Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Rights clash looms in same-sex debate

While the flawed postal vote plebiscite has provoked furious rival responses, the pivotal problem is just emerging — the failure in any draft bill by Coalition or Labor MPs to fully protect religious freedoms once same-sex marriage is legislated.

This is set to become an explosive issue within the Coalition parties. The alarm has been sounded and if, as expected, the plebiscite returns a “yes” vote, it will be triggered. This will become a serious problem for Malcolm Turnbull and Attorney-General George Brandis.

Tony Abbott, a number of other prominent Liberals and church leaders will direct much of their campaign against same-sex marriage on to the failure of the parliament to confront the religious freedom issue and exploit public doubts on this front.

Beyond the campaign lies the great dilemma. The proposition is lethal — that it would constitute a historical betrayal of the values of the Coalition parties if they “backed” a bill post-plebiscite on same-sex marriage that exposed individuals and institutions to retaliation for their beliefs because the government failed to strengthen Australia’s woefully inadequate laws on religious freedom and protection.

Abbott said if people had fears for their freedom, their right to express the traditional view of marriage without retaliation, they should vote “no”. In tactical terms, this shifts the issue from same-sex marriage, which has majority support, to the trade-off of rights ­involved: winning same-sex marriage at the sacrifice of freedom of conscience, belief and religion.

The evidence strongly backs Abbott’s claims. Indeed, it is overwhelming as documented in submissions to and in the February 2017 report of the Senate select committee on the draft bill released by Brandis. The further truth is the political class is split on these protections, with the prospect that passage of same-sex marriage will have a second and far more important consequence — an assault on religious freedoms made possible by inadequate laws that will see a major shift in Australian society.

Since the postal plebiscite was announced, comments by Abbott, ACT Liberal senator Zed Seselja, Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies and the Moderator General of the Presbyterian Church of Australia, John P Wilson, signal they want to enshrine religious freedom as a core issue in the vote. It is likely this will become a universal position of the Christian churches. It would be remarkable if it did not.

Nobody should be surprised by these events. It highlights the essential weakness of the same-sex marriage case, a point obvious for years. Despite the insistence of politicians, religious freedom has not been properly addressed and many inadequate bills testify to this. The draft bill released by Brandis, the subject of the February 2017 report by the Senate ­select committee, was not authorised by the cabinet or the partyroom. It has no standing. Yet this bill was assumed to be the model to inform the original plebiscite had it been approved.

Alarm about this bill and other bills including that proposed by senator Dean Smith, despite the broader guarantees surrounding the same-sex marriage ceremony Brandis and Smith drafted, is obvious from the submissions made to the Senate committee.

Its chairman, South Australian Liberal David Fawcett, tells ­Inquirer: “My concern is that if we don’t get this right, if this issue is just put into the too-hard basket, then we will be left with inadequate state anti-discrimination laws and there will be action taken against individuals because there is inadequate protection for ­religious freedom.”

In his foreword to the report Fawcett says: “If Australia is to remain a plural, tolerant society where different views are valued and legal, legislators much recognise that this change will require careful, simultaneous consideration of a wide range of specialist areas of law as opposed to the common perception that it ­involves just a few words in one act of parliament.”

The Turnbull government has ignored the spirit or letter of this advice. Hastie identified this flaw when he said to this paper during the week: “Will people, churches, schools, charitable organisations and businesses be protected if they hold to the common view of marriage?” The Senate committee report shows they will not. This issue goes far beyond the ceremony itself to wider society.

Saying the Smith bill is defective, Hastie says it “only offered protections to individuals involved in the conduct of weddings” and, as a result, “failed to grasp the far-reaching significance of redefining marriage”.

This is the core point. It is the challenge the Coalition will abandon only at the price of betraying the principles basic to its life since the inception of these parties. Will Turnbull before the next election face the prospect of believers in traditional marriage being penalised or intimidated because his government refused to provide legal protections? If so, how will conservative voters react?

The irony is that Smith agrees religious protections are inadequate and should be addressed. He tells Inquirer: “I think there is legitimacy to a broad discussion of religious freedom in Australia.”

But Smith doesn’t want this to interfere with his bill or the passing of same-sex marriage. He wants this as a separate discussion.

Brandis makes no secret of the approach he took as A-G. His focus was on the same-sex marriage bill itself and he was ambitious in pushing the boundaries against much LGBTI sentiment to ensure that marriage celebrants as well as ministers of religion can refuse to solemnise marriages. Smith also pushed the boundaries with these provisions.

But this ignores the real problem, which far transcends protections around weddings as such. The current law leaves wide open many avenues of intimidation against individuals, schools, charities, businesses, adoption agencies and civic ­organisations. This includes consumer boycotts promoted by ­social media and even commercial boycotts against other commercial entities.

The Senate committee after reviewing the landscape said: “Overall the evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced. This would most appropriately be achieved through the inclusion of ‘religious belief’ in federal anti-discrimination law.”

Incredibly, this was the view of the whole committee. Many bodies supported this recommendation in their submissions. Human Rights commissioner Ed Santow said: “You could have a stand-alone statute that specifically dealt with freedom of religion or you could expand the Racial Discrimination Act.” Even the Australian Human Rights Commission agrees there should be a specific protection in federal law protecting religious belief.

Yet nothing has been done. Of course, this is a big project. The Turnbull government should have tied such measures to the same-sex marriage issue from the start, an omission it will regret. Because it is proposing to legislate same-sex marriage before Christmas if the plebiscite is passed, the signal is that the government intends to do nothing, or give an extremely low priority to any further religious protection concerns.

Equally significant, there is no plan within the government if the plebiscite is carried for the cabinet or partyroom to consider any planned private member’s bill that would be the subject of a free vote. Inquirer has been told there would be informal “consultations” over such a bill. That’s all. How satisfactory is this?

It raises a core issue: will the cabinet and partyroom tolerate a situation where their government paves the way for such a historic social change simultaneous with a manifest failure to properly provide for protections in relation to conscience, belief and religion? What would this reveal about the values of the Liberal Party in 2017 or its sense of blind panic about getting same-sex marriage off the political agenda?

University of Sydney law professor Patrick Parkinson welcomes the protections for ministers of religion and for marriage celebrants but says this is far from sufficient. “In certain sections of the community, there is now deep hatred expressed for people of faith,” he says.

“Provisions are required to protect people from discrimination on account of whatever views they may hold about marriage, whether they are opposed to same-sex marriage or in favour of it.”

He says it must be made lawful for any person or entity to express an opinion that accords with a religious or conscientious belief about marriage. He advocates laws to protect people or entities in relation to employment, contracting, academic, trade or professional qualification, accommo­dation, education and adminis­tration of commonwealth laws and programs.

Institute for Civil Society executive director Mark Sneddon summarises his views based on his submission to the Senate committee: “I am extremely concerned about the lack of legal protection across this country in terms of freedom of conscience, belief and religion for people who support traditional marriage.

“These protections are far less than those for people who support same-sex marriage. Yet it is those who support traditional marriage who are more susceptible to ­actions … from government bodies and commercial ­organisations.

“Where persons hold the traditional view of marriage not on grounds of religious belief, they have no protection under federal, state and territory anti-discrimination laws or the Fair Work Act. If they hold the traditional view of marriage on the grounds of ­religious belief they have no protection under federal anti-discrimination law, no protection under NSW or South Australian anti-discrimination laws and some protection under the anti-discrimination laws of the other states or territories but only for individuals and not organisations.”

The Senate committee was provided with examples of prejudicial treatment of people and institutions because they support traditional marriage. Provided by the Institute for Civil Society, it is a long and startling list.

There was the closure of all Catholic adoption agencies in England and Wales or the transfer of their operations to secular entities because their charitable status was removed due to their position and practices on same-sex marriage.

There was the intimidation of Trinity Western University in British Columbia, a Canadian Christian university, in which the province’s teachers board refused accreditation to its graduates on grounds they might discriminate against LGBTI students, a decision reversed by the Supreme Court of Canada after years of litigation.

But when Trinity Western applied to open a law school, Canadian legal institutions including the Canadian Bar Association and a number of provincial law societies voted not to accredit its graduates because they had signed a required university covenant to abstain from sex unless it was between a husband and wife.

The attitude of large corporates is a major concern. Last year ­numerous US companies threatened to boycott the state of Georgia after legislation was tabled seeking to expand religious freedom exceptions in relation to same-sex marriage. The companies included Disney, Intel, Coca-Cola and Unilever. Disney said: “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law.”

Given the support Australian companies have offered same-sex marriage, any idea they would not pursue this cause against religious freedom seems forlorn. Indeed, it is hard to find any statement of meaningful support for religious freedom and belief from a senior Australian corporate executive on this issue, a telling omission.

At home there was huge pressure for the sacking by IBM of Mark Allaby and by Macquarie University of Steven Chavura unless they resigned from other bodies perceived to oppose same-sex marriage. A boycott was imposed by hotels against Coopers Brewing because it sponsored the Bible Society, which ran a video not against same-sex marriage but one that put both sides of the debate.

In the US, Chick-fil-A, a sandwich franchise, was subject to consumer boycotts and government and commercial retaliation when a senior executive supported traditional marriage. Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla Corporation, known for its browser Firefox, triggered a consumer boycott because he had supported an anti-gay marriage position. He was forced to step down.

In Sydney the Mercure Hotel, which was hosting an event of various Christian groups to form a strategy against same-sex marriage, was threatened with violent protests such that staff safety could not be guaranteed. It had to cancel the event, an example of how easily the technique of intimidation can deliver. The most celebrated domestic case is the decision by Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner that the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, had a case to answer for distributing a book in schools defending traditional marriage.

The evidence and examples rebuff the lazy response from politicians that this is not a serious issue. Referring to the overseas examples, Sneddon says: “I cannot see why these more extreme actions taken … in North America would not also be taken here.”

The Senate committee report corrects a near universal misconception repeated in this debate: that same-sex marriage is an established human right. This was disposed of in many submissions notably by Mark Fowler, from Neumann & Turnour lawyers.

In international law, the right to marry is contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. This provision does not extend to same-sex marriage, an issue tested in the ruling Joslin v New Zealand. This position has been affirmed by the ­European Court of Human Rights in its rulings that there is no such right to same-sex marriage.

Such a right is typically claimed in polemical debate but its legal ­viability does not hold up. The Senate committee accepts this view, saying “under current human rights instruments and juris­prudence there have been no decisions to date that oblige Australia to legislate for same-sex marriage”. By contrast — and ironically — freedom of religion is one of the few non-derogable rights in the ICCPR.

Parkinson says: “While the case in international human rights law for saying that same-sex marriage is a human right is very weak, the case for protecting religious freedom, and in particular freedom of conscience, is quite overwhelming. There have been numerous bills introduced in parliament to enact same-sex marriage over the last few years and what has been common to most of them has been a minimalist protection for freedom of conscience.”

The plebiscite idea originated with Peter Dutton. Its implementation via the Bureau of Statistics came from Brandis. But it will occur only with the approval of the High Court and nobody can second-guess that outcome. Smith is right when he says his bill has more protections than anything likely to come from a Labor government. But this cannot gainsay the gaping hole left in this pivotal area of our national life and values.

For years the typical response from politicians to the religious freedom issue has been patronising and dismissive, buttressed by the claim that religious ministers would be protected. Any notion that will suffice is ludicrous.

The resistance falls into three categories: those who care only about achieving same-sex marriage; those who think protection around the ceremony is the only issue that matters; and those, like the champions of progressive ideology, who see this social change as an integral step in driving religion from the public square.


Same-sex advocates caught out

It really is no wonder so many ­people who consume mainstream media are sceptical about ­journalism.

The press conference held by Malcolm Turnbull and Finance Minister Mathias Cormann in the Blue Room at Parliament House in Canberra last Tuesday on the Coalition’s plans for a same-sex marriage postal plebiscite was the worst kind of media pack performance.

It was a rowdy groupthink rounding on the PM by gallery ­reporters who displayed shared moral outrage at the idea of the voters having a say on one of the most fundamental issues in any society: marriage and the raising of children.

And of course the gallery gave the government no credit for sticking to a plebiscite promise it took to the election just over 12 months ago.

No such confected outrage against Labor, the Greens and the Senate crossbench for an anti-democratic, elitist blocking of a popular vote.

So what to make of the media coverage, the moral posturing of Labor leaders who as recently as the Gillard prime ministership ­opposed any change to the Marriage Act and the hysterical claims by advocates that any plebiscite will unleash a wave of anti-gay ­hatred? How about: “You must all be joking and isn’t this all just ­political grandstanding?”

Penny Wong, Labor’s leader in the Senate, spoke emotionally on Wednesday about her love for her children and complained that the Australian Christian Lobby had compared the plight of children of gay couples to the Stolen Generation. But Wong herself spoke against gay marriage as recently as 2010 when she said religious and cultural issues would keep ­marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

People can change their minds of course but if it has taken until 2017 for a gay woman with a long-term partner and children who is a national leader in progressive ­politics to get to her present ­position, why the opprobrium for people who still share her former ­concerns?

While I would vote for a change on the basis that I support economic and personal freedom and the limiting of big government intervention in people’s lives, I agree with all those who say it is not a first-order issue. And I question advocates who spruik polls citing 60-70 per cent support for reform, but reject polls showing 46 per cent want a plebiscite on the issue compared with 39 per cent who want parliament to decide. If advocates are confident of community support, why not test it now?

There was a clue on The Drum last Tuesday when Sydney’s Fairfield councillor Dai Le, a supporter of SSM and a critic of the plebiscite, said she was worried many migrant groups in her area would baulk at the issue if given a vote. Yes, that’s the nature of democracy Dai.

And the truth is, many recent migrant groups from Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu backgrounds will be among the most passionate opponents of SSM. When will our ABC give spokespeople from those religions airtime to tell Australians what their communities really think instead of alway criticising the Christian churches?

To be fair to progressive journalists, at least some from Fairfax Media have been honest about the political expediency of Labor on the issue and have belled the cat on Shorten’s venal desire to cause political problems for the PM within the Coalition at the expense of the marriage equality issue he supports. Both Mark Kenny and Peter Hartcher pointed to Shorten’s blatant hypocrisy

The ABC has been relentless and one-sided on the issue. By Thursday lunchtime ABC News editorial policy manager Mark Maley had emailed staff warning them of the need to be impartial on the issue.

Emma Alberici on Lateline has been among the worst. On Monday night she started an interview with Cormann with a self-regarding tale about the 15-year-old friend of her daughter who had just come out as gay and been kicked out of home.

As if people’s rights to a democratic vote should be curtailed to protect a daughter’s friend’s feelings. What if the 15-year old wanted to be a priest and was distressed by the ABC’s attitude to the Catholic Church? Does anyone think Alberici would consider reining in the ABC’s war on the church?

The Drum seems to find it difficult not to talk about SSM every day or to get guests who have ­anything positive to say about the government’s decision to keep its election promise. That was until The Australian Financial Review’s Aaron Patrick stood his ground on the program last Tuesday.

But what to make of the drivel from fellow panellist Emma Dawson, of the left wing Per Capita research lobby, who demanded to know why people were calling “marriage equality” “same-sex marriage”? Well that would be to avoid the language spin of the ­advocates who invented the ­marriage equality line. The ABC’s Maley wrote in his email to staff that reporters should start using the entirely accurate term: same-sex marriage.

A range of ABC programs trotted out former High Court judge Michael Kirby about why he would not be participating in the postal vote after 50 years of ­abusive comments for his gay relationship with former Rose Bay newsagent Johan Van Vloten.

Now Kirby, who lived in a magnificent Sydney Harbour waterfront home he sold for $12 million six years ago and rose to the highest court in the land after a glittering legal career, does not strike me as any kind of victim. A graduate of Fort Street High School, society has been very kind to Kirby.

Sure terrible things were done in the past to gay men and women but I see little evidence Kirby, or indeed Wong, are victims of any sort. If they really want to change the law surely it was always ­morally incumbent upon them to participate in the postal plebiscite and campaign for reform, and that is the position they — and most of Twitter — reached after Labor’s backflip.

While not wanting to sign up to the whole mawkish tone of modern offence culture, what about the feelings of people in “de facto” relationships, heterosexual and homosexual? Isn’t all this privileging of “marriage” an implied criticism of the “loving families” and children raised in such relationships?

Of course some people will say silly and offensive things, as former senator Bronwyn Bishop did on Paul Murray Live on Tuesday night when she talked about polygamy and people having sex with animals. But so what? Lots of silly things are said in all debates.

As the Prime Minister said on Tuesday, are we really suggesting that from now on our country can never again hold a referendum on a subject that might generate offensive comments? As someone who grew up during the Vietnam War protest era this seems to me a very soft attitude to democratic debate.

And how to understand SSM advocates rounding on profoundly progressive SSM supporter Mia Freedman for posting a photo of her wedding ring in support of the right of gay people to the same vow?

Just like the social media abuse hurled at Australian Christian Lobby leader Lyle Shelton every day for years, it gives the lie to the notion that the victims of bad manners in this debate will be the families of gay couples.

As usual the social media left will outdo the rest of society in rudeness, and no doubt play into the hands of former PM and SSM opponent Tony Abbott, who could have some success framing the postal plebiscite as a referendum on political correctness and bullying of the left.


Businessman Dick Smith spends $1million on 'chilling' new anti-immigration ad warning Australia is doomed

Businessman Dick Smith is pressuring politicians to slash the number of immigrants accepted into Australia in a $1 million 'disturbing' ad campaign threatening violence and poverty.

The television advertisement, which will air on Tuesday, is based on the 1980s Grim Reaper AIDS campaign and will feature original actor John Stanton.

Using a pitchfork as an ominous symbol for a violent revolution, Mr Smith warns that 'endless growth will destroy Australia as we know it today.'

'Our growth-addicted economic system will see our children living in a world of eleven billion people, consuming and polluting more than our finite planet can withstand,' the millionaire entrepreneur claims in the Dick Smith Fair Go campaign ad.

'It's a path to either more and more inequality, or famine, disaster, war and collapse. Are we that stupid?'

Mr Smith appeals for politicians to cut the annual number of immigrants in half and offers to invest $2 million into marginal seats in the next election for the political party that drafts a population plan.

The outspoken One Nation supporter is also calling to close the gap between Australia's wealthiest people and the poor.

'Australia's wealthiest 1 percent own more than the bottom 70 percent, that's 17 million Aussies,' he said.

Mr Smith said that as a member of that top tier, he knows the group can 'certainly afford to pay more tax,' according to The Daily Telegraph.

A few of his own office staff members have called the ad 'disturbing,' Mr Smith said.

'It is so disturbing people in my office said they did not want their children to see it, but it is what we see on the news every night,' he said, according to the publication.

Mr Smith and radio host Alan Jones will launch the ad campaign at an event in Sydney on Tuesday morning.


Climate of infighting in Greens

Rhiannon is an old Trot from way back and is just using the Greens to further her personal agenda.  She wants to push the Greens even further Left than they already are -- towards Communism

Former Greens leader Bob Brown has accused NSW senator Lee Rhiannon of being a "team wrecker" and urged her to retire, as the party struggles with internal problems.

The ABC's Four Corners program on Monday night features interviews with key players in the Greens, including Dr Brown who says he "looks forward" to the end of Senator's Rhiannon's "reign" in The Greens NSW.

"I've had to take Lee aside when I was party leader and tell her that she was damaging the party through her actions," he says in the program.

Senator Rhiannon was temporarily suspended from voting in the Australian Greens party room in June after insisting she was bound by Greens NSW in opposing a deal with the government on the Gonski 2.0 schools funding package.

In a statement on Monday the senator insisted she was a team player and respected the party's decisions.  "It is disappointing that a senior Greens figure such as Bob Brown should ignite tensions with public attacks," she said.

Senator Rhiannon said Dr Brown had trouble accepting some of the candidates preselected by Greens NSW and its structure, which was not dominated by MPs.  "Our stance on party structure earnt the ire of Bob Brown and he periodically comes out and attacks me. The attacks are not only hurtful, they damage the Australian Greens," she said.

The Greens have since allowed Senator Rhiannon back in the party room.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who did not take part in the ABC program, said there were "obviously tensions about the processes we use". "We've been up-front about that. The party room is trying to work through a lot of that," she told Sky News.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese said he found Dr Brown's criticism "surprising", but correct.  "He's quite right in calling out people who've gone into his party but who aren't really loyal to that party," Mr Albanese told reporters in Canberra.

The Greens were secretive and harboured many former members of "far-left political parties".


Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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