Bills - Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 - In Committee


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (09:58): In this debate, I'm exercising my conscience, as our party decided long ago. I speak for myself. Nobody else speaks for me on these issues, and I've made my position very clear on this all the way along. I support Senator Hanson's amendments. I think they are probably not as good as some of the others that have been proffered and voted against, but they do provide certain protections. They do make sense, and they are ones that I support. That's my position as an individual senator exercising a conscience vote.

I'm very, very disappointed that the Labor Party, for all of their rhetoric about a conscience vote, have come to this debate locked in as a political party. The Greens, of course, are the same. As I said yesterday, I don't, fortunately, know the Greens very well. I don't know of any of their religious or other beliefs—I suspect they have few beliefs apart from themselves—but I do know that there are a number of members of the Labor Party who have deeply held religious beliefs. I do know that many of the members of the Labor Party do not say the Lord's Prayer in the morning, and I say that as a matter of fact. That is something that I don't have to tell the Senate. Most of the Labor Party people who don't say the Lord's Prayer would tell the Senate themselves. Australia used to be a place where you could have these sorts of conversations. Within this chamber, we are even more encouraged to speak openly about factual matters, as long as we're not personally attacking or impugning motives of other senators. So I repeat Senator Hanson's statement that many in the Labor Party are not Christians and do not say the Lord's Prayer.

Senator Pratt: The senator is reflecting on the religion of senators in this place.

Senator Steele-John: I join with Senator Pratt in reflecting that the senator is himself reflecting in contravention of your ruling.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Can I be given a chance to talk? I assume that was a point of order. Of course, Senator Pratt didn't say it was a point of order.

The CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, please resume your seat. It was a point of order, and I intend to—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: She didn't say that. Can I speak to the point of order?

The CHAIR: No, because that would be debating with Senator Pratt. Let me put what I—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: When a point of order is raised, it allows people to have a different view on the point of order.

The CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, please resume your seat.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That's been the ruling for the 27 years that I've been here.

The CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, please resume your seat. It is up to me how many points of order I entertain, and I'm sure that you're aware of that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Mine is not a point of order. I was talking on her point of order.

The CHAIR: I am going to remind senators in this place that standing order 79 says:

… it is not in order to refer to a senator's religion in debate.

I beg your pardon—it's a ruling of the Senate. Senator Macdonald, when you first started to speak you were fairly general, and then you became more specific. I would ask senators in this place not to reflect on the religion of senators in particular or senators from particular parties. And I ask you, Senator Macdonald, to also not do that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Which standing order says that?

The CHAIR: I beg your pardon, Senator Macdonald. I inadvertently called it a standing order and then I said it's a ruling.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Which one?

The CHAIR: It's No. 79, and it's from President Calvert. It's in Odgers at page 261.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: And that says you can't refer to anyone's religion in this chamber?

The CHAIR: I will read it to you. I did read it. Perhaps you were distracted, looking at something else. It says:

… it is not in order to refer to a senator's religion in debate.

That's from President Calvert in 2005, and it's in Odgers, 13th edition, at page 261.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: If you listened to me, I haven't referred to anyone's religion. I've referred to the fact that a number of Labor Party people quite openly say that they are not religious, that they are atheists. And in fact Senator Hinch just said he was an atheist.

The CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, please resume your seat! I have explained what I heard you say. I've asked you to consider carefully what you continue to say, because, whilst in the beginning you were fairly general in your comments, you became more specific. This debate has largely been quite respectful. It is a debate, like many we have in this place, that creates a lot of emotion from senators, and I would ask you to continue on without referring to what people may or may not do at the beginning of the Senate.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: This chamber should be the bastion of free speech. We used to have free speech in Australia. Senator Hinch, in his contribution, said he was an atheist. Does that mean that you should have stopped Senator Hinch from saying that he was an atheist? I'm not talking about anyone's religion as such.

The CHAIR: I've made my point of view clear. I would ask you to respect that point of view, and I'm now going to go to Senator Pratt, who stood presumably on a point of order.

Senator Pratt: On a point of order, Senator Macdonald has directly reflected on Senator Hinch's religious practice.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: On the point of order, Madam Chair: as I just indicated, Senator Hinch himself said that. You didn't stop him from saying that, but you're stopping me from repeating what Senator Hinch said in this debate. Please make a ruling that is within the standing orders and in accord with the high traditions of this particular chamber where people are able to speak their mind with some protection from the chair about what can and cannot be said. This is the most ridiculous ruling I have ever heard. Most of the Labor Party will tell you they are not Christians and they don't support Christianity. I am simply repeating that fact, and that is not against standing orders.

The CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, you are now verging on dissenting against the ruling I have made. I have read you the rule from Odgers. I have asked you, respectfully, to refrain from referring to people's religion. I would ask you now to continue the debate.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Madam Chair, respect is a very two-way street—

The CHAIR: Senator Macdonald, please resume your seat. I've asked you to please continue the contribution that you are making about the amendments as put by Senator Hanson.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Respect, I say, to my colleagues in the chamber, is a very two-way street, and people's opinions should be respected. I respect Senator Hinch's opinion—not his opinion, his statement of fact, that he is an atheist, and he chose to tell this chamber that in this debate.

Senator Steele-John: On a point of order, Madam Chair: the senator is continuing to reflect upon the religious beliefs of my colleague, Senator Hinch, in contravention of your continued ruling. I would ask that he now be brought to order in some more substantive sense.

The CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Steele-John. Senator Macdonald on that last occasion was simply reflecting what had been said by Senator Hinch. Senator Macdonald, please continue your contribution.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I support these amendments proposed by Senator Hanson, but in doing so I repeat what Senator Hinch said about himself, and I repeat what many Labor Party people will tell you in this chamber about not their religion but the fact that they don't follow Christianity. That's not talking about their religion, because they don't have a religion and they're the first to admit it. I make no judgement about that. I'm not being judgemental in saying they don't have a religion. A lot of my friends don't have religions, a lot of my friends will not say the Lord's Prayer, but I think when this chamber and this whole debate get to a curtailment of speech where you're not even able to reflect on a fact that people themselves talk about, then Australia, I'm sorry, is heading down a very, very sad path. It's a matter of regret for me that there are many in this chamber who would urge that that happen.

In this whole debate, my position has always been very clear. From my upbringing, my position as a Christian and as a member of the Anglican Church—I challenge anyone to say that I cannot tell this chamber or the world that I am a Christian and a member of the Anglican faith—I've had a view about marriage as being a religious ceremony that I have grown up with. I have found it very difficult to bring together the thoughts of my gay friends having a marriage which I understand to be a religious ceremony.

As I have said many a time, I have many gay friends, including a very loving, personal couple. My argument with them was why they needed to use the word 'marriage'. I could never understand that. I have been a member of a parliament which, over the years, has removed all discrimination against gay people—all discrimination. It was on that basis that I decided I would vote no in the plebiscite. But I also indicated that, as a parliamentarian and one who believes in democracy, if the majority of my fellow Australians had a different view from me then I would be the first to support the ability for same-sex couples to marry. That's what I intend to do and that's what I've made clear all along. But I do think that people who have religious convictions—and there are many in the Labor Party who don't and there are some on my side of politics who don't have religious convictions as well, and that's a matter for them; it's a free country—should, like Senator Hinch, who said that he was an atheist, be able to tell the world their convictions. He should be able to tell the world and tell this parliament that he is an atheist, just as I am able to tell this chamber that I am a Christian—not a very good one, I have to say, but I am a Christian and a member of the Anglican Church. In this chamber, speech should be as free, if not freer, than anywhere else in Australia, and I challenge anyone to say that they can prevent me from telling this chamber my religion and my belief in Christianity.

Madam Chair, this whole debate has, I have to say with regret, shown a lot of disrespect and intolerance. In fact, one of our colleagues who acts in your position when you're not here actually wore an insignia while sitting in the chair indicating a partisan view on this debate. To his credit, when I raised it, he did remove the badge. But I see other senators in this chamber, contrary to standing orders, which seem to be not quite as visible as they are on other occasions, wearing insignias that clearly indicate a position in this debate. I know that's against standing orders, because I once wore a hi-vis shirt that said I supported the coal industry. At the call of those who now think it's okay for them to wear insignias, I was made, on a ruling by the President, to remove that hi-vis shirt. Yet it seems to be in this intolerant age which we are living in that there is one set of rules for some people but a different set of rules for other people, depending on their political philosophy. That intolerance and the intolerance I see in this debate, in fact, saddens me and makes me despair for the future of this great country—a country which, worldwide, is renowned for its freedoms.

We talked about this country having removed several years ago every single discrimination against people who were gay or of that disposition. We've removed every single discrimination from the laws of Australia. I've been one of those who have strongly supported that all of my public life. I raised in the Senate—and you never hear the Greens political party in particular raising this issue—that I recently attended the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in St Petersburg, where a female Italian delegate berated the Russians for having discrimination against gay people. She said that in Russia they have detention camps—and she named five—where gay people are put. In those international forums, those who are spoken about always have a right of reply. In response, the Russian delegate didn't particularly address that accusation but said to the Italian lady, 'Why are you attacking us? There are parliamentarians in this room who belong to parliaments who have legislated to put to death people who are gay for no other reason than the fact that they are gay.' Do you hear the Greens ever berating those countries—many of them in the Middle East—that have these particular issues? They'll talk about Manus Island. They will work with GetUp! against coalmines, but do they ever raise their voice about the ultimate discrimination of gay people, which is the putting to death of them because of their being?

So, in Australia, when we talk about discrimination, those discriminations of any sort were removed from the Australian laws many years ago. I'm proud to say that, in some small part, I was involved in those pieces of legislation. But it does distress me that we now have this position that, apparently, it seems to some that being religious, being a Christian, suddenly makes you a second-rate citizen, with not the same rights and entitlement to respect that other Australians have. I despair for the future of our country if that intolerance is going to continue to be displayed in the way it has been in some instances in this debate—and, certainly, has been in relation to some of the matters that Senator Hanson mentioned in moving her amendment.

I come back to the point before the chamber. I support Senator Hanson's amendments. As I say, I think there were other amendments that were better framed, but they haven't achieved support in this Senate. So I will be supporting these amendments by Senator Hanson.

The CHAIR: May I just remind senators that advisers need to be in the advisers' box and not on the floor of the Senate.

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