Motion and summation of amendments to the Marriage Amendment (Definition & Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

MR HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:23): I move the amendments 1 to 13 as circulated in my name together. The amendments here are relatively straightforward. I say the House today these amendments are examples of ways we can improve this bill in consistent application with the intention of the bill and of the Australian people. This isn't about delay or obfuscation. And when you consider the substantive matters that are in this amendment, we are getting at the arrangements directly of the Commander of the Defence Forces, the CDF, who we have direct responsibility for in Australia. Given the construction of this bill and the arrangements for civil celebrants, we need to take account of the arrangements for the defence forces, the chaplains and the authorised officers that are appointed by the Chief of the Defence Forces.

As the bill currently stands, the CDF can make appointments without taking account of the conscientious objection of the individual that he appoints. This is different, of course, to those who work in a registry office, where that's the purpose they're employed for. In the case of an officer of the defence forces, employed in the Air Force, the Navy or the Army for the primary purpose of conducting military operations, the marrying of service people overseas is a secondary duty, not the primary purpose of their employment. So the operational effect of this amendment would be that the defence chief would need to check that that officer of the defence forces—the Army, the Air Force or the Navy—was happy to conduct same-sex marriage and, in that case, that person would be appointed. This is a preventive measure, rather than discovering, at the time, after the appointment of that officer, in an overseas deployment, that that serving officer had a conscientious objection—as they have a right to, under article 18, to their freedom of religion and belief. Remember that these officers are appointed by the denominations of the religions that we are talking about—that is, religious ministers who are serving as officers of the defence forces who are appointed by the chief of the defence forces specifically to serve on operation to marry service personnel overseas. It happens and I want to note my colleagues here - who have been moving these amendments but the service of the member for Canning, the member for Fadden, the reserve service for the member of New England, I served in the reserve forces myself, and this is a practical amendment. I'd say to the House in terms of improving this bill and making sure it does account for the genuine conscientious objections of religious officers of the defence forces appointed by the CDF giving them the ability to highlight they have an objection prior to their deployment make sense. It's been accepted by the Senate Select Committee, it is covered in the bill but it isn't covered sufficiently to the extent that it will avoid a situation where the CDF can appoint an officer of the army, navy or Air Force who has this religious objection in advance without knowing that this will become a problem. This is a workable amendment. I say to the House this. It has been my concern from the day one of this debate and in this amendment that we are not having a genuine conscience vote on this vote on these amendments. And the attitude of the Labor Party and members of sit in this debate has been to vote on block -- I say to the representative of the Labor Party who has been appointed on this amendment to do the thinking about it, this is a purely practical arrangement. This is purely to improve the quality of the legislation. Even if it does mean an extra hour in the Senate to get their approval to bring it back, it is to prevent a situation where the CDF appoints a minister of religion who is also a serving officer of the defence forces who has a conscientious objection only to then find that situation be exercised in the field on deployment. It's a practical and sensible amendment. It simply makes sense. Why wouldn't we have a member of the Labor Party cross the floor at any point on any one of these amendments including this amendment that has been moved here today if this was a genuine conscience vote, why wouldn't that be the case? So far we have not. And I'd say to members opposite if this is a conscience vote, this is the kind of amendment that you could easily come and join with individual members over here because I say to my colleagues here, we are having a debate amongst ourselves and it is a good process, some of you are looking over here and saying, Isn't this an interesting debate, but you're not joining in the conscience voting process of this parliament. You are not debating the issues and making a case for or against, you have appointed a spokesperson to do the thinking for you. And why not disagree with my -- I disagree with some of my colleagues here, I really do. I respect the courage and the strength of the Prime Minister in allowing a genuine conscience vote on this side of the House on these amendments. It takes and strength for people to disagree and move on. I disagree with my colleagues, but I respect them. And I respect their courage and strength. I respect the courage and strength of the crossbench. I respect the courage and strength of people who can disagree on these amendments.

The member's time has expired. The question is the amendments be agreed to. And I call the... Asked for an extension? Okay, I call the member for Mitchell.

Thank you. And I say to the House, again, the purpose of this amendment is a practical purpose. It is to improve the quality of the legislation. It is rare that we get any bill passed through these chambers without amendment through both chambers of the House. It's a quality improvement. You can support it. It will send a good signal to our service men and women and the people who may be married by their officers who are appointed by the CDF.

 

We don't want them finding out overseas on deployment that a genuine conscientious objection has occurred overseas or someone being ordered into the field where they have a genuine conscientious objection, remembering that they are appointed by the denomination of their religion and remembering that, while it is in the bill, it is not sufficient for them at the time. They could still be appointed by the CDF to do this even though they have that genuine conscientious objection.

So again I say to my colleagues here, on this side of the House: this is a good amendment for you to support. I've heard your arguments. I don't agree with all of them. We have a debate here in this House today genuinely, on this side of the House, between the Liberal Party and the National Party and the crossbench. We're having a genuine disagreement about some issues. We are seeking greater protections for freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, in these amendments. This particular amendment is particularly addressed to a matter of Commonwealth responsibility, our serving men and women, the people who are appointed by the commander of the defence forces, the Chief of the Defence Force, and we recommend it strongly to you.

I say to the Labor Party: this is your chance. This is your moment. This is where the Leader of the Opposition could step up and show some leadership. He could actually say to his members: 'This one is a practical amendment. You are free to cast your vote on this because it will not harm the bill. It will not delay marriage equality in any way, shape or form, and we will improve the legislation. We will have ensured that we have those vital protections for freedom of religion, worship and practice in our serving men and women in the arrangements that are made for the people that marry them overseas.' It's practical. It's sensible. There is no reason to do this.

And, to the five million people who voted no, who have concerns for religious freedoms and protections, for the 45,000 service personnel—and many of them will seek to get married overseas; indeed, members of the same sex will seek to get married in the defence forces overseas, and nothing in this bill will prevent it; nothing in this bill will harm it; nothing in this bill will get in the way. In fact, it will enable it. But, at the same time, we don't want one right overriding another. Let's allow the CDF to consider that matter before he appoints that officer, to ensure this doesn't happen, and put this important and vital protection in the bill at the time we pass this legislation.

 

MR HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:46): Just to correct a few things said in this debate, I want to take a different step from the tone taken in relation to Defence Force personnel. We're not talking about the exercise of conscience overseas, they obey their orders, but military service is unique, and this amendment addresses a unique area of the Defence Force operations I want to correct the member for Griffith and the member for Bowman about this.

It was a recommendation of the Senate committee. The amendment I presented is to improve the nature of the law of the recommendation of the Senate select committee of the issues of chaplains in the Defence Force. So no-one is talking about issues of conscience amongst our serving personnel, it's about the chaplains in the Defence Force. The reason it's in the bill, it was part of the Senate select committee consideration. They considered it. The member for Griffith is dead wrong about that. It was recommended to be inserted in the bill. I am saying in this amendment and speaking to the house here, the work around that normally happens where the CDF can appoint an officer, a religious officer that is also a serving officer, the work around that needs to be put into this bill, we do not want to find about a religious objection in the field, we're requiring the CDF to make the inquiry first. It could be an appointment could be appointed by the CDF.

It's a protection by the ministers of religion appointed by their denominations, let's get back to our reason in this debate, the issue is the denominations of religion appoint these ministers to serve in the defence forces. They're religious ministers. It's not the principle purpose of their employment. It's the secondary purpose of their employment. The CDF appoints them to serve overseas, and we do not want to find out that they have been appointed and they have a conscientious objection. It remains practical and sensible. This is what we do with bills. We improve them. There's no subversion, there's no underhanded tactics. We look at the law, we examine the impact of the bill, and we suggest and propose amendments

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