THE UNITING CHURCH IN AUSTRALIA (MEMBERSHIP OF TRUST) AMENDMENT BILL

Second Reading

Ms CHAPMAN (Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:03): I rise to speak on The Uniting Church in Australia (Membership of Trust) Amendment Bill 2015 and indicate that the opposition will be supporting the passage of this bill. I should qualify that by indicating that it is the Liberal Party's position—and I expect the government's position—that the bill comprises, by definition, application which deems it a hybrid bill and, therefore, it will be appropriate that this matter be referred to a committee. Then, of course, subject to any matters being raised in committee where there may be a report ultimately to the parliament, we will be supporting the same. I formally indicate that we will be supporting a motion to refer this matter to a committee and indicate that the member for Hartley and the member for Hammond will be the parties that we present as being astute members of that committee, and that we will look forward to receiving their deliberations in due course.

In essence, we understand this bill has been introduced at the request of senior members of the Uniting Church, and indeed arose out of a letter from the Uniting Church to the Attorney-General, advising that they sought that the terms of appointment of members of their trust be amended. In particular a letter went on 19 August last year to the Attorney-General, first indicating that the author,

Mr Peter Battersby, as the Executive Officer of Resources, was writing on behalf of the Uniting Church in South Australia and indicating that their property trust and members of its board had agreed to pursue an amendment to the act which covered them, namely, The Uniting Church in Australia Act 1976-77, and that the minutes of that meeting were presented to seek that the amendment comprise the removal of section 11(4) of the act, which provided that 'no person who has attained the age of 70 years shall be eligible for appointment as a member of the trust'.

Effectively the letter conveyed to the Attorney that the removal of this age restriction benefited the church by allowing members who had attained the age of 70 years to continue to serve on the trust. They further advised in the correspondence that they had regrettably concluded the worthy service of two members of that trust as a result of this age restriction, and that they sought to have the situation remedied for the reasons I have outlined. The bill is now before us, seeking amendment, exclusively for the removal of that age restriction.

The Uniting Church in Australia Act 1977 was passed to make the necessary alterations to state law when the Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian churches amalgamated. It is interesting to read the contribution of former attorney-general (Hon. Peter Duncan) on 6 April 1977, when he outlined the coming together of these three churches and the request that there be an established property trust to receive the assets of the three relevant churches to be activated upon the synod of the new Uniting Church's determination. Essentially the bill that passed in this parliament back in 1977 facilitated the union of these three churches. I think that at the time some churches were holding out in the SouthEast. I am not sure whether they subsequently came in.

My note was that the congregations of Millicent, Rendelsham, Beachport, Naracoorte, Lucindale, Penola, Glenburnie, Allendale East, and OB Flat decided to go it alone. I am sure you are right, Mr Speaker—you are very wise on these things—that, for whatever reason, they held out. It is fair to say it was not a happy union—I suppose a marriage of three always brings some complications—but there were some strong expressions of distrust in how this new structure was going to work. As always happens, the coming together of one or more usually means there is a disparity between the asset bases and some suspicion about how the new model would work to ensure that the assets that had been accumulated were not going to be harvested off by the poorer parties to the union.

In any event, it came to fruition, and it is fair to say that the Uniting Church and its congregations are statewide not only well recognised and well received in their local communities, but continue to provide pastoral care and enormous community support both via their congregational work and also individually in our communities. In my own electorate of Bragg, in recent years three churches under the Uniting Church came together and rebuilt a magnificent facility on the corner of Fisher Street and

Portrush Road. It is a well-attended facility providing enormous community interaction via its café, lounge areas and meeting rooms, and I for one stand here as a member of this house to commend the continuing good work of members of the Uniting Church.

The church has recognised the importance of those who attain the age of 70 years. They see that the 70-year restriction does not and should not apply in contemporary times. They have a valuable resource of members of the trust who would be prohibited from continuing that service post the age of 70 years, and that would be a significant loss to the trust. I agree with that; I think that consistent with the contemporary mood to remove age limits—particularly at the mature-age level for employment opportunities—is a little bit like what occurred 30 or 40 years ago with the advent of removing discrimination against women, and other categories have been developed in our anti-discrimination law since.

Discrimination against those who are mature aged is something that is starting to evaporate at all levels. It has happened, for example, with judicial appointments where we have gone from appointments for life across to appointments to a certain age. Quite rightly, attorneys-general around the country are now looking at the question of whether there should be a compulsory or mandatory retirement for our judicial personnel.

At present, judges in the Supreme Court of South Australia are required to retire at 70. Post that age, some are invited back to sit on courts of appeal and do other important work, and we value that and thank them for it. Again, these are the sorts of things that need to be looked at, and I am not sure what has happened to our Attorney's application of his mind to that. The Uniting Church has recognised that there is wisdom—and a significant contribution that can still be made by the judiciary in that instance—to church service and operation of its trust post the age of 70 years, and that should be applauded and encouraged.

I would like to say that it is with considerable passion that I indicate that we agree to this on this side of the house and that age should no longer be a restriction. I certainly hope that Dr Deidre Palmer, as the Moderator of the Uniting Church, and Mr Battersby, in his role in administration, will welcome the passage of this bill. Upon the establishment of a committee, they will be invited to present any matters to the committee. The usual practice of that committee is that an advertisement is placed so that any party who may have a different view as to the proposed legislation will have an opportunity to put their submission, and a report will be provided to the parliament.

This is a process which is important because obviously we have the usual application of the principle that no man is above the law. We all, men and women, should be treated equally before the law, and if we do consider legislation in this house which has a direct and narrow application, usually to one person or entity, then we have to be very clear that we are not passing a law that would be in direct breach of what is an important separation of powers principle and which results in us passing a law which in usual circumstances applies to everyone, and then its direct application of any breach of it is then a matter for a separate entity, in our case, our judicial system. With that I indicate that the opposition is supporting the bill.