Monday, 4 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I acknowledge that many Australians have lost faith in our political system in recent years. I understand that; I really do. This 45th Parliament has been plagued with inaction, indecision, infighting and instability. This catastrophic mess has turned many away from the major parties and many more from the establishment as a whole. So I say to these people: I hear you and I empathise with you. I understand you feel angry, silenced or maybe disillusioned—maybe all three—but I urge you to look at today and recognise the importance of our political system and the great changes that a parliament can make in an individual's life.
We live in a great country filled with great people, and it's exactly that which we can all too easily lose site of. Our country is only great because it is made up of great individuals, of course. Whether you are someone living on a very high income in an electorate like Wentworth or you are somebody just getting by like in my electorate of Longman, it is you as an individual that makes our country great. It's not your pay packet, it's not the colour of your skin and it's certainly not your sexuality. It is the role of your elected representatives to stand up on your behalf and to treat everyone as equals—and, of course, to create change to make it easier for you to get by, easier to live your life, easier to be happy.
These may be small changes, of course, that might help a single individual, just like how recently my office helped a man who was living on the streets to find some housing. He now lives on Bribie Island. He's getting by. In actual fact, he's more than getting by. We bumped into each other at Woolworths just last week. He has a home. He has a TV. He has a bed. He's actually got a physical address where he can say to people, 'Come and visit me.' All of these things mean that he has hope back in his life. He's happier than that sad and frustrated man that walked into my office a little bit earlier in the year. These small changes are important, and we can't deny this. Everyone should feel valued, and we must not overlook the importance of helping single individuals.
But it really is sweeping changes that make life better for many individuals, and we must truly recognise these as great. There are great changes such as the introduction of Medicare, of course, by the Hawke government in 1994, which allowed anyone and everyone, regardless of privilege or disadvantage, to have access to quality and affordable health care. In 2008 Kevin Rudd officially apologised to our nation's first people for the horrific mistreatment that they have endured. As recent inaction by this government has highlighted, we still have a long way to go and a lot to do in this space, but the gesture of the Rudd government was a huge deal to many marginalised individuals, and now today I can stand here to encourage the passing of another great change, another hugely significant gesture that will be a huge deal to many more marginalised individuals.
This is the responsibility of a government. It is our responsibility to change lives for the better and to forge the way, of course, for great things to happen, to take a stand and to lead the way. A government should not be dragged kicking and screaming to deliver something which could have been done a long time ago, delaying and obstructing the passage of what is right. A government should not waste over $100 million of taxpayers' money to cower from its responsibility, and a government should not open the doors for the hate and vitriol against members of our community, like members of the LGBTIQ community who have had to suffer insults and slander that was directed towards them, like those who had to hear a hateful comment when they were walking down the street and those who had to read abhorrent material in newspapers, online, public places or in a flyer in their letterbox. LGBTIQ people are strong people. They are strong people of great character and of great resolve. They are strong people that this really did take its toll on.
What this vote unleashed was not fair. It was not fair that these people had to vote on their own rights, to vote for something that so many Australians already have. It was not fair they were told by so many hate-filled individuals along the way that they were inferior. To the LGBTIQ individuals across Australia, I tell you that you are not inferior, and I stand here today and I tell you: you are great and you are incredible. You are incredible for so many reasons and your sexuality is just one of those many reasons, but it is not the defining reason, of course. It is just an intrinsic part of who you are as an individual. It is just another singular part of your collective whole, like your personality, your smile or the experiences which have shaped you. No matter what anyone tells you or whatever you've heard across the reprehensible campaign, you are incredible. You are incredible, and you deserve just as much as every other Australian, and you deserve equality.
Over the course of this parliament, I have spoken many times about four incredible men that I love more than anything else in this world, my four sons: Chris, Kyle, Jack and George. As any proud mum would, I have spoken of how wonderful it is to see these four boys grow into the four amazing men that they are today. Just last month, my youngest graduated from high school and so I am very proud of George, but it means I am no longer a school mum—there's a bit of relief in that. I am no longer responsible for the way these four men choose to live their life. I trust each one of them to live their live with love and compassion, to follow their dreams, to do what's right—and I know they will.
But now, as a member of parliament, I have taken a new responsibility. I may no longer be responsible for the way my children choose to live their lives, but I bear the responsibility for helping change the laws that give each one of my sons a choice, an equal choice. As I have said before in this chamber, one of my sons is a member of the LGBTIQ community, and because of this—and for no other reason—he's been discriminated against by the laws of this country. Each of his brothers have grown up with the right to marry the person they happened to fall in love with, the person they want to share their life with, but he has been denied this right. I stand here today for him. I stand here today for every other Australian like him, for every other Australian who has been denied something to which everyone else is entitled to, to right this wrong, to support the progress of this bill in the name of equality. With the passage of this bill, we finally end any form of official discrimination by the Commonwealth against gay and lesbian people. We will finally recognise that the gender of the participants in a marriage does not diminish, does not change or increase the importance of that relationship, and that the state should not preclude people from participating in one of the civic norms because of people they love.
For many people, their wedding day is the happiest day of their life. So how cruel is it for a government to deny someone this happiness solely based upon their sexuality? I, of course, 100 per cent support the passage of legislation that removes discrimination. However, I once again need to say that while this bill is to be celebrated, the manner of its conception leaves a lot to be desired. We didn't need an expensive survey to get here. What we needed was a government that had a bit of courage, courage equal to that displayed by generations and generations of gay and lesbian activists, activists who have changed our society for the better, who should watch with pride as this bill passes through this place. I think one of the reasons we saw such widespread community support for this change is because of the courage that was shown by gay and lesbian Australians.
The change in attitudes that has taken place just within my lifetime is immense. These changes started with the brave few who were prepared to come out at risk of prosecution and certain persecution up until the decriminalisation in the seventies, eighties and nineties. In my state of Queensland, you can actually pinpoint the start of changes and attitudes to the election of the Goss government in 1989. It is easy to think that a change was just of its time, an inevitability that came with modern society, but unfortunately that is not the case. You see, the National Party at the time campaigned strongly against decriminalisation. In 1989, Nationals election ads featured then Premier Russell Cooper warning Queenslanders: 'Labor even plans to make homosexuality legal.' They reassured us with: 'That's a floodgate that the Nationals will never open.' Of course Premier Cooper lost. Wayne Goss was elected, and the floodgates of progressive change really opened up. But, even after decriminalisation, the Nationals in Queensland attempted to ensure Queensland was seen as a bigoted, red-necked laughing stock. Former Nationals minister Yvonne Chapman, the mayor of Pine Rivers, removed all the toilet doors in the shire of Pine Rivers upon hearing there were a group of gays visiting Brisbane for a conference. Can you believe this?
Many things have changed since then. Look where we are today. This is in part hugely because of the bravery of those who apprehensively uttered the words to their mums, 'Mum, I'm gay.' Of course, changes legislated by this bill will come too late for many of those brave activists. But, as we should remember, in any great social change we merely stand on the shoulders of giants—giants who founded a parade in Sydney, who marched in demonstrations in the face of police brutality in Brisbane, who conducted a kiss-in in front of the offices of Mayor Yvonne Chapman at Strathpine, and who came to Labor Party conferences and moved motions that at the time weren't at all popular. These were the giants who built a consensus for change. The giants in this debate were not just activists but every gay and lesbian Australian who stood up to be counted, whose relationships we celebrate not just today but at marriage ceremonies for evermore.
I'd also like to acknowledge the people who object to this bill. I understand how you feel. I empathise with you; I really do. My office has received correspondence from a number of people who do not support enshrining same-sex marriage in legislation. Some of the correspondence has been filled with vile, hateful atrocities that do nothing but spread hate, anger and hostility. But most of it has been respectful opposition. I don't think less of any of these people; I don't think of them as bigots. I don't agree with the opinions that they shared with me, but I respect their right to have that view. I welcome any of my constituents passing their views on to me, whether in support or in opposition. It is an important part of the democratic process. Whether it is for religious reasons or a conservative line of thought, you are entitled to be resistant to change. But please let me tell you that the passing of this bill will not encroach on you or on any of your freedoms. This is sensible legislation that has protections in place.
While we stand on the opposite sides of the respective chambers, I also commend Senator Smith and thank him for crafting it. Despite the deceptive and misleading rhetoric of many 'no' campaigners, Senator Smith has proposed legislation that allows two people of the same gender to be married under Australian law. This legislation does no more than this. In no part does it say what clothes people have to wear. It has no impact on children. There will be no changes to educational programs. It won't affect any religious ceremonies. The only people who will be directly impacted by this legislation are the consenting adults who wish to share their love for one another.
This is not a slippery slope. It is a cumbersome mountain. We have lived in the shadow for far too long. It has been a long journey, a demanding climb, but we are close to the summit. We have lived in the shadow for so long now, but finally—finally—there is light. I am so proud to stand here today, to pledge my passionate support for the passage of this bill. This is a monumental change for our country. It is a monumental change for many individuals but, further than that, it is a monumental change for its couples, for the LGBTIQ couples who love each other and wish to share their love. To all of you, when this bill passes through this parliament, the 45th Parliament of Australia, should you decide that you wish to act upon your newfound right to get married, I wish you all the best. I wish you a life of love and happiness. You are all incredible individuals and, together, you will make for incredible married couples, I'm sure. I will end with this: there is nothing wrong with being gay; there is a lot right about what will pass into law with the passing of this bill. I commend this bill to the House.