Wednesday, 19 September 2012
That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the order of the day, private Members’ business, relating to Marriage Amendment Bill 2012 being reported from the Federation Chamber and considered immediately.
I rise to speak against the motion. It is my understanding that what is about to happen is that the Marriage Amendment Bill, introduced by the member for Throsby, is about to be brought back from the Federation Chamber and quickly put to a vote here. There should be no vote on this bill until members of the coalition have a conscience vote on the question of marriage equality.
This is a central issue of equality, as many on the Labor side of the House know. We should not have two standards of love in this country. There should be one very clear message sent from this parliament that for all people in this country your love is equal. It is important not only for those individuals who want to marry the person they love; it is also important for the young boy in a country town who is working out who he is attracted to or to the girl who wants to go with her partner to the high school formal but cannot because they are in a same-sex relationship. We have an opportunity here in this parliament to change the law to send a message to the whole of Australia that all love is equal.
But this is also a central matter of freedom of choice. There are those in this House, predominantly sitting on the opposition benches, who come in here and tell us routinely that the state should not interfere with an individual's right to make their own decisions in their personal life unless there is harm to others. If you believe that, then that principle should extend to the most fundamental of all decisions, which is the right to marry the person you love. Government should have no role in telling an individual in this society that they are not allowed to marry the person they love.
A question of freedom of choice should also go to how one is able to exercise a vote on this issue. We are now in the paradoxical situation where the Labor Party members are able to exercise a free vote, but the party that prides itself on an individual's freedom of choice, and an individual MP's right to vote according to their conscience, is not allowing its members to vote the way they want. This is a significant problem and a significant roadblock in the way of reform, which is why we should not allow this matter to be put to a vote today.
I have spoken with members of the coalition who agree with the bill and who agree that we should have marriage equality in this country. I have spoken with members of the coalition—and indeed we heard some of them speak in the Senate this week—calling for the right to exercise a conscience vote. They have said that if they could have a conscience vote they would vote to remove discrimination from our marriage laws.
This is a matter that the Greens have been pursuing in this parliament for some time, not just in this parliament but in previous parliaments as well. We have been at the forefront of the push for marriage equality. We have always known that there is no point in putting up a bill only to see it voted down, simply for the purpose of grandstanding or trying to clear it off the political agenda. We want to see reform.
I accept that there are members, of goodwill, on the Labor side who do want to see reform, who do want to see this law changed. But, equally, there are members on the government side who just want this issue cleared off the agenda, and they have said as much publicly. They have said that they are sick of parliament having to debate this most fundamental of issues. It is for this reason that I fear we are about to witness a very cynical move to put this to a vote quickly in an attempt to clear it off the political agenda. That would certainly be very consistent with what senior factional figures within the ALP have said. That is not something we should countenance. This issue is too important, and we have too good an opportunity to see reform, for it to be subject to cynical manoeuvrings and put to a quick vote.
When you look at the international experience you see conservative parties around the world joining with other parties to recognise that the time has come for marriage equality. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, has said he believes there should be marriage equality. And, of course, we have seen other significant figures who are not on the conservative side of politics, like President Obama, who have said that even though they went to an election saying there should be no change they have since had the opportunity to reflect on the issue, talk to those close to them and understand that there are many in committed same-sex relationships who are working for them, and they have changed their minds. I firmly believe, and the Greens firmly believe, that with enough time we can change the minds not only of the Labor Party, who managed to change their position at their conference, but also of the coalition so that those on the coalition side who believe in freedom of choice can vote the way I know they want to.
We need that additional time to campaign, because we know that, although people may not have thought about this issue much before, public opinion has moved on. We know that from the House inquiry into these bills. Some 64 per cent of the respondents to the online survey supported a change in the law—and that was out of over a quarter of a million responses, one of the largest responses ever—which is consistent with the results of every opinion poll conducted on this question. If we truly wanted to give effect to the public will, we would change the law and we would give members of parliament enough time to move along with their communities—to take the temperature of their communities and to understand that this is not something which is going to cost them votes but is something which will gain them votes.
I fear that we are about to witness a cynical attempt to get marriage equality off the political agenda, but it will not work. It will not work for a number of reasons. The Greens still have a bill to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act before both houses of parliament—and today's move will not deter us from proceeding with that bill. This should be an issue next year, an election year, and it will be, whether or not the government and the coalition like it.
In the two years this parliament has sat, never before have we had a situation where a private member's bill has been brought on for a vote with notice of just an hour or so. It is usual practice for the Selection Committee to determine that a bill is coming to a vote. Then, once it is known that a vote is to be scheduled, a couple of weeks are usually allowed for final lobbying. Instead, this bill is being brought on with a very short notice period. While some in this chamber may have known when it was being brought on, the public did not. That is significant—members of the public should have had the chance to make some final efforts to get their MPs to vote one way or the other.
I do hope that we do not see a vote on this today. If we do, my message to those who are campaigning for change is: do not lose heart from a losing vote today because we, the Greens, will be bringing marriage equality back to this parliament through our own private member's bill. Those who are campaigning for change should know that, ultimately, history is on their side and that history will leave behind those who today vote against change. If Catholic Spain can vote for change, modern-day democratic Australia can vote for change as well. Whether or not it happens today, we will get there.
Let us be very clear about what this motion is. This is a motion to suspend standing orders so we can have a vote on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. That is what is before the House.
I say, with due respect to the member for Melbourne, that he knows full well that I, as Leader of the House, engage in proper consultation over issues—including with him on this one. I reject completely the suggestion that somehow this is a surprise. He knows that is not the case. I spoke to him yesterday, I spoke to him last week, I spoke to him last month and I have spoken to him about these issues throughout this year—just as I speak with the Manager of Opposition Business, treating both him and his position with respect. I am not going to leave unchallenged the suggestion that I, as Leader of the House, just spring things on the chamber without proper consultation. That is not how I have approached things—not only in this parliament but in the previous parliament, when I was also Leader of the House.
Inside the caucus, inside the parliament and publicly, I have stated a number of times that there would be a vote on this legislation sometime this year. Earlier in the year, during the previous session of parliament, there was a suggestion that somehow we were bringing the vote on. I made it very clear that there would be no pre-emptive conclusion to this debate—that everyone would have an opportunity to speak. And every single member of this House has had an opportunity to speak on this legislation. In fact, there have been some 41 contributions to the debate on the member for Throsby's private member's bill.
There are different views on this legislation. I am a supporter of this legislation. I have publicly advocated it and I have put my contribution on the record—it is in the Hansard of the House of Representatives. As part of that contribution, I stated that those of us who are arguing for inclusion need to be inclusive in the way we conduct ourselves in this debate. With respect to the member for Melbourne, I say to him that his denial of leave is not an inclusive action. It is an exclusive action. It is not an action which advances the cause in which we have a common interest.
I came into this House for the first time in March 1996. In my first term of office, I was the first person to move a private member's bill—it was on superannuation—relating to equality for same-sex couples. When I did it, people questioned my motives, asking, 'Why is he doing that?' It was a controversial issue. We could not get debate on the issue, so it lapsed. We then had to move it again. I moved it three times without it being brought to a conclusion. I say to the member for Melbourne that there is nothing positive about being able to move a bill that never reaches conclusion. There needs to be a determination in which people are on the record as voting for, against or abstaining on, as is their choice, this legislation.
The member for Melbourne also suggests that we should hold off any conclusion to this debate until such time as those on the coalition benches are granted a conscience vote. I say this to the member for Melbourne: whilst the Leader of the Opposition holds that office I cannot see the coalition changing their view. But that is a matter for them. It is also a matter for them whether they stand up and vote according to their conscience if they disagree with that position.
We need to be inclusive about the way we conduct ourselves in this debate: it should be a debate in which people participate and the debate is exhausted and concluded. We had the summing up from the member for Throsby in the Federation Chamber earlier today, and all members have had an opportunity to participate in this debate. I said as part of my contribution that I believed that this reform and change would occur. This is a last area of discrimination. It is one in which I expect there not to be a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives today. That does not mean it changes my position and I am sure it will not change the position of the member for Throsby or the member for Melbourne or other advocates who have argued the case on this issue.
History does move forward when it comes to removing discrimination—whether on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity or indeed sexual preference—in a liberal democracy such as ours. In our first term of office we removed discrimination from 84 pieces of legislation. We did in that a way that was bipartisan across the parliament. It happened without rancour. It happened in a way that was consensus driven and was constructive. That change has made a real difference to people's lives in areas such as migration, social security and health. The reform that will come before the parliament today will also make a real difference to people's lives when it occurs because it will say that society regards as being of equal value a loving relationship, a committed relationship, between two people who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other, regardless of whether it is a heterosexual relationship or a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Giving rights to a group of people who currently do not have the same rights as others does not take away rights from those who currently have access to marriage. That is the basis of my support for this legislation.
We need to be disciplined, if I can use that term, about the language and about the way in which the debate is conducted. We need to respect the fact that on this issue there are different views that are deeply held. I too think this should be a conscience vote. I argued within my political party that it should be a conscience vote and I continue to have that view. Not everyone does. There was some criticism of me for having that view. My view is that a conscience vote across the parliament is the way that this reform will occur at some time in the future. But opposing the bringing on of this vote today does nothing to advance that cause. That is why I argue that the parliament should support the motion that I have moved to bring the bill before the chamber. We should have this determination. We should recognise that it does not conclude the debate. People who are discriminated against and want equal rights argue for it. (Time expired)
The member for Melbourne will resume his seat. Leave is not granted. The member has already spoken. The question is that the motion be agreed to.
A division having been called and the bells having been rung—
The DEPUTY SPEAKER: As there are fewer than five members on the side for the noes in this division, I declare the question resolved in the affirmative in accordance with standing order127. The names of the members who are in the minority will be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings.
Question agreed to, Mr Bandt, Mr Oakeshott and Mr Wilkie voting no.