Page 578 - Week 02 - Thursday, 14 February 2013

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I would ask whether this motion today builds up the ACT Assembly and gives it any further credibility. Or does it tear it down, go to the root of those things that make Australia and makes Canberra special? We have had an ongoing tradition of tolerance in this city, and it should continue.

I felt blessed on Monday. I felt very lucky to be there, because I was challenged by a dozen or so very, very decent and very, very good Canberrans to do better on behalf of my community. As a result of that I will try harder. Those of you who were not there cannot comment because you do not know.

It is kind of funny. Mr Hanson, who professes no faith, was there. I do not think he feels any worse off for it. I think it is great that Mr Hanson stands up today and defends religious freedom. That is from someone who chooses not to have a religion or a faith. Perhaps those opposite might have the same level of tolerance and acceptance in the things that they do.

MR SESELJA (Brindabella) (11.20): I am pleased to join with my opposition colleagues in opposing this motion. Most of the very important points have been made by Mr Hanson, Mr Coe and others in relation to why this motion is offensive, why it should not be supported and why it is wrong.

I want to raise a couple of issues which may have been touched on but I want to touch on them a little bit more. When we look at the separation of church and state in Australia, it is primarily reflected in our constitution, in section 116. Section 116 is a twofold clause. It talks about not establishing a religion but also about freedom of religion. It is worth reading what section 116 says:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.

Presumably the desire is because of the separation of church and state. If you accept that view of the separation of church and state, it raises some interesting precedents. Of course, in our country, as opposed to the United States, where they have a very similar clause in their bill of rights, our High Court and our parliaments have not taken the view that section 116 prevents, for instance, funding of religious schools. Religious schools in this country are funded partly by the government. That is not deemed to infringe upon the separation of church and state, nor on section 116 of the constitution. The United States has taken a very different path.

I think that sensible view of what “establishment of religion” means has stood Australia in good stead. It means that we are not going to have an official religion. We are not going to say that the religion of Australia is being Catholic, Anglican or Muslim. We are not going to do that. There is no official religion. That is a good thing and that is something we accept. But we have taken a very broad view of the freedom of religion. And sometimes government will assist organisations who are religious; of course there will be a crossover. It recognises the fact that people of faith have the same rights in our country as everyone else.

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