4 December 2017

Address to the House of Representatives - Marriage amendment


Check against delivery

The debate regarding same sex marriage in Australia has been settled.

Australians were rightly given an opportunity to have their say, by this Government, and they have spoken. 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, that it was one that the country could reconcile itself to.

I was amongst the 39 percent that voted for the traditional view of marriage to be maintained. As a nation we must now move forward in grace and love, as my Christian faith teaches us.

I will respect the democratic outcome of this Australian Marriage survey, both nationally and in my own community, by not standing in the way of this Bill.

However, with the closure of one debate, a new one commences. This new debate is not about opposing same sex marriage, it is about sensibly protecting religious freedoms.

There are almost five million Australians that voted no in this survey who are now coming to terms with the fact that on this issue, they are a minority. That did not used to be the case in the Australia they have lived all or most of their lives in.

They have concerns that their broader views and their broader beliefs are also in the minority and therefore under threat. And they are seeking assurances at this time.

Assurances, rightly or wrongly, that the things that they hold dear are not under threat also 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 on us here yesterday and we pray that it may be the means of creating and fostering throughout Australia a Christlike citizenship’.

In an earlier speech campaigning in Bendigo for the Federation he quoted a local poet defining the true Australian goal of Federation as for ‘us to arise, united, penitent, and be one people - mighty, serving God’.

Our Constitution went on to proclaim ...

WHEREAS the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly 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.

Then in S116 our Constitution deliberately afforded a 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, it will be to our peril.

This is not to say that Australia is a nation with an established state religion. It is not. We are thankfully free of such a restriction on our liberty.

Such freedom though should not be used 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 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, like many others, 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, a candle or the menorah, faith matters in this country, and we cannot allow its grace and peace to be diminished, muffled or 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, 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, 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.

For millions of Australians, faith is the unshakable cornerstone of their lives.

It informs their identity and provides a genuine sense of wellbeing. 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 to parliament almost ten years ago, I spoke of the two key influences on my life - my family and my faith.

And how my faith in Jesus Christ was inherently personal, not political or preachy. As Christians we do not lay claim to perfection or moral precedence. In fact it is the opposite.

Conscious of the frailties and vanities of our own human condition, Christians should be more conscious of the same amongst those around us. This is why faith encourages social responsibility - the bedrock of faith in action.

I quoted Abraham Lincoln in that speech stating ‘Our task is not to claim whether God is on our side, but to pray earnestly that we are on His’.

I pointed to two of my heroes of faith, William Wilberforce and Desmond Tutu - the latter who supports same sex Marriage; men of courage and conviction who fought valiantly against the prevalent evils that had become a stain on society and delivered immeasurable social gains.

The freedom from slavery. The unravelling of apartheid and the coming together of a deeply divided nation. Countless lives saved and lives improved, because two men compelled to act by their faith.

All done with faith as a guide and an empowerment; faith that can change nations and the course of history.

Amid the formative stages of the “Free Mandela” campaign, Bishop Tutu told the BBC Mandela would be prime minister within five to ten years. The reporter mocked this pronouncement as hopelessly optimistic.

Bishop Tutu’s response highlighted the anchor of which his faith, or the optimism as described, was found.

“Brother,” Bishop Tutu said, “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 again.’’

The fragrance of faith has washed over 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 fledgling country. A nation blessed and formed on Christian conviction.

These issues of faith are not only gifted to us by our Federation fathers, but the many generations of Australians who have come to us since, including those from non-Christian faiths and experience.

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 the 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 a tour of Holy Valley and the ancient villages in the north of the country with my friend Joseph Assaf - Hardine, Bcharre (Besharre), Ehden, Hasroun, Kousba and concluding in Tannourine, the Bishop’s home village, that truly reinforced to me once again the potency of faith, the persistence of faith and its importance in society and our individual lives.

Villages that have been ravaged for centuries by one bitter war after the nex - a constant cycle of upheaval, violence, and heartache.

But there was one thing that could never be stripped away, through a millennia of struggle. One thing that sustained these stoic communities.

It wasn’t the governments that came and went with the wind, 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. A faith that the hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Maronite Australians brought with them to Australia from as early as the 1860s.

But so too did the many Greek Orthodox migrants, Coptic Christians from Egypt, still being persecuted in their home country today, Syrian Christians from both Orthodox and Catholic faiths and Armenians. The

And for the many Chinese, Korean and Filipino Australians, of Catholic, Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian and Pentecostal faiths. Some brought their faith with them, others found it here in Australia.

When most of these migrants came to Australia it was not the Government they first turned to, to assist them to adjust to their new life in Australia. It was their local church or other religious community.

If you want to understand the strong opposition to changing our marriage act in western Sydney and elsewhere you must understand the central nature of faith and community to the lives of these and so many other Australians.

Nine out of the top ten electorates that voted No are represented by Labor members, and are comprised of the vibrant faith communities that I have just spoken of.

I would urge them all of these Labor members to be freed up, released from any constraint, that would enable them to stand with their constituents now in supporting amendments that deliver the protections of religious freedoms that are currently absent from 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, the values they share and foster within their families, community, within and without their Church walls.

This a reasonable request that this Parliament should support.

I commend the PM for initiating the Ruddock Review in protecting religious freedoms. Few people understand these communities and the issues and risks as well as the former Attorney. But that process is not, nor was it designed to be a substitute for sensible action now in this Bill.

To fail to make improvements to this Bill now would demonstrate a failure to appreciate not only the underpinnings of our own liberal democracy and Federation, but the nature of modern multicultural Australia.

I commend my colleagues both in the Senate and this house for standing firm on their convictions and beliefs; both representing their faith and those in their communities that share their values.

I will be joining many of my colleagues in supporting amendments to be moved by the Members for Deakin, Mitchell, Canning and Mallee.

I will be joining them in moving amendments to ensure that no organization 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 organizations has been extraordinary - Mission Australia, Wesley Mission, Caritas, Anglicare, Baptist Care, our religious schools - the many Christian organisations involved in providing pastoral support in our schools - their funding through grants and other programmes and support through our tax system must continue to be about what they achieve, not what they consider to be the definition of marriage.

We need to ensure these protections are put in place.

It is now time to pass a truly inclusive Bill that recognizes the views of 100% of Australians, not just the 61%, and I urge the House to not miss this opportunity.