Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Transcript of interview with Hamish MacDonald: Radio National: 9 July 2018: religious freedom



Download PDFDownload PDF

TRANSCRIPT

Senator James Paterson

Liberal Senator for Victoria

Monday 9 July 2018

RN Breakfast

Subjects: Religious freedom

Hamish MacDonald:

Another round in the so-called culture wars could be about to begin with religious freedom potentially the new flashpoint. The polarising debate has been further fuelled by a call by the cabinet minister Dan Tehan for Australia to adopt a religious discrimination act. He argues that people of faith need greater protections from the rise of, quote: “Minority fundamentalism” and “the creeping encroachment on their beliefs by supporters of same sex marriage, euthanasia, and the end to the sanctity of the seal of confessional.”

Liberal Senator James Paterson supports calls for a religious discrimination act. Last year he produced he own marriage equality bill, which would have allowed civil marriage celebrants and service providers to refuse service for same sex weddings on the basis of religious freedom.

Senator James Paterson, welcome back to breakfast.

Senator James Paterson:

Good morning Hamish.

MacDonald:

You support the need for greater religious protections in this country - it’s a pretty secular country, it must be said - why are they needed?

Paterson:

Well it’s a very secular country, and as an agnostic myself personally I know more than anyone else that religious freedom is a very worthy right to be protected. It’s a right which Australia has signed numerous international treaties to say that we will protect. And secular

societies more than any others must protect our pluralistic nature that allows us to freely worship what we believe, but also to live out our values in the world.

MacDonald:

So who exactly is being discriminated against on the basis of their religious views.

Paterson:

This is a risk that we want to guard against in the future, Hamish. We don’t want people to be mistreated on the basis of their religious views.

MacDonald:

Sure, but in terms of making the argument, does this problem exist currently? Who is being discriminated against?

Paterson:

Well Hamish, I think this a negative focus to take on it…

MacDonald:

Well it’s a legitimate focus to take, because if we need to change the laws we need to understand why. Who is being discriminated against?

Paterson:

Hamish, people of faith feel like they are being crowded out of the public square. They feel like their views are not as welcome in being contributed to public debate as others, and they feel like the secularisation…

MacDonald:

Who? Specific faiths?

Paterson:

I think, actually, people generally of faith feel that. I think Christians feel that more than others, because Christians in this country have generally been, in the past, a clear majority. But all the trends show that they’re becoming an increasingly smaller group in our society, and as a result they feel like the place that they once held in public debate and in public life is not as secure as it was. And you see people who espouse their views in public debate getting attacked increasingly viciously.

MacDonald:

But what do you mean by crowded out? That’s not the same thing as discriminated against, though. Because, I mean, in the public debate we speak to people of faith all the time - on this program and others - that’s very much part of the ongoing public discourse on all sorts of matters.

Paterson:

That’s right. I think that’s absolutely fair and true, Hamish. But let’s take one concrete example: The Coopers Breweries debate that was organised last year between my colleagues Andrew Hastie and Tim Wilson. They have different views on faith and they have different views on same sex marriage. A nation-wide boycott of Coopers was launched, their bottles of beer were smashed in the street and videos uploaded to Facebook because it was an outrage to some that we could even be having a debate about same sex marriage. And that was an extraordinary demonstration of the hostility that many people hold for people of faith speaking publicly about their values.

MacDonald:

So how would these laws effect a situation like that? I mean, it still happened.

Paterson:

It did, but there was a serious backlash from it. And I’m not proposing that we should regulate people about what type of beer they should buy. That’s up to them. But…

MacDonald:

Sure, but how would these laws prevent something like that?

Paterson:

Well perhaps a better example, Hamish, is the Julian Porteous case…

MacDonald:

No, no. sorry, that’s the example you’re using, so if that’s relevant, how would these laws influence a scenario like that?

Paterson:

Hamish, I used that example because you asked me for an example where people in public life espousing their Christian faith had come under attack and criticism - that’s one good example. Another good example is the case of Archbishop Julian Porteous from Tasmania - he’s the Catholic Archbishop. And he distributed a pamphlet called Don’t Mess with Marriage, which relayed the Catholic church’s teachings on marriage in what I thought - although I don’t agree with, it because I support same sex marriage - was a fairly mild way. Now a complaint under section 17 of the Tasmanian anti-discrimination act was made by an activist - and thankfully it was withdrawn. But it is actually legally unclear how Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commission would have decided that case and ultimately how courts would have decided that case. So expressing your view on marriage in a state like Tasmania is now legally risky.

MacDonald:

So these laws, these federal laws, would clarify that?

Paterson:

I think they should, yes.

MacDonald:

So, marriage equality has been legalised for more than six months now in Australia. Are there any actual examples of people’s religious rights being trampled or undermined by these laws?

Paterson:

None that I’m aware of, Hamish, and that’s a very pleasing thing, and that’s something that I spoke about during the debate about same sex marriage in the parliament. I said we should have protections as a reassurance, we should have these protections as a backstop, but I hope that they’re not necessary. And so far, the good news is that they haven’t been necessary.

MacDonald:

So largely this is a hypothetical scenario that we’re legislating for?

Paterson:

I don’t think it’s hypothetical when around the world you’ve seen lots of these cases happen. When, in similar jurisdictions like the United States, and the United Kingdom, and Ireland, there have been many high-profile legal cases. I don’t think Australia is quite as litigious as some of those other societies, and I hope that we don’t have those problems here, but if the greatest criticism you can make of protecting religious freedom is that it might not be necessary sometime I the future, that’s a criticism I’m happy to wear.

MacDonald:

Dan Tehan is using the example of Israel Folau, the rugby player, who posted very strong views on homosexuality: that gay people are destined to a life in hell unless they repent. His views are formed, as we understand it, by his Assemblies of God fellowship. Why does Israel Folau need stronger laws to protect his right to make those sorts of comments in public?

Paterson:

Well I don’t share Israel Folau’s views, but they are his genuinely held views, and they are informed by a Biblical understanding of Christianity. And he’s just as entitled…

MacDonald:

Sure, but why does he need legal protection beyond what exists currently?

Paterson:

Well he’s just as entitled as any other Australian to share their views on same sex marriage in public debate - or other issues of morality. Now…

MacDonald:

Which he did. And he hasn’t really faced any penalty, there was no sanction by Rugby Australia. He’s permitted to express his views.

Paterson:

That’s right…

MacDonald:

So why does he need more legal protection?

Paterson:

Well, Hamish, I’m not filled with confidence that an Israel Folau in two or three or four or five years time would have the same experience if they chose to speak out. I think the trend is clear that people who hold views like that are going to be increasingly marginalised and potentially even punished for holding their genuinely-held faithful views. And I don’t want that to be the case.

MacDonald:

But, it’s not clear why you need stronger legislation. I’m not sure that you’re making that case. He’s able to make those views, he’s done so without obvious penalty. It led to an exchange between him and David Pocock, another player with opposing views. Things seem to have settled down. Isn’t that exactly how this process should work? If people express their views, if the community disagrees, they do so. People go on with their lives.

Paterson:

Well I’m glad to hear, Hamish, that you’re so relaxed about this. But can I tell you that when I talk to people of faith and what the Ruddock review has experienced when they talked to people of faith, they don’t share your same confidence. In fact, they’re really afraid. Many thousands of your fellow Australians are afraid that their views are becoming increasingly isolated in public debate and that there will be no place for them in the future. And they want some reassurance that they have just as much right as you do, or I do, to engaged in public debate. And I absolutely stand with them on that, they should have that right, they should have that reassurance, and if we need to pass legislation to ensure that then I’m very happy to do so.

MacDonald:

And what about the members of the Catholic church, some of whom we’ve spoken to on this program, who say that regardless of what legal changes come in to force they will still uphold the seal of confession. Should there be protection for religious figures to do that sort of thing?

Paterson:

This is something I think we need to very carefully examine. Not being a Catholic myself, and the seal of confession not being an important issue for me directly. But I’m worried that if we forced priests to break their seal of confession that they will refuse to do so and, ultimately, all we’ll end up doing is sending priests to jail simply for upholding their vows they took many years ago. So it’s something I think the state has to tread very carefully on.

MacDonald:

And what about the whole idea of this sort of thing giving greater protection to people who believe in, for example, Sharia law?

Paterson:

Well I’m not sure how you would propose that would happen. That’s certainly not something that I’m proposing or Dan Tehan is proposing. A well-crafted law will ensure that all those issues are dealt with.

MacDonald:

Can you be a bit more specific, though. Because if you’re saying that everyone should have the right, if their a Catholic, to uphold canon law, wouldn’t the same apply to Muslims?

Paterson:

One of the important things about religious liberty is that it’s not a get out of jail free card. It doesn’t allow you to do anything, it doesn’t permit you to do anything, that is otherwise unlawful. So when we say that we believe in religious liberty in Australia, we believe in your right to hold your own beliefs about religion, we believe in your right to share your beliefs with others, we believe in your right to live your own life consistent with those values. It does not enable you to impose those values on others. So, for example, people who say they believe that female genital mutilation or child marriage is part of their faith are clearly imposing their faith on others and using their power to impose it on others. And no religious freedom law in Australia would ever protect that.

MacDonald:

Liberal Senator James Paterson, thank you very much.

Paterson:

Thanks Hamish.

[END]