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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 01 Hansard (Thursday, 15 February 2018) . . Page.. 295 ..

MS CODY (Murrumbidgee) (3.43): I was born godless to godless parents and have never had the slightest religious inclination in my life. I have, however, seen a rising tide of angst in our community about the role religion plays in our society. This, of course, especially came to a head in last year’s unnecessary equal marriage survey. Being neither gay nor religious, but perfectly accepting of both, I found the level of hurt involved awful.

Whilst I do not share their view, I have met with and respect many religious people for whom religion informs their morality and ethics. Whilst not wishing to name names, I can assure the chamber that many of Australia’s greatest campaigners for workers’ rights, women’s right, Indigenous rights, and the causes of equality and socialism are, and have been, religiously motivated. That another group claimed the same religious inspiration for the opposite baffles me.

In saying that, I do not doubt the honesty of those who opposed equal marriage and believed they were representative of the majority of Australians in doing so. I understand that for those whose personal networks are embedded in a community as religious as it was 20, 30 or 40 years ago, these changes have come as a shock.

For those who found themselves so out of step with changing community expectations, it can be a difficult and traumatic experience. And as leaders of the Canberra community, we must be kind and gentle with those who have found themselves out of step. The best approach to doing that is maintaining our secular government, drafting our laws based on human rights and where we fund non-government organisations, doing so on the basis of the outcomes they achieve, not the religions they believe in.

The ACT is Australia’s leading human rights jurisdiction. Having legislated the country’s first Human Rights Act, we should be proud of that. It is a lead we should maintain. The freedom of religion is an important part of our human rights. This was recognised by the Assembly when we voted to expand the definition of religious conviction and include religious vilification as part of amendments to the Discrimination Act in 2016.

While freedom of religion is part of our human rights framework, that does not mean religious organisations operate outside the law. The ACT has a wide range of regulations which religious organisations must follow. This includes some old laws which benefit numerous religious orders through the establishment of property trusts as well as acts which ensure that people have access to religious services in circumstances where they may be in the care of the territory.

We must take a balanced approach to keeping those laws up to date with fast-changing community expectations. In this context, the ACT’s human rights framework provides an effective platform to balance rights and freedoms. The ACT government has made it clear in its submission to the Australian government’s Religious Freedom Review that it does not believe that further exceptions or exemptions for those who may have a religious objection in relation to the provision of goods and services to certain people or groups is appropriate.

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