ABC RN Breakfast

SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality










SUBJECT/S: Marriage Equality


FRAN KELLY, HOST: Mark Dreyfus welcome back to breakfast.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Morning Fran, thanks for having me.


KELLY: Just first off do you agree with the Attorney-General George Brandis that some protections, religious protections, should be included in the Dean Smith bill on marriage simply to reassure the almost 5 million people who voted ‘no’ to same-sex marriage?


DREYFUS: We haven’t yet seen the text even of George Brandis’s proposed amendments…


KELLY: No but as a philosophy do you agree with that statement?


DREYFUS: We don’t think anything should happen which gets in the way of marriage equality being made a reality in Australia by the end of this year. There’s already been far too long – years of delay – caused by the hard right of the Liberal Party. And I’m not exactly sure why we have an Attorney-General who thinks that having a provision that doesn’t have any legal effect – because that’s what he has said – will be of the slightest use.


KELLY: I’ll come to that particular provision that we’re talking about in a second, but I guess the Attorney-General is saying this because others around him are demanding it. Scott Morrison for instance says ‘we now need a bill that acts for 100 per cent of Australians, not 61 per cent. We now need a bill that addresses these other very fundamental issues of faith and belief.’  What do you say to that?


DREYFUS: This is a bill for 100 per cent of Australians. We are all better as a result of equality being given to all Australians. And unfortunately the hard right of the Liberal Party, which seems to include Scott Morrison, are still inventing delay. Their issues about religious freedom are matters which are at best peripheral to the question of marriage in Australia. And they can be dealt with by what I think is quite a thoughtful approach that the Prime Minister has taken to establish this panel, led by Phillip Ruddock with eminent Australians, legally qualified Australians. Namely Father Frank Brennan, former Federal Court Judge Annabelle Bennett, and the current President of the Human Rights Commission Ros Croucher.


KELLY: The, as you say the Prime Minister has put that in place. Is there anything in your view, and I’m sure you’ve looked closely at the Dean Smith bill as it stands, that would limit the right of people to observe their religious beliefs?


DREYFUS: People in Australia have the right to observe their religious beliefs. That is a matter for them. We have religious freedom in Australia. And we also have protections against discrimination in Australia that have been in place now for many decades. It would be immensely disappointing – not just to me, but to many other Australians – if the removal of discrimination, which is what marriage equality is about, was seized on as an opportunity to actually increase discrimination. Let’s focus – and that’s my call to every member of Parliament in Australia – let’s focus on observing and accepting the will of the Australian people by a substantial majority expressed in this unnecessary poll. It’s not news that a substantial majority of Australians want marriage equality to happen. Let’s pay attention to that, and bring about marriage equality by the end of the year.


KELLY: Let’s go to this declaratory statement, as you’ve described it and the Attorney-General has described it. George Brandis is suggesting that this marriage bill could include such a statement which would reflect the sentiment of Article 18 of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And that statement, as I see it, says ‘everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. And this right shall include the freedom to have or adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practise and teaching.’ Is there any value in putting that statement in the bill, and would it impact and affect the marriage bill and the capacity of same-sex marriage to be given equal treatment?


DREYFUS: You’ve read there Fran from the first part of Article 18, you could also – I don’t want to take up time on radio – I would invite all listeners to look at the other parts of Article 18. Particularly Article 18.4 and indeed other parts of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This is not a debate…because it concerns the framework for protecting human rights in Australia. It’s not a debate that should be tacked on to the bill that brings about marriage equality in Australia. We’ve reached an acceptable compromise in the form of the all-party, consensus Senate committee report back in February. And a bill, prepared by Liberal backbenchers, which reflects that consensus committee report. That’s the bill that is now in the Parliament, that’s what we should be working on. And not seeking to have further delay or introduce what are really peripheral matters, or digressions from the main issue which is marriage equality in Australia. And don’t take me for a moment Fran to be not respecting the seriously held views that have been expressed by people who put the ‘no’ case. But the place for the wider consideration of religious freedoms is later. And that’s why the Prime Minister has, in my view, helpfully established a process where those views can be considered in a measured way.


KELLY: So obviously, just to go a little longer on this point. Key conservatives like Andrew Hastie and Matt Canavan – they’re particularly concerned abut parental rights and they too want Article 18 of the ICCPR enshrined in this bill, which says ‘undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions’. In other words, parents would have the right to remove their children from Safe Schools-type classes. Is there a case to codify such a treaty in Australian law, and again is your point that the marriage bill is not the place for that?


DREYFUS: That is my point, that the marriage bill is not the time for that much wider debate that – I’m up for it, I’m very prepared to have a discussion about protection about human rights, anytime in Australia – but it needs to be a measured discussion. It’s not one we should be trying to do in the last now one week of Parliament that the Parliament has been left with now that the Prime Minister chose to cancel next week’s sittings for the House of Representatives. It’s not the time, Fran.


KELLY: What about Scott Morrison? He wants an anti-detriment provision, to deal with unfair treatment of people in the workplace who oppose same-sex marriage. And Eric Abetz will propose nine of his own amendments because he’s worried the discrimination laws – and this is a quote – will be weaponised by same-sex marriage activists. I mean are you concerned or do you predict that some people will bring up amendments to protect for instance the so-called bakers and florists?


DREYFUS: I can’t seek to control what the hard right of the Liberal Party, which is still driving this government – and regrettably the Prime Minister is not showing the leadership that he should be – I can’t control what the hard right of the Liberal Party gets up to. But what I do know is that Labor, and I’ll be right at the front of this fight, will be standing very directly in the way of anything which tries to introduce new discrimination, or wind back the anti-discrimination laws that have been in place in Australia for many decades. And that’s what Scott Morrison is talking about sounds like, that’s what Senator Abetz is talking about sounds like. It sounds like an attempt to introduce new forms of discrimination and to make legal, forms of discrimination that I thought we’d got rid of in Australia.


KELLY: And in doing so, some government ministers and others are warning – Peter Dutton, Dan Tehan and others – warning sharia law in Australia could be covered and protected by increasing the broad religious protections in this legislation.


DREYFUS: Well, them raising that point Fran just demonstrates how complex this issue is when one gets to talking about whether there should be a framework with it, whether there should be a protection of human rights extending to protection of religious freedoms which might in fact extend to what is a bugbear of the hard right of the Liberal Party – sharia law – or any other religious precept which doesn’t form part of Australian law at the moment. We’ve got separation of church and state in Australia – we’ve had that since the Federation was founded. We’ve got a provision in the constitution which prevents the Parliament from making laws for the establishment of religion, which is a pretty limited provision. But that’s the context against which all of this needs to be considered – and you raising that, or Peter Dutton raising the question of sharia law simply demonstrates how wrong it would be to muddle up this debate with the necessary debate of getting it done on marriage equality. That’s what we need to do – we need to legislate, we need to legislate before the end of the year. And we’ve got a bill which is an acceptable compromise right now, already being debated in the Senate. Going to continue to be debated next week, and we all sincerely hope to be debated and passed in the House of Representatives in the following week.


KELLY: Just finally on this then, it will be argued out on the floor of the Senate next week largely, these amendments. And it will, depending on how the chamber votes, whether some see what they might describe as a poison pill inserted into the bill by the end of it. Not everyone on your side of politics supports this bill. But there is, and there is a conscience vote for Labor members and Senators on this legislation. Is that conscience vote, does that stretch to the amendments too or will the Senators be bound on the issue of amendments?


DREYFUS: The Australian Labor Party has got a conscience vote on issues of marriage equality. What we don’t have is a conscience vote on is procedural matters. And if it goes to the substance of marriage equality issues, there’s a conscience vote generally available to members of the Labor Party. And that’s been the position for many years, and it continues to be the position.


KELLY: So they will be bound on the amendments?


DREYFUS: I’m trying to draw a distinction between matters of substance Fran and matters of procedure. On matters of procedure, Labor votes collectively. So if we need to have a vote to bring the bill on for debate, if we need to have a vote to group up amendments because the hard right of the Liberal Party is trying to delay the whole process, that’s a procedural vote on which Labor members will be bound. But if it goes to matters of substance about marriage equality, that’s a matter of conscience.


KELLY: Mark Dreyfus thank you very much for joining us.


DREYFUS: Thanks for having me Fran.