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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 06 Hansard (Thursday, 7 June 2018) . . Page.. 2190 ..

In my personal view, the breaking of this seal fundamentally changes sacramental practice and significantly impinges on an individual’s freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of religion rights, which are conveyed both by the Constitution and by human rights legislation. The ease with which changes are made in terms of infringement of freedom raises the serious question of why we bother enshrining rights in legislation in the first place when they are repeatedly impinged on when it seems practically and politically expedient to do so.

It was made clear to the opposition during our briefing on this legislation that the government had not fully resolved how religious confession would be handled in the long term and that significant work was being undertaken at a COAG level amongst attorneys-general. This is in contrast to the government’s response to the scrutiny committee which was circulated in previous days, which highlighted that the government’s clear intent is to include and capture religious confession.

The briefing also highlighted disingenuous consultation, at best, with affected religious groups within the ACT. When the Catholic archbishop was approached, the recommendations of the royal commission were the basis of the discussion, in broad terms, with no specific mention of the inclusion of religious confession, which the government’s legislation is seeking to do. This is backed up by the archbishop’s editorial in today’s Canberra Times.

It is my personal preference to see religious confession remain, as a minimum, as a privileged encounter and that the transitional exemption relating to religious confession remain in place until the full impact of this change can be understood, both within our religious communities and amongst our senior lawmakers. To this end my view differs from that of most of my colleagues. I am grateful to them for the latitude that has been extended to allow for my view to be expressed. This is a long-held freedom that the Liberal Party has had, where a member may feel strongly enough to voice their opinion contrary to party policy. For that, I am thankful.

MRS DUNNE (Ginninderra) (12.10): I want to speak in support of the reportable conduct scheme and its extension to religious organisations. This is important work. Child protection is a priority for governments and the communities we serve. There is no doubt that religious institutions need to reform their practices and their culture so that there is continuing focus on the safety of children, and churches as key institutions need to be part of that.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has revealed horrendous cases of sexual abuse of children and we must take action to ensure that this does not happen again. As a Catholic, I have watched in horror the unfolding story of abuse and predation by people in positions of authority and power in the Catholic Church and elsewhere. Like my fellow members of the faith community, I have been appalled by the ham-fisted handling of these serious issues by the hierarchy. Whether through ignorance or a misguided attempt to limit damage, some church leaders have been spectacularly adept at making things worse. It now falls to the current generation of church leaders to rebuild the people, the trust, and overcome the reputational damage that has been caused.

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