Mr MORRISON (Cook—Treasurer) The debate regarding same-sex marriage in Australia has been settled. Australians were rightly given an opportunity by this government to have their say. They have spoken, and it’s time to get on with it. As one of the principal proponents of the original plebiscite, I wanted to ensure that, whatever the outcome was, the country would reconcile itself to it. I was among the 39 percent who voted for the traditional view of marriage to be maintained. As a nation, we must now move forward in grace and in love, as my Christian faith teaches us. I will respect the democratic outcome of this Australian marriage survey, both nationally and in my own electorate, by not standing in the way of this bill. However, with the closure of one debate, a new debate does commence. This debate is not that new. It’s not about opposing same-sex marriage at all or delaying the passage of this bill. It is about simply protecting religious freedoms in this country.
There are almost five million Australians who voted no in this survey who are now coming to terms with the fact that they are in the minority. That did not use to be the case in this country for most, if not all, of their lives. They have concerns that their broader views and beliefs are also now in the minority and therefore under threat. They are seeking assurances from this House and this parliament at this time—whether one agrees or disagrees and whether rightly or wrongly—that the things they hold dear are not under threat because of this change.
On the night of the first referendum to establish our Federation, in June 1898, Alfred Deakin prayed:
Thy blessing has rested upon us here yesterday and we pray that it may be the means of creating and fostering throughout all Australia a Christlike citizenship.
In an earlier speech campaigning for the Federation in Bendigo, quoting a local poet, he defined the true goal of Federation as being for us to ‘arise united, penitent, and be one people, mighty, serving God’. Our Constitution went on to proclaim:
… the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Tasmania, humbling relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth … with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal …And, at section 116, our Constitution deliberately afforded the protection that ‘the Commonwealth shall not make any law for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion’.
This is the religious inheritance of our Federation—our Constitution, from more than a century ago. If we ever act in dissonance with these founding principles, I believe it will be to our nation’s great peril. This is not to say that Australia is a nation with an established state religion. Thankfully, it is not. We are, thankfully, free of such a restriction on our liberty. Such freedom should not be used, though, as a weapon against the importance of faith, belief and religion in our society or as a justification to drive faith and religion from our public square. At the same time, protection of religious freedoms cannot be used as a cloak for religious extremism that undermines our very freedoms.
We may be a secular state but we are not a godless people to whom faith, belief and religion are not important. Quite the contrary: it is deeply central to the lives of millions of Australians. In my own church, we refer to Australia as ‘the great south land of the Holy Spirit’. Whether you raise your hands, bow to your knees, face the Holy City, light incense, light a candle or light the menorah, faith matters in this country—and we cannot allow its grace and peace to be diminished, muffled or again driven from the public square. Separation of church and state does not mean the inoculation of the influence of faith on the state. The state shouldn’t run the church and the church shouldn’t run the state. In fact, the separation of church and state was set up to protect the church from the state—not the other way around—to protect religious freedoms.
As I argued in my maiden speech in this place 10 years ago, secularism, secular humanism, is no more our established state religion than any other. It is one of the many free views held by Australians. It holds no special place of authority in our Commonwealth or in this place. For millions of Australians, faith is the unshakeable cornerstone of their lives. It informs their identity and provides a genuine sense of well-being. It is the reason why people can look beyond their own circumstances and see a greater purpose. For countless Australians, faith is life.
In my maiden speech, I spoke of the two influences on my life—my faith and my family—and how my faith in Jesus Christ was inherently personal, not political. As Christians we do not lay claim to perfection or moral precedence; in fact, it is the opposite: conscious of our own frailties and vanities, of our human condition, Christians should be more conscious of the same in those around us. That is why faith encourages social responsibility, the bedrock of faith in action. I quoted Abraham Lincoln in that speech, stating that our task is not to claim whether God is on our side, but to pray earnestly that we are on his. I pointed to my two heroes of faith, William Wilberforce and Desmond Tutu, the latter of whom supports same-sex marriage, men of courage and conviction who fought valiantly against the prevalent evils that had become a stain on society and who delivered immeasurable social gains: freedom from slavery, the unravelling of apartheid and the coming together of a deeply divided nation. Countless lives were saved or improved, because two men were compelled to act by their faith. As a guide and an empowerment, faith can change nations and the course of history.
In the formative stages of the Free Mandela campaign, Bishop Tutu told the BBC that Mandela would be Prime Minister within five to 10 years. The reporter mocked this pronouncement as hopelessly optimistic. His response highlighted the anchor on which his faith was based:
Brother, the Christian faith is hopelessly optimistic because it’s based on the faith of a guy who died on a Friday and everybody said it was utterly and completely hopeless–ignominious defeat. And Sunday He rose.
The fragrance of faith has washed over our society for centuries and helped to shape and mould it for the better. Our own nation was founded, built, and undeniably shaped by Christian values, morals and traditions that helped to unite a fledgeling country—a nation blessed by and formed on Christian conviction. These issues of faith are gifted to us not only by our Federation fathers but also by the many generations of Australians who have come to us since, including those from non-Christian faiths and experiences, who share the deep-seated conviction and positive influence of faith in their lives.
A few years ago I had the honour of visiting Lebanon for the ordination of our Maronite bishop in Australia, Antoine Tarabay. There, in the striking Maronite patriarchate above the bay of Jounieh, this generous and kind-hearted Sydney bishop committed himself to the sacrifice of ministry as the leader of his Australian flock. It was a deeply moving experience, in surreal surroundings, that resonated within me the importance of a life lived in the pursuit of God and the service of others. But it was the tour later, with my dear friend, Joseph Assaf, of the Holy Valley and the ancient villages in the north of the country, such as Hardine, Bsharri, Ehden, Hasroun, Kousba and concluding in Tannourine, the bishop’s home village, where we had the final service to commemorate his ordination—a very special time—that truly reinforced to me once again the potency, persistence and importance of faith in society and our individual lives. These villages had been ravaged for centuries by one bitter war after the next, a constant cycle of upheaval, violence and heartache, but there was one thing that could never be stripped away through the millennia of struggles, one thing that sustained these stoic communities. It wasn’t the governments that came and went with the wind and it wasn’t the leaders that so promised peace; it was their faith, a faith that routinely stared adversity in the face and prevailed, a faith that held families together. When everything else was a struggle, their faith stood strong.
Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Maronite Australians brought that faith with them to Australia from as early as the 1860s, but so too did many Greek Orthodox migrants, Coptic Christians from Egypt still being persecuted to this day in their home country because of their faith, Syrian Christians from both Orthodox and Catholic faiths, Armenians, and many Chinese, Korean and Filipino Australians of Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal faiths. Some brought their faith with them; some found their faith here in Australia. When most of the migrants came to Australia, it was not the government they turned to to assist them to adjust to their new life in Australia. It was their local church; it was their local parish priest; it was their imam; it was whoever in their faith community to whom they turned to support them and their family—it was their religious community.
If you want to understand the strong opposition in Western Sydney and elsewhere to changing the Marriage Act, you must understand the central nature of faith and community to the lives of these and so many other Australians. Nine out of ten of the electorates that voted no are indeed represented by members opposite. They comprise the vibrant faith communities I’ve just spoken of. I urge all members in this place, but particularly those opposite, to be freed up, to be released from any possible constraint that would enable them to stand with their constituents now in supporting amendments that deliver the protections of religious freedoms that are not currently present in this bill. To pretend this bill is whole and satisfies their concerns is to confirm a lack of understanding and empathy for those who hold them. These Australians are looking for acknowledgement and understanding from this parliament and their representatives. They are seeking assurance that changes being made to our marriage laws will not undermine the stability and freedom of their faith and religious expression, what they teach their children, what their children are taught in our schools, and the values they share and foster with their families and community and within and without the walls of their churches. This is a reasonable request that should be supported by members.
I commend the Prime Minister for initiating the Ruddock review into protecting religious freedoms. Few people understand these communities, and their concerns and the issues and the risks, as well as our former Attorney, the former Father of the House. But that process is not, nor was it designed to be, a substitute for sensible action now in passing amendments to this bill. To fail to make improvements to this bill now would demonstrate a failure to appreciate not only the underpinnings of our very liberal democracy and federation but the nature of modern multicultural Australia.
I commend my colleagues both in the Senate and in this House for standing firm on their convictions and beliefs, and I stand with them—both representing their faith and those in their communities that share those beliefs and values. I will be joining many of my colleagues in supporting amendments to be moved by the members for Deakin, Mitchell, Canning and Mallee, and I’ll be joining them in moving amendments also to ensure that no organisation can have their public funding or charitable status threatened as a result of holding views that are consistent with the traditional definition of marriage between a man and a woman. The test of faith is the fruit that it produces. That is what Jesus taught in his parable of the fig tree. The fruit of faith-based organisations has been extraordinary in this country: Mission Australia, Wesley Mission, Caritas, Angliss, Anglicare, BaptistCare, our religious schools, and the many Christian organisations involved in providing pastoral support under that excellent program. Their funding through grants and other programs and support through our tax system through deductible gift status must continue to be about what they achieve, not what they consider to be the definition of marriage, and nor should they be discriminated against for holding those views. We need to ensure these protections are put in place in this bill. It is now time to pass a truly inclusive bill, one that recognises the views of 100 percent of Australians, not just 61 percent. I urge the House to not miss that opportunity.
ChamberHouse of Representatives on 4/12/2017 Item BILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker: Morrison, Scott, MP