act. When we had our Senate inquiry earlier this year we talked about the interaction between marriage and, potentially, our antidiscrimination laws. The agreement we reached—and it was reflected in the consensus report—was that, in order to ensure that religious freedoms were protected, and how that balanced up with our antidiscrimination laws, we probably did need to look at our antidiscrimination laws. We needed to look at how well religious freedom was protected. My recollection, my understanding, was that we agreed by consensus that we weren't going to try to do that through this marriage legislation. Indeed, that's the process that has been continued. Even with the Prime Minister's appointment of Mr Ruddock to the religious panel looking at religious freedoms there is an acceptance that we don't need to do a wholesale review of the Sex Discrimination Act through the legislation. In fact, not only do we not need to do it but it is wrong to try to do it through the Marriage Act. It doesn't need to be done and it is wrong to try to do it through the Marriage Act.

I think one of the benefits of the debate we have been going through is that there is a greater awareness of the potential conflict between protecting people's ability to manifest their religion, and how that conflicts with other people's rights. I have said this a number of times this evening already. How that needs to be resolved is to be in the context of our antidiscrimination laws. The Greens are on record as saying: 'Bring on that debate in our community. Bring on that discussion.' We have a hotchpotch of antidiscrimination laws at the moment. We need to have a coherent, comprehensive set of antidiscrimination laws, of human rights laws. We need to have a bill of rights, or a charter of rights. That's where all of these potential changes should be debated through and potentially adopted. It does not need to be done through the Marriage Act.

The Greens believe that the existing religious provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act actually go too far, but we, in our contributions to this debate and in the amendments that I'm going to be moving later on, haven't attempted to unwind those provisions because we know that doing that would mean we would not end up with a marriage bill that is likely to pass through this parliament. This whole process has been about trying to put together legislation that has got the best chance of passing through this parliament.

Some of the existing provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act that we think go too far include, for example, that church-owned businesses are able to discriminate. We say, 'No, we don't think that's appropriate; a church-owned business that's operating a commercial business shouldn't be able to discriminate.' There are provisions that say religious schools are able to discriminate about who they employ as teachers and are able to discriminate based on a teacher's sexuality or gender identity. In fact, after this legislation goes through it is going to be quite legal, if a teacher at a religious school wants to get married and they are in a gender diverse relationship, for them to be sacked. That is what our existing Sex Discrimination Act will allow. We think that goes too far, but that's the existing law.

For the purposes of getting equal marriage through this parliament and of removing discrimination in marriage, we've said, 'No, we won't try to go there; we won't try to resolve those issues here.' But that's what this amendment is trying to do. It is really trying to rewrite our antidiscrimination laws by stealth to vastly expand what the meaning of a religious organisation is and, as a consequence, vastly expand the amount of discrimination that would be potentially inflicted upon lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex Australians.

We are on the cusp of getting marriage equality through this parliament. We are on the cusp of doing that because there have been a lot of people, from all sides of this parliament, who have worked together. We had some commentary earlier that I was supporting the contribution of Senator Smith in this debate. Absolutely I'm supporting the contribution of Senator Smith in this debate, and I've been supporting the contributions of Senator Pratt and Senator Wong as well, because we recognise that, to get legislation for marriage equality and to remove discrimination in marriage, we need to be working together. That's what the bill, as it stands, aims to do. With amendments like these bolted onto it, it would just increase discrimination and absolutely would not have the support of the senators in this place, of the majority of the members of the House of Representatives, or, indeed, of the majority of Australians.