FORMER prime minister John Howard attacked Malcolm Turnbull, and called on him to explain what steps will be taken to protect parental rights, freedom of speech and religious freedom in the event of same-sex marriage becoming law.
Mr Howard accused the Turnbull government of “washing its hands of any responsibility” to protect religious freedom if the Yes vote is victorious.
Mr Howard says the protections need to be spelled out before the end of the postal survey, which started this week.
“This issue must be addressed before the survey is completed; leaving it as something to be taken up only in the event of a Yes vote prevailing is the equivalent of saying that it does not matter,” Mr Howard said in a statement today.
“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. 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.”
“The case for these protections is compelling, given the experience of other countries such as the UK, US and Canada, in the wake of those countries changing their marriage laws.”
Mr Howard said that freedom of religion and freedom of speech were at risk.
“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,” Mr Howard said.
“On the evidence to date, it would seem that the only protections in that bill will not go much beyond stipulations that no minister, priest, rabbi or imam will be compelled to perform a same sex marriage ceremony.
“The Shadow Attorney-General, 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.
“This is a complex area, due in part to our federal structure. There is a heavy involvement of state law. This complexity is a powerful reason why the issue must be addressed.”
There would be “scant opportunity” after the survey result is published on November 15 for serious consideration of protections because of the pressure for parliament to move quickly on legislation.
“On the evidence to date, it would seem that the only protections in that bill will not go much beyond stipulations that no minister, priest, rabbi or imam will be compelled to perform a same-sex marriage ceremony,” Mr Howard said. It was “completely disingenuous” to say the marriage law change would not have other consequences.
“It is precisely because parliament should reflect the will of the people that the people are entitled to know what, if anything, the government will do on protections before they vote,” Mr Howard said.
“Otherwise, people will not be fully informed when they vote.”
Originally published as Howard’s blistering swipe at Turnbull