December 16th 2017

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The meaning of Christmas

CANBERRA OBSERVED Parliamentary stampede tramples freedoms

EUTHANASIA Palliative care remains the true solution

FOREIGN AFFAIRS The more Zimbabwe changes, the more it stays the same

AGENDA FOR AUSTRALIA Putting the 'fair' back in the fair go for farmers

OPINION The new Reformation: How Christians found themselves on the 'wrong' side of history

PHILOSOPHY AND SOCIETY Why Marxists will not engage with opponents

ECONOMICS Kim Beazley rides in as a white knight for the TPP

INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS Mergers could give unions a striking profile

MUSIC Sounds like ...: A vain search for meaning

CINEMA Casablanca: Contender for the 'perfect film'

BOOK REVIEW Australia behind the scenes in WWII

BOOK REVIEW Political sparks at the 'Friendly' Games

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Parliamentary stampede tramples freedoms

by NW Contributor

News Weekly, December 16, 2017

When Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared that he cherished religious freedom even above the rights of same-sex couples to marry, many people took him at his word.

Write to your local member.

However, that view has been marked down by the seeming greater political imperative to push through a marriage redefinition bill before Parliament rises for the end of the year.

The PM has had such a horror stretch over recent months it has become apparent that he sees that a victory on redefining marriage will be, if not his saviour, at least his signature piece of legislation for the year.

Indeed, it is likely that the entire Turnbull prime-ministership will be remembered for this one achievement – laws to permit two people of whatever sex or gender identity the legal right to marry.

Whether this will improve his stakes in the electorate is another matter, but in the meantime Mr Turnbull seems reluctant to take on any of the reasonable safeguards for religious freedom that
were proposed in the Senate as amend—ments to the Dean Smith bill.

The Dean Smith bill was passed by a thumping majority of 43 votes in favour to 12 votes against in the Senate and, according to reports, 16 senators either abstained or were not available to vote.

Those who voted against the bill were Liberal senators Eric Abetz, Slade Brockman and Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; National senators Matt Canavan, Barry O’Sullivan and John Williams; and Labor’s Chris Ketter and Helen Polley; as well as One Nation’s Brian Burston and independents Cory Bernardi, Fraser Anning and Lucy Gichuhi.

All amendments from conservatives (and libertarian senator David Leyonhelm), the Greens, and One Nation were defeated with the help of a rump of Coalition senators who consistently sided with Labor to keep the Smith Bill intact.

As a result important amendments to protect religious freedoms were voted down. These included such protections as ensuring that religious charities would not be stripped of their charitable status (and government funding) because of their beliefs about marriage; and permitting parents to exclude their children from classes that taught what was not consistent with their religious beliefs.

Also voted down was giving non-religious marriage celebrants (civil celebrants) the right to decline to marry a same-sex or transgender couple.

On the face of it these were not outrageous amendments, and were a step back from earlier efforts to exempt businesses from participating in transgender marriage events – the exemptions for florists and bakers.

The House of Representatives will pass the bill now with a similar large majority and defenders of religious freedom will have to wait to see what may come from a review by former Liberal frontbencher Philip Ruddock, who has been appointed to chair a panel tasked with examining these issues.

Others on the Ruddock panel are Humans Rights Commission president Rosalind Croucher, former Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett and Jesuit priest and human rights lawyer Frank Brennan.

The review will be completed by March 2018.

Importantly, Mr Ruddock’s review of religious freedom will be broader than the redefinition of marriage legislation. Mr Turnbull described the panel as a “timely expert stock-take to inform consideration of any necessary legislative reforms.”

By contrast, former Prime Minister John Howard described the Ruddock ploy as “kicking the can of religious freedom down the road” into a nebulous future.

The Dean Smith bill included provisions to prevent ministers of religion being forced to conduct transgender marriage ceremonies, but many conservatives say these protections remain seriously inadequate.

Australia’s most senior churchmen, including the Anglican and Catholic archbishops of Sydney, made a list-ditch plea to political leaders to salvage some religious exemptions.

Thirty church leaders asked in an open letter to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten for reconsideration of a suite of amendments.

Essentially the proposed amendments were reasonable and basic to protecting the autonomy of charities, religious freedoms for conscientious objectors, and parental rights over their own children.

Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton warned: “Once the ink is dry on the same-sex marriage legislation, I doubt there will be political will to reinstate basic freedoms after they are gone.

“Anyone who thought the LGBTIQ community would rest with redefining marriage is naïve. The Dean Smith bill is evidence that they have simply moved to the next phase of their political agenda, which is crushing all dissent.”

The emphatic win of the “Yes” vote and the exceptionally high participation rate sent a clear signal to Parliament that Australia should move to change the laws on marriage.

However, 4,873,987 people voted “No”, according the ABS. If Mr Turnbull wants to be remembered in the history books as a Prime Minister who acted for all Australians on such a seminal issue, he needs to take into account the views of those people.

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