Page 564 - Week 02 - Thursday, 14 February 2013
given time off to go and attend religious events. It does not mean any of these things. It simply means: do not, on our behalf as Speaker, go and organise a religious ceremony and profess it to be an initiative of the Assembly or of the Speaker on behalf of the Assembly.
This issue could have been avoided through a closer engagement with the diverse range of views that are held by members in this place. I am conscious that there are many members of this place who feel deeply and in a very heartfelt and passionate way about their religious belief, and I respect that; I respect that absolutely. But equally there are other members in this place who do not share those views and who do not wish this institution to be associated with any one of those particular beliefs. This is an Assembly for all Canberrans. It should be separate from the practising of any particular religious faith. For those reasons, Madam Speaker, it is with some regret but I think also with some necessity that I move this motion this morning.
MR HANSON (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (10.27): I do not thank the minister for bringing this motion on; I think it is very unhelpful. It does not achieve the aims that he is purporting; it is more far-reaching. If this was supposed to be a debate about the church service or the multi-faith service that was organised by the Speaker, that is not what this motion does. This is more far-reaching and, in my view, it has either been bungled by the minister or it risks turning our multi-faith community here in the ACT into a political football, risks limiting freedom of religion and risks discrimination. That is a very poor motion.
Last year I organised a forum in this place for the veterans community to organise a whole group of people from various organisations—30 organisations—to come to this place to share with me their views, their concerns. I did that as a member of the Assembly. I am a veteran; I have an interest in those issues and I wanted to hear what they had to say. That is a reasonable thing to do. But what the minister and the Labor Party seem to be saying today is that you could not do that if those people were religious groups. “If you want to engage with a group or a section in our community as members, you are free to do so unless the group is religious.” It seems to me to be discrimination. Why it is that we can invite political groups in here or veterans groups or any other member of the community, but if we wanted to invite religious groups of any denomination to engage with members of the Assembly in a constructive way, that is outlawed. I think that is abhorrent. I think it is discriminatory and we will not be supporting it.
The question is: where is the line drawn? This motion makes that somewhat unclear. The Speaker has sought advice from the Clerk, but obviously a lot of interpretation now needs to follow from this. I have had a chance to look through some of that advice but it is still unfolding in terms of the full implications of what has been tabled here. The motion put forward by the minister recognises the right of members to profess their own personal religious faith or philosophical perspective and to organise activities which reflect or honour their religious belief or philosophical perspective separate from the institution of the legislature.
We hear a lot from the government about the Human Rights Act, and section 14(1)(b) states: