SPEECH – Religious Protections

28 November 2018

I just want to open by reflecting on the fact that the contributions from those opposite in this space are an example of what we need to be careful of. We know that there are members of the opposition who want to support these amendments, but they’re denied the ability to do that. You won’t see them in the chamber speaking, because the party has pulled the veil down on them in terms of making a contribution and expressing what they truly believe—

Of the responses to all of these amendments, the one that confounds me absolutely, both from members of the opposition who are unable to make a contribution and those who might resist these amendments, is that around the rights of parents. For goodness’ sake, it’s around the rights of parents. For thousands of years people have fought within societies and family structures, of whatever form they may take, for these rights for which we’re seeking simple protections, which will also be afforded to same-sex couples who may have children in their family unit in education, not just to do with matters around sexuality and sex education but on so many frontiers. Parents must always have the right to choose what teachings their children will be exposed to and what exercises they engage in. If they fundamentally do not believe in teachings or modules of education that their children are to be exposed to then they must have the right to insulate their children from those. That is their choice. That is the primal right of parents who are taking care of children who haven’t reached the age of majority. It’s as simple as that. I don’t necessarily want to be one of the people who tie Safe Schools to this debate, but there you go: Safe Schools, a most horrible module of education. I can’t even repeat some of—

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator O’SULLIVAN: I’ll do what I find difficult and just ignore you. The fact of the matter is Safe Schools had some atrocious material in it. Even people in the LBGTI community resisted it. It was condemned. If this principle were to remain, parents would be able to choose to take their children out of the education system, because they do not want them to be exposed to particular teachings that are so inconsistent with their determined value base. We all have different value bases. Many elements of them are common to us all. I grew up in a Catholic household and a Catholic community and was educated at Catholic schools; I remain a tortured Catholic at 60 years of age. These are values that I have upheld, and they are a part of my life. They guide me in certain circumstances and have served me well, in my view.

If you tell me now that I can’t be allowed to engineer the lives of my children or grandchildren—where I have responsibility for them, before they’ve reached that age where they can make their own minds up—particularly about what teachings they will be exposed to on these serious matters in educational forums, then I reject that. I’ve sat and tried to think of a government in my lifetime, in my life’s experience in Australia, that has ever done this. They have never done this: until this point in time, parents have had the right to remove their children and protect them from particular teachings, without fear that they will be subject to actions of discrimination. I find it astonishing that amendments such as this are resisted. I love the contributions when someone is talking about freedom of speech and freedom of religion: ‘We will go to the trenches supporting your freedom to practise a religion, except for these elements that aren’t consistent with our argument now. We’re happy for you to practise your religion, speak about your religion and express your beliefs, except in certain circumstances.’

I really urge my colleagues in this place—it’s difficult because some are bound, apparently, by accepting conditions placed upon their ability to exercise their free speech and vote in accordance with their value systems—to think seriously about this issue. This is the cornerstone and the touchstone of a civilised society. We are charged with the responsibility to raise our children—in my case and in the case of many colleagues—on Christian values; Judeo-Christian values underpin our codified law. If you go back, the foundations, as we legislated in life, drew very heavily on Christian beliefs.

This set of amendments can cause no harm. If these amendments are not accommodated, the potential for harm exists. I will more than willingly go on the record to support my colleague Senator Abetz when he spoke about the result of the postal plebiscite. It was not a licence for us to ignore the concerns of the almost five million Australians who voted against the change to the Marriage Act. I said—like we all have, I suspect—in the last six or seven months, I will be happy after this fortnight if I can go all the way to Christmas without hearing the word ‘marriage’ again, to be honest.

I had experiences with people who indicated they were going to vote no because of their concerns around an absence of a debate around these protections. They were people who indicated that they were quite agnostic about two people of the same gender being married but they were not agnostic about the prospects that a change to the Marriage Act might create an environment that caused new forms of discrimination, as articulated by the colleagues. Suggestions that we should somehow push this off and kick it into the grass and come back next year have only been made by people who haven’t been here struggling with the provisions of 18C for three years—minor amendments were required but couldn’t be agreed upon in this place or in the other place. Imagine if we have to come back here and sit down and start to talk from scratch about religious freedoms and all the things that go with it? That push wasn’t here before this. I think there are currently quite adequate provisions to protect from that.

I say as I close, we need to think carefully and steadily. This isn’t a competition. This isn’t a contest about what you get and what we don’t get—about they’re the yes-ies and they’re the no-ies—so we should resist moderate, sensible, fair, justifiable provisions that protect people, particularly parents in the raising of their children. It is the most fundamental and primal consideration for parents who want to look after their children and we not only need but we have a serious obligation to consider them fully and carefully and so it’s in that vein that I urge my colleagues to support these amendments.