PM looks to recruit critic Howard
MALCOLM Turnbull wants to recruit the most powerful and prominent critic of his bid to legalise same-sex marriage – John Howard.
The Prime Minister said yesterday his Liberal predecessor could make “an enormous contribution” to protecting religious freedoms if the Marriage Act was changed.
“So there will be the opportunity for every member of Parliament to make a contribution, and for Australians like John Howard with a passion about the detail here to really be of enormous assistance,” he told Sky News.
“So I welcome, I really will welcome, John’s assistance with this, assuming there is a Yes vote (in the postal survey).”
The PM also told reporters: “John’s wisdom is always welcome.”
Mr Howard is backing the No case and has launched a savage attack on the Turnbull government for “washing its hands of any responsibility” for religious safeguards. In a statement on Thursday the man who led the nation from 1996 to 2007, and in 2004 ensured the Marriage Act restricted weddings to a man and a woman, said the government was hostile to concerns raised by churches.
He said protections for religious freedom needed to be spelled out before the end of the postal survey.
“If a Yes vote is recorded there will be overwhelming pressure to move on, legislate as quickly as possible, and then put the issue behind parliament,” he said. “There will be scant opportunity for serious consideration of protections.
“Very likely, those raising such matters will be met with a chorus of put-downs, and accused of attempting to frustrate the verdict of the people.
“Thus far, the government’s response has been to wash its hands of any responsibility, merely stating that it will facilitate a private member’s bill.
“The shadow attorneygeneral, Mark Dreyfus, has already said Labor will examine the exemptions from certain provisions of anti-discrimination legislation now enjoyed by religious bodies. It is already Greens policy to remove them.”
Mr Turnbull replied with an assurance the rights of churches would be entrenched.
He told reporters: “As strongly as I believe in the right of same-sex couples to marry ... even more strongly, if you like, do I believe in religious freedom. Religious freedom is fundamental and will be protected.”
Mr Turnbull said draft legislation drawn up by Attorney-General George Brandis had been reviewed by a Senate committee, which expressed “a very broad consensus to support religious freedoms” in SSM legislation.
If the postal survey results are in favour of a Yes vote it is likely a private member’s bill based on that draft and the Senate committee findings will be introduced to Parliament and be subject of a free vote.
The PM pointedly noted Mr Howard had not made a submission to that Senate review. – with staff writers