House debates

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Matters of Public Importance


3:12 pm

Photo of Tony SmithTony Smith (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

I have received a letter from the honourable Leader of the Opposition proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The Government's failure to have a free vote on marriage equality in the Parliament

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Photo of Bill ShortenBill Shorten (Maribyrnong, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

Marriage equality is important and it matters. It's not the biggest challenge that Australia faces and it's not something that requires a three-month campaign and a $122 million optional survey. We could be here right now voting for marriage equality as the elected representatives of the people of Australia, just as we do on national security, on Medicare, on education and on the matters that touch the lives of every citizen of our nation, but the government have decided that gay people should be subject to a different law making process. They think that same-sex couples should have to write to everyone else in this country for the permission to get married. They think that LGBTI Australians should have to ask permission to be considered equal to Australians who will not even see the law they are casting an opinion on. This is wrong. It is a ridiculous waste of time and taxpayer money.

On Tuesday, we remembered Dr G Yunupingu, who died of kidney disease, yet $122 million would fund dialysis in remote communities for decades. It's National Homelessness Week, and $122 million would provide 2,000 new beds for people currently sleeping rough. We could put 1,900 new teachers in our schools, we could train 4,500 new nurses or we could help auto workers find new jobs and new industries. But because of his weakness the Prime Minister is spending $122 million to try to save his own job.

This is a method of voting which is calculated to disenfranchise Australians, particularly young people and people not that well off. That last paragraph is a direct quote from the Prime Minister, back when he used to believe in something, before his ambitions seduced his ideals. We have already seen the ugliness this debate holds for LGBTI Australians and their families. Extremists are rerunning their old smears against same-sex couples and their children. The member for Warringah is out there claiming this is a vote on political correctness and on religious freedom. The disgraced former Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, has spoken about polygamy, bestiality and killing children with disability.

Every hateful ideological hobby horse will be saddled up for this vote. And it is clear who is responsible: in less than 48 hours the Prime Minister has gone from promising to call out extreme voices to saying they're entitled to their view. He's gone from guaranteeing a respectful debate to saying it's up to individuals. He calls that strong leadership. Strong leaders do not need to say, 'I'm a strong leader'; they prove it by acting on their convictions, by fighting for what they believe in and even by taking a political risk. Strong leaders lead; they do not stand by and allow children of same-sex couples to be treated as pawns.

And yesterday we learned that the Australian electoral rules will not even apply to this vote. There will be no protection against ballot fraud, electoral bribery, intimidation, interfering with the electoral roll or publishing misleading and deceptive material. Who can forget that pathetic red-faced public tantrum from the Prime Minister on election night, when he sooked about one text message. Now he is giving his blessing to billboards, websites, pamphlets, TV advertising and online material that will vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children. We know this bile will end up in the playground, in the schoolyard and on the sporting field. The slogans will be shouted at the children of same-sex couples. Young people who are gay will be confronted by it on social media every day. I loathe the trolls and the haters but I expected more from the Prime Minister. I hold the Prime Minister responsible for every hurtful bit of filth this debate will unleash. That is not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because the Prime Minister agrees with it—he clearly doesn't—but because the Prime Minister has licensed this debate. You are the leader, Mr Turnbull; you have given permission. I will never hold you in the same light again. I hold the Prime Minister responsible and Australians will too.

LGBTI Australians have every right to feel let down by their parliament today, every right to consider this postal survey the latest in a long line of insults. I don't blame them for that. I can understand why an LGBTI person receiving a survey—with the Australian coat of arms on the corner of the envelope and asking for everyone else to decide if you are equal—would want to chuck it in the bin. I wouldn't blame you. But let me say to you that that is what they want you to do. The strongest supporters of this survey have always been the most vocal opponents of marriage equality. They have stacked the deck against young people, against expats, against Australians who support equality but regard this vote as a waste of time. The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.

But we cannot let illegitimate tactics deter us; we cannot sit on the sidelines. I can understand LGBTI Australians' sense of frustration and of betrayal by the parliament. But the most powerful act of resistance is to vote yes for equality. Maintain your hope, maintain your enthusiasm and vote yes. And make sure your friends, relatives, colleague, classmates and teammates vote yes too. Get your name on the electoral roll today; make your voice heard.

Voting yes is not about endorsing this illegitimate process, it's about refusing to walk past our fellow Australians when they need us. This is my message for business leaders, sporting clubs, the union movement and community groups: it's time to get involved; it's time to organise and fight for equality. This survey is costly, this survey is unnecessary, this survey places unfair pressure on one group of Australians to justify their relationships. This survey is a political contrivance from a Prime Minister who spends all his time counting Newspolls. This survey denies the parliament the chance to lead. We didn't need a survey to tell us to say sorry. We in this parliament led; we did the right thing and the community backed us.

This $122 million survey denigrates the parliament. It risks putting Australia in a hell of a place, further behind the rest of the world. But there is one thing this survey will not do: it will not change Labor's support for marriage equality. If Prime Minister Turnbull stops blocking marriage equality legislation from coming into this parliament, the men and women of the federal Parliamentary Labor Party will vote for equality in overwhelming numbers; and if it is not resolved by the next election, a new Labor government will legislate to make marriage equality a reality within the first 100 days. No slew of discredited surveys will deter us.

Parliament created these laws. It is time for parliament to amend them. We didn't have a survey for the other 20 changes to the Marriage Act, and we don't need one now. The Prime Minister has abdicated responsibility for change. He has declared himself too busy to campaign for it, but he's prepared to unleash this public farce on the citizens of Australia but not prepared to take responsibility for its outcomes or its consequences. In two years of a prime ministership defined by moral cowardice, this is a new low, but in the end it is not even about what the Liberals or the Nats or Labor think; it's about our fellow Australians.

My final message to LGBTI people is this, and it's a message to their parents and their siblings and their children and everyone who loves them: I know this has been a week of heartbreak, following years of disappointments. I know that some Liberals worked hard not to have this outcome, and I respect them for that. I know that LGBTI Australians are frustrated, they're angry, they're sad, and they're bewildered that it has come to this. But I want you to know: you are not alone. You are not alone in this fight ahead. Over the next few months, terrible things will be said about you and your families, about your lives, your identities and your choices, and the Prime Minister will not stand up for you. I am sorry you have to endure this. But Labor will stand up for Australians. I give you this promise: we stand with you. When you don't feel like you have a voice, we will speak up for you. When you feel attacked, we will defend you. When we hear prejudice and discrimination, we will not cross the road and pretend it is not happening; we will call it out.

I will be voting yes. I will be campaigning for a yes vote. I will do my bit, and I encourage people to join the movement for marriage equality, because no true leader is ever too busy to fight for the fair go in this country. Equality is not a diary appointment that you meet in three or six or eight months time. We say to young Australians who are gay: we are voting in this survey, we are participating in this survey, because of you—not because we respect the process but because the Labor Party will not let gay Australians and young gay people cope with this survey, this evaluation of their relationships, on their own. I say to LGBTI Australians: while ever there is a Labor Party, you are never on your own.

3:22 pm

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a sad day when the Leader of the Labor Party comes to the dispatch box and basically says he doesn't trust the Australian people to have their say on an important social issue. He comes to the dispatch box after saying himself, in 2013, 'I'm completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite'—the Australian people making their view known. The Leader of the Labor Party, who used to believe in giving the Australian people a chance to have their say, is now cynically trying to divide Australians with his tactics in this place, and this MPI today says a lot about the hypocrisy and the double standards of this Leader of the Opposition. He doesn't trust Australians to have their say. He will sink to any low and throw away any previously held view to secure some sort of political advantage. He would rather try to win a debate in this place than deliver a social change that he claims to support. He had six years in government to deliver this reform, and he failed miserably. He is a complete phoney when he stands here with his confected outrage, instead of engaging in this process and supporting the Australian people in their chance to have a free vote. Now, Mr Deputy Speaker—

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

We had a free vote, you idiot!

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The minister will take his seat. The member for Lingiari will withdraw.

Photo of Warren SnowdonWarren Snowdon (Lingiari, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for External Territories) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you. I call the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Throughout—

Mr Snowdon interjecting

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lingiari will leave under 94(a). He knew why I asked him to withdraw—and not an explanation.

The member for Lingiari then left the chamber.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

Throughout Australian history, it has been not uncommon for the Australian people to say they don't trust politicians, but I think it's the first time in Australian political history that the Leader of the Labor Party has said he doesn't trust Australians. I find it quite extraordinary that people on this side of the House actually back the Australian people to have their say, while the Labor Party is sending a message to all Australians that we don't believe you're capable of having a respectful debate on an important issue. The Leader of the Opposition wants a free vote for 226 members and senators, but he wants to deny a free vote to millions of Australians.

On this side of the House, we believe we can have respectful, moderate and responsible debate on this issue. There will be times during this debate, over the next couple of months, when some people will express views that the Leader of the Opposition won't agree with, and I won't agree with them either. We will call them out. It's called freedom of speech though. We have to exercise that freedom and right with a great deal of responsibility. I encourage all Australians to get themselves involved in this debate, in a respectful and moderate way, as the vast majority of Australians will.

The Leader of the Opposition's position on this issue is a little bit confusing for the Australian public to follow. He used to support a free vote for all Australians. I refer to this article in The Australian newspaper last year. I quote the headline:

Federal election 2016: Bill Shorten flips on gay marriage plebiscite

In the opening line he says he's:

… completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite …

The article goes on to say:

Mr Shorten told the Australian Christian Lobby forum in his electorate that he preferred "the Australian people make their view known" to the 150 MPs in federal parliament. "Personally speaking, I’m completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite,"

He goes on to say:

But in terms of a plebiscite—I would rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people.

It is worth reminding the House about the facts on this issue—and the Australian people might be listening today. The Commonwealth has the necessary constitutional power, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Statistician have the necessary statutory power to request information from Australians, who are enrolled on the electoral roll, about whether or not they agree the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The appropriation to the ABS has been made by the Minister for Finance, from the finance minister's advance, which had been appropriated by the parliament under the appropriation act of 2017-18. The ABS will make arrangements for the secondment of officers from the Australian Electoral Commission to assist the Australian Statistician with this process as required. Before we get caught up in all the emotion, these are the facts surrounding the decision that was made by the government this week. The ABS, supported by AEC officers, as appropriate, will make relevant announcements about timetables and practical arrangements. All Australians will have the opportunity to update their details on the Commonwealth electoral roll until 24 August 2017. I, like many other members in this place, would encourage the Australian people to make sure they do update their enrolment details to make sure they are enrolled, to make sure they have the opportunity to have their say on this important social issue.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that in the case of a positive result in support of change, under either approach, the Turnbull government would enable consideration of a relevant private member's bill and the vote on such a bill can occur before the end of the year.

In relation to some of the commentary regarding legal protections in place for a postal plebiscite, I want to stress that, under the Telecommunications and Postal Services (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 1989, it's an offence to tamper with the mail, including: stealing mail bags from Australia Post employees, stealing mail from Australia Post, tampering or interfering with mail bags, tampering or interfering with letters or other articles that are being delivered by Australia Post, obtaining a delivery item by deception, helping someone else obtain a letter or other delivery item by deception, using the postal service to harass or threaten someone else, or interfering with a post box or stamp vending machine. There are protections in place to make sure the postal plebiscite can be conducted in an orderly way. Quite frankly, I trust the overwhelming majority of the Australian people, to act responsibly and to conduct themselves in a respectful and moderate way. Frankly, I am disappointed that those opposite don't have that level of trust in the Australian people. We call on every Australian to participate in this debate with courtesy and respect. I believe Australians will judge anyone very harshly, on either side of this debate—for same-sex marriage or against same-sex marriage—if they pursue inappropriate and offensive arguments. Rather than trying to scare voters, I urge Labor to encourage all Australians to have their say, so this issue can be resolved once and for all.

The Leader of the Opposition says he wants a free vote on this issue. I am confused as to why he thinks the Australian people aren't entitled to have a free vote on the issue, given it was the policy the government took to the last election. It was successful in that election. This is all about politics, when it comes to the Leader of the Opposition; this is nothing about policy. He is seeking to divide the coalition rather than progress this issue in a way that would achieve the reform he claims to support.

Anne Aly (Cowan, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

They are not doing anything; you are doing it to yourself!

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

I said this on radio last week when I was interviewed by Fran Kelly: if we'd had the vote in February and if the Australian people had supported the plebiscite, gay couples would be on their honeymoons right now. If we'd had the vote in February, and if the majority of Australian people had supported it, gay couples would be on their honeymoons and we wouldn't be having this discussion in the chamber today.

The Leader of the Opposition and those opposite like to claim this is too divisive, as if Australians are not capable of having a debate on a sensitive social issue. He's got to get fair dinkum on this issue. If the issue has the support of the leader of the Labor Party—he claims he does support it—and it has the support of the leader of the Liberal Party, it has the support of the leader of the Greens—

Ms Plibersek interjecting

That is a very good point, Member for Sydney. It has all that support and the support of some National Party ministers, and those opposite are telling me we can't win the debate. These people have the largest megaphones in the country. These people have had more opportunities to prosecute their case in support of same-sex marriage than anyone else. Let's get fair dinkum about it. The leader of the Labor Party, the leader of the Liberal Party, the leader of the Greens and some National Party ministers support it, and yet we're led to believe by the Labor Party that we're not capable of having this argument in the public eye in a respectful manner. I call on those opposite to put away the hyperbole and focus on the merits of the issue.

This plebiscite is about keeping a promise. In the last election, the members on this side of the House and our candidates throughout Australia campaigned on giving the Australian people a chance to have their say on this issue. The Leader of the Opposition doesn't get to decide which promises we can and cannot keep. When politicians across Australia are faced with an ongoing deficit of trust with the Australian people, the best thing we can do is to keep our promises. We promised the Australian people they would have their say on this issue. We promised the Australian people they would have the chance to have a vote. The only people who are stopping the Australian people having a say on this issue are those opposite. Those opposite do not trust the Australian people to have their say.

Ms Husar interjecting

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lindsay will remove herself under 94(a) for that comment. She will withdraw, then remove herself.

Emma Husar (Lindsay, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

The member for Lind s ay then left the chamber.

Photo of Darren ChesterDarren Chester (Gippsland, National Party, Deputy Leader of the House) Share this | | Hansard source

We took a promise to the Australian people that we'd let them have a chance to have their say on this important issue. Australians want to have their say. We trust them and want to give them that opportunity.

3:33 pm

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

This week, I once again had to look the children of same-sex parents in the face and try to explain to them why it was that this parliament didn't have the guts to actually stand up and say that their parents' relationships are just fine. I had to talk to young gay and lesbian teenagers and try to explain to them why it was that this parliament doesn't have the guts to stand up and say, 'It's just fine to be gay or lesbian, transsexual, bisexual, intersex; it's just fine.' Instead, we have to go through a $122 million survey that this parliament will then end up voting on anyway and that is not binding on this parliament.

It has come to this: a rigged policy, a rigged proposal that is designed to see marriage equality fail in this country. This is a process that is designed by the opponents of marriage equality. The Prime Minister, who calls himself a supporter of marriage equality, gives into the process that is designed by the opponents of marriage equality then says, 'Yes, I'm a supporter of marriage equality, but I'm too busy to campaign.' I have never seen a better example of someone who means well feebly than this Prime Minister who says, 'Yes, I'm a supporter, but I'm too busy to campaign.'

What we see with this $122 million process is actually the cost of the Prime Minister hanging onto his job for a few more weeks, giving in to the right wing of the Liberal Party for a few more weeks—$122 million of taxpayer money! At least when he spent $1.75 million in the election campaign it was his own money to hang onto his job; now it's taxpayers' money that he is using!

The member for Gippsland, the minister, was talking about how we don't trust the Australian people. That is absolutely false. That is one of the first lies that has been told repeatedly in this campaign. Of course we trust the vast majority of the Australian people to have a decent, civilised debate. I trust that the minister—the member for Gippsland—is a decent person who is prepared to have a civilised debate. But there are two things I would say about this. Why didn't John Howard give Australians the opportunity to have a say in 2004 when he changed the Marriage Act for the first time? And why did the 'old' Malcolm Turnbull say that this type of process flies in the face of Australian democratic values when it was proposed for the republic? Why did George Brandis, the Attorney-General, say last year that this sort of process would lack legitimacy? Because they know that this sort of process is designed to disenfranchise people; it is designed to disenfranchise young people.

Look at all these young people that we have up in the gallery today. How many of you are over the age of 18 and on the electoral roll? It would make you unusual: 254,000 people between the ages of 18 and 24 are not currently on the electoral roll when they should be. That is more than 13 per cent of this age group, the group that is most guaranteed to vote for marriage equality because they just do not get why we are taking so long to do the wrong thing. They're disenfranchised because they are not on the electoral roll.

The million or so people overseas: are they going to get a vote on this? They won't get a say in this. What about the people that the member for Lingiari was talking about today, the Aboriginal people in his remote communities who get a postal service once a week if they're lucky? Are they going to get their say? No, they won't. This process is designed to stop people having their say. It's not to give Australians a say, it's designed to stop them having a say.

And, oh, my goodness! The Australian Bureau of Statistics, that did such a stellar job with the Census that they had five years to prepare for, have five weeks to prepare for this, and we see already on the first day outages on the Australian Electoral Commission website as people are trying to update their electoral enrolment. We have seen the first lies of the campaign and we have seen the first debacle today with people trying to get on the electoral roll and not able to because the website is crashing.

And the lack of legal protections: honestly! I asked the Prime Minister today if the Commonwealth Electoral Act will protect people in this postal survey. He waffled, as he usually does. He used 10 words where he could have used one. But you know the one word he could have used that would have been accurate? 'No'. That would have been the one word he could have used that would have been accurate. People won't be protected in the way that they should be under the Commonwealth Electoral Act during this survey.

I just want to finish on this: we have already seen the dogs of war unleashed in this debate. We have seen Bronwyn Bishop talking about bestiality and polygamy and killing babies. And we have seen Tony Abbott say that marriage equality, two people who love each other, is a war on our society. These are exactly the sorts of comments we want to avoid in this debate. (Time expired)

3:38 pm

Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I concede frustration in beginning this address. As the only member in this House who is actually engaged to their partner of the same sex—and I notice that all the members opposite are walking out—

Photo of Tanya PlibersekTanya Plibersek (Sydney, Australian Labor Party, Deputy Leader of the Opposition) Share this | | Hansard source

You don't know that!

Tim Wilson (Goldstein, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Respectfully actually, I do. Nobody else has spoken about it. For seven years I have been engaged, and, tragically, it has mostly been during the entire time of the previous government, as well as the current government. To the member for Sydney: I am sorry, I want to get this issue resolved.

It's frustrating to watch the moral posturing on the issue by many on the other side who have constantly delayed, stalled, blocked and opposed change before changing their opinion in favour—now with zeal. Respectfully, some of us have always had a consistent position, and taking a lecture about the failure to pass a change in the law from the opposition is a bit rich.

They had the potential for so many years to deliver this. It was immensely frustrating to watch that they didn't. Firstly, we had Kevin Rudd who opposed it on religious grounds. Then we had Julia Gillard, who opposed it on feminist grounds. And then we had Kevin Rudd, who would vote for it and did not act. I do not think it is in dispute that I have a slight difference of opinion from some people—sometimes on my side of politics—on this issue. But since the coalition has been in government, there have been no surprises.

In the last term, the government was elected on the basis of opposing change, a position I personally do not agree with, and then took a position to the last election in favour of a plebiscite and a free vote. We could have had this issue dealt with and resolved by the beginning of this year but the opposition opposed a change, through blocking a plebiscite. It may not have been my first preference, but we have to concede it would have been done. You would concede that as well, because we would hope—to the opposition—that, as you announced today, you are going to support a change in the law and advocate for it.

My views about the plebiscite are based on a strong belief in institutions and maintaining trust in them. A number of people I speak to talk about the importance of trust in public life. I hold very strongly to that. But I think the trust in our institutions is also of tantamount importance. Frankly, I care less about the trust of one government or another or a politician or another, because we are temporary—whereas the parliament is timeless. We are a parliament founded under the Constitution by the people. The Constitution says it is the role of the federal parliament to make laws related to marriage. That was unanimously confirmed in a 2013 High Court decision. Parliamentarians are also within their rights to consult their community to inform their judgements. But I am also an Edmund Burke fan. I owe the people of Goldstein my judgement in the situation. Everyone knows that if there were a bill before the parliament I would vote for it. But we don't have one. We are where we are.

A number of people have suggested that colleagues, including the members for North Sydney, Leichardt, Brisbane and I just need to cross the floor to stop this process. I'm sorry, that's false. If a bill passed this chamber right now, it would still need to be passed by the Senate, and the ugly truth, despite the moral posturing of our opponents, is that it won't do so, because Labor will not deliver the numbers that are needed. They say they can but they can't. A series of Labor MPs are using their conscience vote to vote against a bill. So passing a bill through the House is pointless. The task before us is to win. For the past two years, opponents stopped arguing against our freedom to marry. They have been arguing process. From their messaging so far, they have been using statements like 'freedom of speech, religious freedom and political correctness,' and the opposition has raised this. My personal view is those arguments are laughable.

The choice is not whether we engage or not. The choice is whether we allow these statements to go unresponded to. The choice is whether we stand up to those who want to keep us down. The choice is only to win. For those in the community who support the change in the law as I do, I say this: This is a moment in our nation's history. It is the moment to change the country for the type of country we want to be, to make it better. We cannot shirk our responsibility or a fight. Minorities never get to set the terms of the battlegrounds they fight for their rights. The battlefield is always set by others. They have won not because their terms have been in their favour, but their arguments, history and justice have been on their side.

In this debate, we have always had to convince the majority of Australians to change the law even though they have never lived our shared experience. And we have, despite exceptional odds. Now is not the time to cower; it is not the time to hide. It is the time to stand up, to stand up for yourself, your loved ones and the type of nation that we want to be.

3:43 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Attorney General) Share this | | Hansard source

Labor's views and my personal views on the marriage equality plebiscite and the $122 million postal survey are well known. Both are a terrible idea. Both are a waste of money. Both would divide Australians and hurt our LGBTI community and are nothing more than a cop-out. This $122 million postal survey is happening only because this Prime Minister cannot solve his own internal party problems. Of all the options for dealing with marriage equality, this is the worst. It will be non-binding and voluntary. It will disenfranchise young people and remote communities who are not on the roll or who have trouble accessing the postal system. It will be difficult or impossible for people living overseas or on holiday to take part. There will be no legal protections against voter fraud or bribery or intimidation, no protections against dishonest and deceitful campaign material and no recourse for challenge through the Court of Disputed Returns. The Prime Minister has confirmed this today. It is rigged against a yes vote, that much is clear.

Let me say at the outset that I understand why some in the LGBTI community are so outraged by all this that they would want to boycott the vote completely. I'm here to say: please don't. This government and the anti-marriage-equality activists who support them are doing everything they can to stack the odds so they can get a no vote and pretend that is the end of the matter. We cannot let that happen. We cannot let them win, because the only thing worse than having this vote at all is having it happen and a no vote being the result. That is why I, so many of my parliamentary colleagues from all parties and I hope a large part of the LGBTI community will be strongly campaigning for Australians to vote yes to marriage equality. I certainly will be voting yes.

I will be voting yes because lesbian and gay Australians are equal and should have equal rights under our law. But that does not mean for one second that we endorse this $122 million postal survey as legitimate. The use of a plebiscite to change our laws would have undermined our democracy in which the Australian people elect representatives to make laws in this parliament. But this ridiculous postal survey is a perversion of our democracy. It's something that has been foisted upon us, foisted upon Australians and foisted upon the LGBTI community. The Liberals claim this hopelessly flawed survey will resolve this matter once and for all. Garbage! The elected members of this parliament decide the laws of this nation under our Constitution.

We could be voting on marriage equality next week if the government had not become lost in a maze of its own making. Whatever happens with this hopeless process from a hopeless and incompetent government, the Australian people will get their chance less than two years from now to elect to this place representatives who actually do represent their views and who are willing to do the work they have been elected to do.

That is not just in relation to marriage equality. Policies across the board from power prices and jobs to health and education have all been trashed by this government of incompetence and chaos. But, if this reckless, wasteful survey is not struck down by the High Court, we must make sure we don't let the 'no' side win. So I urge all Australians: if you're not on the electoral roll or if your address details are not up to date, act now. Now is the time to mobilise and unite.

This entire rigged exercise is designed to divide Australia and to encourage hateful words and arguments in order for the 'no' case to win. We can make sure that does not happen by spreading a message of love and togetherness, but it will not be enough for people who are already passionate yes voters just to vote. We have to get out and talk to those people who are supporters but may not be passionate enough to send their vote in. We have to talk to undecided voters. If you are young and passionate, please go out and talk to your friends, to your parents and to your grandparents. This is a totally different vote to the kind that Australians are used to. It is voluntary, not compulsory, and it may be won by the side which can convince the most people to vote. It will require all our energy and it deserves it. This $122 million opinion poll is a truly terrible idea, but, if it goes ahead, we must be ready to win. We must be ready to fight for yes.

3:48 pm

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Corangamite, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I start my contribution by urging all members in this place to speak on this issue with respect. We recognise that not everyone shares the view that most of you have on the other side and that I have: that the Marriage Act should be amended so that same-sex couples can marry. What we have seen in this debate today—and I must say it was led by the Leader of the Opposition—was a lot of vitriol and a lot of abuse. I do not think that is appropriate on this topic in this place.

I will be the first to condemn hateful, vindictive, offensive words that are said in this debate. We have already heard some hateful words in the Australian community, but can I make a very important suggestion to members opposite: please do not bring those hateful words, which might be watched by a small television audience of 3,000 or 4,000 Australians, into the national parliament. Do not highlight those words. Do not give them any sense of promotion, because that causes more distress. I am saying to members opposite—we saw it from the Leader of the Opposition yesterday and we've seen it again today—do not restate hateful words and cause more grief amongst those who want to see change. I do condemn the bringing of hateful words into this parliament. That is absolutely, frankly, unacceptable. That's a contribution that you can meaningfully make to this debate.

I am very disappointed by the Leader of the Opposition's change in position in relation to a plebiscite. A postal plebiscite was not our preferred option as members opposite know, but we are sticking with our commitment to all Australians. We are giving them a say. I remind members opposite of what the Leader of the Opposition said in 2013:

I would rather that the people of Australia could make their view clear on this, than leaving this issue to 150 people.

We have made this decision because, on such a deeply personal issue as this, we believed it was important that every Australian had their say. This was a view previously held by the Leader of the Opposition and, like so many issues of policy, we see him flip-flopping on this one. The Leader of the Opposition's hypocrisy is compounded by his announcement that he's going to hold a plebiscite on a referendum, which is not required for constitutional change. He is going to hold a plebiscite in relation to moving to a republic, when only a referendum is required. We have already seen sheer and gross hypocrisy from the Leader of the Opposition.

We understand this is not a perfect pathway. There are some people in the community who do not want to see this postal plebiscite. But we are doing this, and I believe that we will see a majority 'yes' vote arise out of this plebiscite. If that occurs, I will be voting, 'yes' to change the law to allow same-sex couples to marry.

There has been some reference today about the Commonwealth Electoral Act. We have seen it doesn't protect Australians from lies, from misleading statements because we saw the Labor Party in action at the last federal election. We saw the myriad lies, the 'Mediscare' campaign and the absolute joke of deception from Labor in the last federal election. That's very disappointing.

What hypocrisy from Labor, urging a free vote because, as from 2019, Labor's position is: there will be no free vote. The ALP's policy is that all members must vote for marriage equality and if they don't, they will be expelled from the Labor Party, meaning some members currently in this House and in the Senate will not be allowed to be members of the Labor Party. Let's not forget all those members back in 2012, including the members for Watson, McMahon, Hunter, Chifley, Blair, Lilley and former member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, and former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who voted against same-sex marriage. We are getting on with the business of putting this before the parliament. I believe in a change to the Marriage Act and I very much hope it will happen. (Time expired)

3:53 pm

Photo of Terri ButlerTerri Butler (Griffith, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This week I met an adorable grade 1 kid and he drew me a maze. He asked me if I was any good at mazes. I said, 'Not really, but I'll give it a go.' We were drawing mazes together and talking. He made me this beautiful little picture. I'm never going to forget it. It just had the word 'love' on it and it was coloured in. On the back of it, he wrote his name. He has two dads. He is a member of a rainbow family. His dads are worried about what's going to happen to him and his brother through this survey process.

There are so many other parents around this country who are worried about what's going to happen to their primary school-age kids during this survey process. I know they are feeling pretty bad right now. I know that families across this country, siblings, friends, parents and LGBTI people are feeling like curling up in a ball and hiding under the table. I understand why. I understand why they are thinking they might not participate in this insulting survey, where millions of Australians are being asked to fill out a survey about whether other people's relationships have the same status as theirs and about whether other people should have the same human rights as they do. That is insulting and it's offensive.

I wanted to say this: the people who gain to stand from us not participating in the survey—by 'us' I mean everybody who wants to see marriage equality—are people who oppose marriage equality. It is worth pointing out just who the biggest winner is from this household survey. It is a household survey; that's the way that the Commonwealth Statistician has described it—a household survey. He might as well describe it that way because they are going to post out survey papers to a household, and who knows who will fill them out at that house and send them back? There does not seem to be any checking on that. Who knows whether a husband in an abusive relationship might take his wife's ballot paper and fill it out for her? We do not know because this kind of national survey is uncharted territory.

But let's talk about who the biggest, most successful winner out of this survey is. It is certainly not LGBTI people or their families or their friends. It is the member for Warringah. The Prime Minister has handed his chief rival the platform he has been waiting for. This is the part that Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, was born to play. From now until November, the former Prime Minister, the member for Warringah, will be travelling the country making the 'no' case while the Prime Minister is hiding at Point Piper because he is too busy to campaign for something he supposedly believes in. There won't be a single Liberal Party branch meeting in this country that the member for Warringah will not go to. He has even got former Prime Minister John Howard riding shotgun with him. Once again, the Prime Minister and the former Prime Minister are squaring off over a national vote. We all know how helpful the current Prime Minister was to his cause last time. We all know about that. I remember 1999 very well.

This all shows how pathetic this current Prime Minister is. He has given Australians and this nation the worst possible process, but he won't even go out and campaign for what he says he believes in. How are we supposed to trust him? How are people who live in this country supposed to believe in a Prime Minister who professes to care about marriage equality and believe in marriage equality, but who won't even get up and campaign for it? Why is he abandoning LGBTI people, their families, their friends and everyone in this country who actually believes in human rights and in not having an opinion poll about whether people should have them? Why is he abandoning us? This is his process. The Prime Minister has been in a leadership position and has led a party room that has decided to have a national household survey, run by the ABS of #censusfail fame, on whether you have the same human rights as the person living in the house next door. This is happening on this Prime Minister's watch and he is responsible for it.

Mr Deputy Speaker, think back to those children we met from rainbow families throughout this process and throughout the advocacy that we've all been engaged in for a free vote in the parliament and a change to the law to allow for marriage equality. Think back to those kids and what's going to happen—the lack of respectful debate we have already seen, including from Bronwyn Bishop herself last night on television, with the talk about bestiality and disability. How on earth are we expected to stand up and look them in the eye when our own Prime Minister won't do it for them? (Time expired)

3:58 pm

Photo of Lucy WicksLucy Wicks (Robertson, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very pleased to speak on this matter of public importance about same-sex marriage and this government's commitment to let all Australians have a say about this important issue. We clearly put our commitment at the last election to hold a plebiscite on the question of whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Across Australia, including in my electorate, people now expect us to deliver on this promise. It is as simple as that. We will deliver on this promise with work underway for a mail-out to be sent out to enrolled constituents across the country starting on 12 September and with a result by 15 November. The government is delivering what we committed, despite the best efforts of Labor, the Greens and others in the Senate as recently as this week to prevent all Australians from having the opportunity to have their say.

Australia needs to have a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because it's an election commitment that Australians voted for and, just as importantly, because changing the definition of 'marriage' alters one of the most fundamental cornerstones of life as we know it. The simple fact is that marriage is a framework that has existed for centuries, and it is a framework that continues to remain relevant today, even in a society where marriage is no longer the only family structure in which children are raised. Families exist in all kinds of ways outside so-called traditional structures. There are de facto, same-sex, single-parent, blended, foster and many other types of families. And I support these changes.

Some would say that that makes the framework of marriage something that should change. Others, like me would like to fully explore what the impact of removing gender from marriage would mean—not for consenting adults but for our next generation. In my view, it is not enough to simply say 'it's time' to change the Marriage Act or 'just do it', as some have said. That would be falling into the trap that the great writer CS Lewis once described as 'chronological snobbery': silencing detractors by dismissing their views as out of date. This may be just my personal view, but the whole point of holding a plebiscite is that what matters is not my view but the views of every Australian.

One gentleman who has made his views known to me already is Bernard from Umina Beach, who emailed me a few days ago. Let me read you in full what Bernard had to say: 'Dear Lucy, I have a gay daughter and nothing would make me prouder than to walk her down the aisle if she decides to get married. That's if—by way of the promised plebiscite—the Australian people vote democratically to change the law to allow gay marriage. However,' Bernard writes, 'if your party decides to lie in exactly the same fashion as did Julia Gillard with her "no carbon tax under the government I lead" and betrays the Australian people by not holding a plebiscite and simply taking a vote in the parliament, then as one of your constituents I can assure you I will never support the Liberal Party again, no matter what the cost of a Labor government in the future. Marriage,' said Bernard, 'is not a political argument to be tossed around in the parliament. It is a highly personal and spiritual undertaking which a section of the community now wants to change at the expense of the honestly held beliefs of other members of the community. If the democratic majority approves that, then well and good; that's as it should be. But change in this matter by any other means, particularly by deceiving those of us who put you in power, is an unforgivable breach of faith.' The letter ends, 'Yours sincerely, Bernard.'

I place on the record my thanks to Bernard, whose words, along with many of the comments on my Facebook page and in my inbox, and my letterbox, have been respectful, passionate and insightful. These comments, many of which include strong disagreement with my position, have no claims of failure or bigotry and are not hurtful, however vehemently the writers of these comments may disagree with my position or with the position that others have taken in their comments.

This type of debate is a shining example of why, rather than trying to scare voters, Labor should be encouraging all Australians to have their say so that this issue can be resolved by November. If the Australian people vote yes in a plebiscite, marriage will be changed forever. If the Australian people vote yes in this plebiscite, even though I will be voting no in November, I will respect the outcome of the plebiscite and the vote in parliament, and I ask others to also commit to respecting the outcome of this plebiscite. I will honour the result of this plebiscite, even if the outcome is not what I voted for, because I have confidence that, by providing all Australians with the opportunity to have their say, the nation will have fully worked through the implications of such a fundamental change. (Time expired)

4:03 pm

Photo of Susan LambSusan Lamb (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have four sons, four boys aged between 17 and 27. I love them dearly. I love each and every one of them. If you walked through my house or swiped through my phone, you would see lots of photos of those boys—smiling, laughing, growing up. There are photos of them at school, photos of them playing sport, photos with their families and friends, and photos with their partners, all over the walls in my house. And, like I said, you can look through my phone and you will see lots of photos of them there too. I raised each and every one of them to have the same values: to be kind, to be loving, to be compassionate and to show empathy with every single person they share this world with. They've all grown up into very different people. One's a tradie, one's a small-business owner, one's currently studying a bachelor of mathematics degree and working in hospitality at the same time, and one's a year 12 student who has a vision of heading off to uni next year. So they are all very different. While their interests have led them into different paths in life, they've all used the values and the morals that they were raised with to guide them into becoming very, very fine young men. They're men who I am really proud to call my sons.

I love each of those boys equally. They'll probably tell you that's not true. They'll probably tell you that I prefer one over the other, but that's not true. I do love each of those boys equally. It's because of that that I am truly hurt, as their mother, that this government sees one of them not the same as the others. This government has set out on a campaign to marginalise, offend and discriminate against one of my sons. He's a 27-year-old man, he's a university graduate and he's gay. As a young man, my son used to say to me that he worried about not having children, about not getting married. He says that he knew his brothers had a different right to a commitment that he didn't, a commitment that made life worth living. I was talking to him on the phone just this week. He said to me: 'Marriage isn't just about love, Mum; it's about sharing your life. Marriage is about the legal right to decide on financial and property matters with the person you love.' He's frustrated by how much time—that's what he said to me—and how much money has been wasted on this issue already, and how the government is happy to waste another $122 million simply to delay the inevitable. Because it is inevitable. It's inevitable because Australia is full of kind and passionate people. They are in the majority. They're not bigots who try to make the most noise. It is inevitable because we in Labor 100 per cent support equality for all Australians and we will deliver it, no matter what. We don't need a $122 million rigged opinion poll or household survey to tell us what a small population in the country think, to do our job.

After weeks of infighting and being undermined by his party's ultraconservative hard right, this PM knows how weak he looks. No-one could possible believe he's a strong leader when, after claiming to support marriage equality, he forces through this $122 million household survey. We could use that money to put more teachers in schools, employ more nurses or make more aged-care places available to our seniors. If this PM really wanted equality he could call a vote today. I tell you what: I'll sit down right this second. I'd gladly stop speaking if it meant they would call a vote right now. I would do what I was elected to do. But, instead, we know this Prime Minister has resorted to a postal method which he himself has recognised as a calculated method, designed to 'disenfranchise Australians, particularly young people.' These are not the actions of a strong leader, a weak leader or any form of leader at all; these are the actions of someone who is being led by others, being led by ultraconservatives in his party.

I hope that the Prime Minister sees the light, I really do. I hope he decides not to proceed with this $122 million household survey and calls a free vote in parliament. But I can tell you, no matter what, no matter how we have to vote, I can 100 per cent guarantee you I will be voting yes for my son. I will be voting yes for every single son, daughter, mother, father, every family and friend who has a loved one and who wishes to marry the person they love. I will be voting yes for marriage equality.

4:08 pm

David Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As we've heard throughout this debate, marriage equality is important to those opposite, and strong leadership is. Let me tell you what strong leadership is. It is a Prime Minister who is going to put this to the people to make sure that this important issue is resolved by the Australian people.

This is a significant change to the social fabric of our society. It is one that should be determined by the ultimate democratic body in this nation, the Australian people. The Australian people should have their say. Everyone's views should be respected. This debate should be predicated on respect, not the vitriol that we've heard from those opposite today. Those that do bring that vitriol, on both sides, should be called out, whether they are former speakers or former members of the parliament—no matter who they are. We have a responsibility as elected leaders to lead our community, to let them determine this in the privacy of their own homes, for them to be able to have that say in the future of our nation on a significant change in the social fabric of this nation. That is something that every Australian should have the right to do, not 226 politicians. There would be no validity if we went through a free vote in here, where we see the conjecture about someone voting one way or another, rather than having the Australian people, the ultimate democratic body in this nation, making that determination. There can be no going back on the validity of that result.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The member for Lyons will listen in silence!

David Littleproud (Maranoa, National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Everybody's voice should be heard, no matter whether they are with the LGBTI community or those on the conservative side of our society. They should all be heard; their voices are just as precious as each and the other. But it's our job as the nation's leaders to make sure the debate is undertaken in a respectful matter.

Instead, we have sat here and we have let the vitriol overtake a debate on the mechanism by which we are going to determine this significant and very important matter. We should be better than this. And the reality is that the Labor Party could have come with this. If same-sex marriage were so important to the Labor Party, as they espouse, then we could have sorted this in February. The Australian people could have gone to the polls and been able to give us a direction. We could have had that validity and the result. We could have walked away and the Australian public would have had certainty about where we were going.

We heard before in question time from the member for Lingiari about some people in his constituency who will not get a vote. Let me tell him that my constituency is just as big, and the reality is that I have over 16 per cent of my electorate vote by postal vote every election. The reality is that the mechanism which they are trying to diminish is one that can be undertaken and can give a proper result for every and each Australian's view. It should be done, and they should be given their opportunity to do it.

But what price do we put on democracy? One hundred and twenty-two million dollars is being espoused here as a huge amount. This is the Australian people's voice; they should have that opportunity. One hundred and twenty-two million dollars is lot of money, but this is a significant change in this nation's history. And if it is passed then $122 million is money well spent. You can never put a price on democracy. To do it, you are cheapening what we are here to represent and protect.

So we need to ensure that we walk out of this place and ensure that we lead our communities—that we call out the vitriol that may come out at a local level for what it is. We should make sure that people feel confident and safe in giving their view and be able to do that with confidence, knowing that when we come back to this place the Australian people will have given this parliament the direction to undertake. That is strong leadership and that is what our Prime Minister is providing to each and every one of us—to this nation. For him to stand up and put on the record exactly how he will vote is leadership. It's him telling the nation exactly how he's going to vote. That's something that is so powerful.

We on this side still respect the office of Prime Minister, and so do the Australian public. I have to admire the Prime Minister, who has his personal views on this. He has been proud enough to come out with them and has made a pathway forward instead of trying to find a way to frustrate the nation in determining this once and for all. That is something we that we as a nation should be proud of, that leadership; we have a Prime Minister who will forge his way through to give the Australian people a say on this important matter, and we should respect that until the day we die. Thank you.

Photo of Mark CoultonMark Coulton (Parkes, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has concluded. I will remind the member for Lyons that if he disagrees with rulings or comments from his chair, there are ways to do that—not in open debate across the chamber.