Speeches

ADDRESS TO PARLIAMENT: RELIGIOUS DISCRIMINATION BILL

February 09, 2022

It shouldn't have been beyond the wit and wisdom of the Prime Minister to make this a unifying moment in this country; to legislate to create history.

This could have been a Prime Minister who extended the anti-discrimination legislation in the same way that previous Prime Ministers did in relation to age, disability, race, sex, gender identity, sex characteristics and sexual orientation.

But he has botched it. He absolutely has botched it when it comes to this issue.

On this Australian continent, for tens of thousands of years, there were multi-spiritual, multi-lingual people walking this earth, and they were there at the time of colonial settlement.

When people came to this country - many of them, forced - they came with their religious discrimination ideas and religious preferences.

It was not that long ago in this country that Protestants and Catholics fought bitterly, and we had terrible signs saying that people couldn't be employed if they were Catholic or Protestant.

Indeed, in my first job in the law, I was the first Protestant to ever be employed in the Catholic law firm.

But this Prime Minister has absolutely blown it.

Like many on this side, and I'm sure many on the other side, I've consulted with many religious leaders at a state level and locally, including the Catholic community, the Anglican community, the Uniting Church community, the Baptist community, the Pentecostal community, Presbyterians, and the Churches of Christ.

I've also discussed these issues with people from the Muslim and Hindu communities in my area.

I want to pay tribute to people of faith and what they do because, as it says in chapter two of the book of James, “faith without works is dead”.

In my electorate of Blair in South-East Queensland there are religious and faith communities who put their faith into action each and every day, whether it's the growing Catholic community amongst the Filipino communities in Kilcoy, the massive multicultural communities amongst the Catholic communities in Springfield or Cityhope Church's wonderful work with the Domestic Violence Action Centre and the police to help women and children fleeing from domestic and family violence.

Little churches like Raceview Congregational Church - which have an enormous soccer club, a kindergarten, a childcare centre, and do so much good work - have really put their faith into action.

They show what they really believe.

There are Sunni and Shia faith communities in my electorate as well.

There is the Vedanta Centre, in the Hindu community in Springfield, whose soup kitchen and relief work, particularly during COVID-19, have been exemplary. And I've been happy to support that with federal government grants.

The growing BAPS community based in Logan has many adherents in my electorate around Ipswich.

In my own faith tradition, great work is done by Carinity in Colthup Manor and Elim village.

There are so many schools in my electorate, whether it's Lutheran schools like Bethany Lutheran and St Peters Lutheran, or the Catholic schools like St Edmunds and St Marys and St Peter Claver College, or independent Christian schools like Staines Memorial.

I say to the Prime Minister that I have been speaking to the school principals in those school communities, and never once have any of the school principals said to me that they would exclude or expel students from the LGBTI community.

That is because they put their faith into action.

Faith without works is dead.

And I make this point to the Prime Minister: in your faith tradition and mine, the greatest commandment that Jesus of Nazareth said was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

The second greatest commandment was to love your neighbour as yourself.

I don't see a lot of love in this legislation; I really don't.

You can't elevate someone else's rights above another's.

I think you haven't got the balance right, Prime Minister, with this legislation.

I am neither a fundamentalist nor a Pentecostal; neither in politics nor in theology am I a conservative.

I am a middle-of-the-road Protestant and I am a member of my Baptist Church.

Last Sunday I prayed and did my personal devotions, I went to my local church and I had what the Catholics would call the Eucharist.

There were no stormtroopers or instruments of state to prevent me from worshipping.

But there are people in this country who have suffered - and on a regular basis continue to suffer - discrimination, vilification and hostility regarding their faith.

That should not happen in a pluralistic, multicultural, multifaith society like Australia.

They should be protected.

So the concept of a religious discrimination bill is a worthy one and should be supported.

But you cannot elevate someone's rights and diminish others' rights. That's simply not good enough.

The Prime Minister has missed his moment.

He announced in December 2018, three years ago, that he would introduce legislation in early 2019, before the last federal election.

He failed to do it.

And what have we got here?

Right at the end of this parliamentary term, we have a Prime Minister trying to ram legislation through without giving the Parliamentary committees that examined this - the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee - the period of time they needed to examine it.

It's been rushed through.

And so many of the things the Prime Minister said he would do - reach out to the Leader of the Opposition, be bipartisan, consult, get involved in making sure this was a unifying moment - have not happened.

That letter that the Leader of the Opposition talked about and submitted and tabled in his brilliant speech earlier tonight showed the true attitude of the Prime Minister, weaponising this bill and weaponising faith.

It's not good enough.

I say to the Prime Minister: in your faith tradition and mine, love your neighbour as yourself and make sure that you live your faith individually, but live it in community.

We are an Australian community, and people who are vulnerable and frail - in the Old Testament they called them the poor, the weak, the oppressed - should be looked after.

People who are struggling and vulnerable should be looked after.

In our faith tradition, we look after people.

We accept people because they are all children of God.

Whether we are people in the LGBTI community or people like me who went to church and who live in a heterosexual marriage, we are all God's children and should be protected from discrimination.

This legislation doesn't achieve what the Prime Minister on multiple occasions told the Australian community and faith communities it would achieve.

He has betrayed them.

Things that were supposed to happen haven't happened.

He hasn't worked with the Opposition.

He hasn't consulted with the states and territories.

That's the evidence that came up before the Parliamentary inquiries.

He hasn't legislated, like he said he was going to, in a timely way.

This legislation here tonight has lots of flaws.

There are clauses that the Parliamentary inquiries have referred to.

There are submissions from the Sikh community, from the Law Council, from the Uniting Church and a whole range of other churches, from organisations, from the LGBTI community and from law groups.

They have been critical and have talked about the flawed aspects of the legislation.

There are problems in section 7, section 9, section 15, section 11 and section 12 of this legislation.

There are major problems with constitutionality, with the fact that people could end up being discriminated against in a worse way, with discrimination against the poor and the weak and the vulnerable in terms of disability.

There are issues of professional bodies being overridden.

There are issues of state and faith-based communities, where a Minister has power - and I can say this as someone who's a Baptist, who's really concerned with the issues of state and church not connecting in a way so that people of faith can live their lives freely.

There are Ministerial determinations in this legislation which really affect faith communities and individual organisations and individuals, to their detriment, potentially.

There are constitutional issues as well.

There are workability issues.

And the Prime Minister has not adhered to what he said he would do.

He has not been true to his word with this legislation.

So I say to the faith communities that listened to him and that believed him: you have been let down by a Prime Minister that has not done what he said he would do.

He has not looked after those people and he has not brought this country together.

We on this side of politics have a longstanding commitment to legislate to prevent discrimination against people of faith, and an Albanese Labor Government will do it.

We will also make sure that those schools that I listed in my electorate and elsewhere would have the right to prefer people of their faith, in a religious ethos, in terms of employment.

If a Jewish school wants to employ Jewish teachers or a Catholic school employ Catholic teachers, that should be okay.

But everyone knows - you can go to any school in any electorate in the country - that there are people of different faiths and people who have no faith whatsoever.

What we can't do is have a code-of-conduct- type thing as contemplated in this legislation.

We saw an expression of that in my home state, with Citipointe.

That was a disgraceful abuse of scripture and a distortion of the Christian faith, a distortion of the words of St Paul in 1 Corinthians.

They have absolutely distorted that.

That is not loving your neighbour as yourself.

To love your neighbour as yourself is not to discriminate against people in the LGBTI community.

They are all God's children and should be cared for and loved and respected accordingly, because everyone has value.

That is a scriptural point as well.

When it comes to these issues, the Prime Minister has let us down, has let faith communities down and has let the LGBTI communities down.

There are amendments that should be passed.

I urge those moderates on the crossbench and others to pass these amendments.

Why shouldn't we have an anti-vilification clause in relation to this issue?

It's absolutely important that that happen.

Why shouldn't we clarify situations in terms of home- care service providers not being able to discriminate on the basis of religious belief or activity in the provision of their services when we do in residential aged care?

As I mentioned earlier today, I spent 14 years on the board of Carinity.

We ran aged-care homes all around Queensland, and I've acted as a lawyer for aged-care providers.

We didn't discriminate on the basis of religion, and the Labor Government made sure we didn't discriminate on the basis of religion and issues like that when we were last in Government.

You shouldn't be allowed to do that, and these amendments that Labor is proposing would prevent that from happening in relation to in-home care service provision.

I urge those Opposite to make sure they delete section 38(3) of the Sex Discrimination Act and the consequential amendment.

We've got to make sure that Citipointe never happens again.

We've got to make sure that religious schools cannot discriminate against students on the basis of sexuality, gender identity, relationship status or pregnancy in relation to the provision of education or training.

Why should they be allowed to discriminate?

Those schools have federal and state government funding, and people in the community send their children to those schools because of the values, ethos and morality of the schools and they want their kids to get a good education.

Every child should have the right to go to a fantastic state or public school, and parents should have the right to send their kids to the schools they want to send them to.

But when they send them to those schools, they want to make sure that those kids respect, love and care for one another.

Faith, hope and love are the greatest virtues, as St Paul said.

He didn't do a Citipointe.

He talked about faith, hope and love, and this legislation should be about those virtues, which should be protected in antidiscrimination legislation.

We've got to protect people of faith and protect people who are vulnerable because they are questioning their sexual identity.

They should never be discriminated against, and neither should someone who wears a cross on a chain around their neck or who has a certain religious attire be criticised, vilified or abused or have violence perpetrated upon them.

We live in a great country.

I commend two wonderful books to you. Meredith Lake's brilliant book The Bible in Australia : A cultural history is about the history and the importance of the Christian church and the Bible in our faith tradition and the importance of Christian schools that predated state and public schools.

I also commend a brilliant book by George Megalogenis, Australia's second chance : What our history tells us about our future, which talks about the banality and the scourge of the White Australia policy and how Australia has been given a second chance by the multicultural faith communities who've come here and blessed our country.

That's the sort of community I want to live in in Australia, an Australia where we're all respected, where I can worship in my church and someone can worship in their mosque, synagogue or temple and not be criticised, vilified, abused or have violence perpetrated upon them.

This legislation does not do what the Prime Minister promised.

I urge the Government to reconsider their position.

If they're fair dinkum about faith, human rights and discrimination and they're fair dinkum about making sure that this country is what it should be, they should support Labor's amendments.

Watch here: https://youtu.be/Ca79OBFTla0

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