House debates

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016; Second Reading

6:38 pm

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

Well, be the Liberals you once were, sir. Thirty years ago gay people were barred from serving in the Defence Force. We did not need a plebiscite to fix that. As recently as eight years ago same sex couples were still subject to more than 80 different forms of legal and financial discrimination. Labor fixed that, and the Liberals fixed over matters—inch by inch, clause by clause the laws have been overturned. Change has been hard-fought, had-argued and hard-won.

Change has come because on the floor of this parliament MPs from both sides summoned the courage and the basic human decency to extend equality and not diminish it, to end discrimination and not entrench it. Now, in this 45th Parliament, it is our turn. It is our turn to face up to the test that previous parliaments and previous political generations have answered. It is our turn to answer this question: can we respect the national mood and simply get on with a free vote on marriage equality? Can we prove that we are big enough? Can we prove that we are good enough? Can we prove that we are generous enough? Can we prove that we understand that families come in all shapes and sizes and that families do not need the judgement of conservative Liberal politicians or opinion polls? What they actually need is just to be allowed to get on with it, and that is what they expect from us—to get on with it!

Are we able to remove the last piece of discrimination against LGBTI people from our nation's laws? Our predecessors have done this without resort to plebiscite. When we have made so much progress, so hard-fought, why is this too hard for the parliament to do? Why did those who seek to have a plebiscite abdicate their responsibility? Why did they get elected if it is not to the job they were elected to do? Can we find it in ourselves to say to our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters and our friends and neighbours that you deserve the right to marry a person you love?

All of us who are called to this place have a tremendous privilege, and I know all who are here understand that. The privileges is to serve the people of Australia as their representatives. In this chamber we rise to speak on their behalf. We can argue with each other about which laws suit people and which do not, but we are all motivated with our views about laws and votes that will benefit Australians. We owe Australian's not just our industry but our judgement.

We have before us now the opportunity to change a law that does not describe the generous, inclusive, egalitarian nation that we love. There will come a time, even if it is not right now, that when we pass a bill for marriage equality in this country people will ask after that why it took so long. And there will come a time in the future, much as we look back at discriminatory laws in the past, and ask why they did not change it then. Why did it take so long? But what we on our side will not do is squib the challenge. The parliament and the laws we want to have should be a reflection of what we want people who watch Australia understand to be our values.

Our laws should be a mirror in which we can teach our children the reflection of who we think we are as a country. We are lucky to have this opportunity to make Australia a more inclusive and more open and more generous nation. We are lucky to have this opportunity. Why on earth would people not want to take the opportunity to conduct ourselves in the manner in which parliaments have done in Australia for 100 years? Why not allow people a measure of happiness in the lives of a great number of our fellow Australians? Why not understand that marriage equality is not a responsibility that we should delegate? It is not a job we can contract out. You cannot contract out your conscience to an opinion poll. You cannot contract out our responsibility to our fellow Australians. That is the complete opposite of representative democracy. This argument that marriage equality is in a special category, that marriage laws are in a special category and therefore create special circumstances—we don't buy that.

We have amended the Marriage Act on 20 occasions. There was no need for a plebiscite on any one of those. And we have dealt with complex issues in this parliament which go to morality. I would have thought that a chance to serve the people, a chance for parliament to prove its worth, to fulfil its purpose, a chance to reflect the values of our people to make a country a better place, a free vote in the parliament which saves our taxpayers $200 million and saves our country from a divisive argument—all around the world citizens do not feel partners with their politicians in the democratic purpose. We have a chance to be partners with them—not to follow them, but to lead them, to listen to their voice, as we do. We have a chance to say to our fellow Australians that the democratic system is not broken, that we cannot make hard decisions in this place anymore. It is the failure of decision-making and the willingness to put a group of our fellow Australians down a path of lawmaking that we do not ask of anyone else. That is the failure here.

A free vote on marriage equality means that we could be attending the spring weddings of people who have waited long enough. A free vote is the cheapest, the fastest and the least-harmful way. That is why I move, as a second reading amendment:

That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

“this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to legislate for marriage equality and that the House calls on the Government to afford all members of parliament a free vote.”

Let's just get on with it. Let's make marriage equality a reality.


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