The lawyer for a woman who likened gays and lesbians to paedophiles while campaigning for Bob Katter’s Australia Party has told a tribunal bracketing homosexuality with “other notorious kinds of immoral conduct” was a persuasive strategy used by some of the “greatest contributors to Western civilisation’s philosophical understanding”.
Tess Corbett stood down from the Katter party’s ticket for the seat of Wannon in country Victoria in the lead-up to the 2013 federal election after she told the Hamilton Spectator: "I don't want gays, lesbians or paedophiles working in my kindergarten. If you don't like it, go to another kindergarten."
Ms Corbett reiterated and defended her comments in major newspapers.
"Paedophiles will be next in line to be recognised in the same way as gays and lesbians and get rights," she said.
Ms Corbett was subsequently found to have engaged in homosexual vilification by the NSW Administrative Decision Tribunal and ordered to publish a public apology in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Ms Corbett has not apologised and, despite failing to attend the initial hearing, is appealing against the vilification findings in the NSW Civil and Administrative Appeals tribunal.
In a 21-page written submission, Ms Corbett’s Victorian barrister Marcel White defended his client's comments on legal and factual grounds, referring directly to the Bible as supporting evidence.
“This didactic process of bracketing homosexual behaviours with other notorious kinds of immoral conduct has been, not only for politicians, but also for some of the indisputably greatest contributors to Western civilisation’s philosophical understanding of human conduct, a reliably persuasive means of making argument,” Mr White’s submissions state.
“It is no small matter that St Paul of Tarsus, with his foundational Epistles which can easily be said to dynamically shape Australian public and social life to this day … would no doubt be found guilty of impermissible vilification according to the dictates of anti-discrimination jurisprudence as they currently stand after Burns v [Tess] Corbett.”
Quoting directly from a passage from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians in which the saint compares homosexuals to thieves, extortionists and other immoral types, Ms Corbett’s submissions state that such comparisons must be acceptable “otherwise every time a witness swears on a Bible in a NSW courtroom they may be implicitly endorsing the republication of St Paul’s brackets in contravention of the NSW anti-discrimination Act”.
Mr White argued Ms Corbett had not intended to compare gays and lesbians with paedophiles, but that the former political aspirant simply stated that they were “all moral issues”.
This was part of “a two-way discussion about federal anti-discrimination laws”.
She had done so in the context of "political campaigning on a religious platform” and was thus entitled to the public interest protection contained in the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, as well as that provided by the right to freedom of political communication implied in the Australian Constitution.
“If a politician, campaigning for the Federal Parliament, in an election period, who says over the course of two or three interviews that gays and lesbians and paedophilia are all ‘moral issues’, placing herself not at the fringes but at the heart of Pauline rhetoric, is then held not to have even hypothetical recourse to the public interest protection, then the problem is not her bracket but a self-perpetuating anti-discrimination bracket that proscribes political criticism of its own apparatus,” Mr White's submissions state.
The lawyers representing Gary Burns, the anti-discrimination campaigner who brought the original action against Ms Corbett, argued that the appeal should not be heard in its current form and should be dismissed without hearing.
The three-member panel will hand down its decision on this preliminary question in the coming weeks.