Zed Seselja warns changes needed for marriage bill

Overwhelming national support for same-sex marriage and in every state and territory shouldn’t be seen as a “blank cheque” for legislation in Parliament, Senator Zed Seselja warned on Thursday.

Restating his plans to vote for the landmark social reform off the back of the government’s postal survey, the ACT senator and Coalition frontbencher said he would fight hard for strong freedom of speech and freedom of religion protections, as well as the rights of parents.

The Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs wouldn’t detail what specific speech or actions he wanted legally protected, but said religious leaders and clergy should not face sanctions for teaching their faith’s position on marriage.

Breaking with Attorney-General George Brandis, Senator Seselja said more than one or two amendments would be needed to a private member’s bill put forward by Liberal Dean Smith, but that the legislation would likely be passed before Christmas.

“I think someone shouldn’t suffer detriment, they shouldn’t be sacked from their employment, they shouldn’t have discrimination because they hold a traditional view of marriage, as 40 per cent or so of Australians do,” he said.

“Liberals and Nationals have, almost universally in recent decades, always stood up for freedom of speech and religion – that is something that unifies us.

“I would be shocked and surprised if virtually all of our colleagues didn’t fight for freedom of speech and religion in this context.

“The ‘yes’ case assured everyone there would be no consequences for freedom of speech and religion and other things.”

The ACT led the nation in voting to legalise same-sex marriage, returning 74 per cent support for changing the law, well above every other state and territory.

A conservative Catholic, Senator Seselja courted controversy as he split with some of his Coalition colleagues to support a surprise motion by South Australian Cory Bernardi which asked the Senate to “oppose Medicare funding for the termination of pregnancy, where it occurs on gender grounds”.

The government was opposed to the motion but both major parties allow their MPs a conscience vote on abortion related matters.

Senator Seselja and fellow frontbenchers Matt Canavan and Anne Ruston joined One Nation in support, but the vote was lost 36 to 10.

Abortion access is governed by state and territory laws in Australia and Medicare does not specifically fund sex-selection procedures.

Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher slammed her territory colleague over the vote.

“The government was hopelessly caught out this morning, they didn’t know how to vote on the Bernardi motions, they changed their minds during divisions and government senators, including ministers, voted against the government’s official position,” she said.

“It was an absolute shambles from a government that was made to look like a joke by Cory Bernardi.

“Senator Seselja has never supported a woman’s right to access safe and legal abortion and the way he voted today – against the position of a government he is a minister in – shows exactly how extreme and entrenched his views are.”

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