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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 9128


Senator WONG (South AustraliaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (21:54): Senator Brandis has moved amendment (1) on sheet 8333, which, as we on this side of the chamber understand it, appears to reflect one aspect of the ICCPR into Australian law. We think it is an unusual and novel proposal. We believe it has uncertain legal effect, some have asserted to us potentially far-reaching. On the one hand, Senator Brandis and others have suggested this is of minor or cosmetic or inconsequential effect. One wonders then on what basis there is a reason to put it into legislation.

Senator Paterson: Or oppose it!

Senator WONG: I intend to oppose it. We intend to oppose it. I'm just explaining why, Senator Paterson. As has been pointed out by a number of legal advisers, and also referenced in some of the documentation provided by the Human Rights Law Centre, there are some questions about the extent to which there may be unintended adverse consequences in relation to this amendment. I would also make the point that we find it somewhat odd that one would cherrypick the ICCPR in this way. For example, article 18.1 is singled out but not article 18.3, which states:

Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

Obviously, 18.3 constrains to some extent the rights articulated in 18.1 and reflected in the amendment that Senator Brandis has spoken to. I also note that article 26 of the ICCPR commences as follows:

All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law.

I pick up those two aspects of the covenant because it seems to us on this side that there's obviously, certainly in this chamber and to some extent in the community, an interest in discussing the place of religious belief and the way in which the law might safeguard better the right to have such a belief—the right to hold beliefs—and a discussion about the extent to which that belief might affect the application of Australian law. However, as I have said on a number of occasions today, that is a reasonably complex and at times controversial discussion, and it is certainly a discussion that goes quite directly to the way in which religion is dealt with in a secular state and to the extent to which absolute belief, and limited protection under the law for that, need to be balanced.

The Labor Party's view reflects to some extent Senator Brandis's introduction to this amendment, which is that this is a matter that rightly should go through the process that Prime Minister Turnbull has established. We believe that an amendment of this sort would better be considered in the context of that process. For that reason we will be opposing this.