Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading
I have a choice, a choice that I am able to make at any time of my adult life. That is a choice to marry. I have chosen at this point not to do so. That is my personal choice. But what we will pass this week, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, is to ensure that every Australian has that same choice, a choice that has been denied to same-sex couples for far too long. My electorate of Braddon voted yes—56 per cent—for this choice and for equality. I am proud of my electorate. It has come a long way to demonstrate in this way that it is a progressive and inclusive community. We should never have had this survey, this harmful survey, to tell us exactly what we already knew. But for Braddon—or Tasmania, for that matter—this has not always been the case, and we should never ever go back.
In respect of gay rights, in the late 1990s, Tasmania was known internationally as 'Bigots' Island' in response to a period of significant social and political turmoil and for having the harshest penalties in the Western world for homosexual activity, until Tasmania finally became the last jurisdiction to repeal such terrible laws, the repeal passing the Legislative Council by one vote in 1997. Braddon, it's fair to say, was probably one of the most homophobic areas in the country. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, our history was marked by explosive anti-gay rallies, reinforcing this perception. These rallies were ill-informed, bigoted and discriminatory.
But, out of these rallies, exceptional people stood up and fought back with strength and determination to change this view of Tasmanians and Tasmania. One of the first people was a young man from my electorate on the north-west coast, Rodney Croome. Supported by his wonderful mother, Bev, who I have had the privilege to doorknock—she's a delight—Rodney has led the way for LGBTIQ people in Tasmania for decades. I ask the House to join with me and pay tribute to Rodney for his tireless dedication to removing discrimination and promoting equality, and he's here in the House with us right now. He is a true hero, not just to the LGBTIQ community but to all of us. I am sure Rodney's journey, and that of all other activists, from those dark days in the 1980s and 1990s to today has been more difficult than I could ever imagine. We should all admire Rodney's tenacity, determination and drive to right this and many other wrongs on this long road to marriage equality.
Many people in my community over this long journey have been brought together rather than divided. The first one of these was Dr Tim Flanagan, from Smithton. Dr Flanagan was the only GP in Smithton, and, when an anti-gay rally was held in that community in the late 1980s, Dr Flanagan stood at the rally in solidarity with those being persecuted. From this a group called HUG, Heterosexuals Unafraid of Gays, was formed. This group was the first of many community based organisations to be developed in my region.
In the 1990s, under the leadership of former Devonport mayor Mary Binks, an organisation called Working it Out was formed as a support group for young people negotiating their sexuality. Some 20 years later, Working it Out is now a statewide organisation funded by the Tasmanian government. Other groups include the Diversity Group, from Don College, and Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG. I want to pay tribute to Peter and Mary Moore from PFLAG for their ongoing support for and dedication to removing discrimination so their son Robbie, if he so chooses, can marry, just like his siblings.
I also want to pay tribute to Laine Shoebridge-Harris for his tireless work in support of young people from our region. Laine runs a drop-in centre for LGBTIQ people in the city of Burnie. He funds this himself and has lived a life supporting people dealing with the discrimination and hurt that they have faced just because of who they are. Communities, particularly in regional Australia, need more Laines. He is a man with a huge heart and endless compassion.
And now, in the town of Ulverstone, we have pride events. Annie Whitehead from TasPride Tasmania has organised annual pride events in Ulverstone, where people come together to celebrate the diversity we have in our community.
I also want to acknowledge Jason Campbell and Alisha Bull from the MUA for hosting campaign events from their offices. Reverend Ian Carmichael from the Penguin Baptist church was the first member of the clergy to offer an apology to the LGBTIQ community in Tasmania. I attended a cross-denominational congregation of like-minded Christians organised by Ian earlier this year to hear Layne speak of his life and to share prayers for those in our community who were struggling during the postal survey. This gave me and others hope. Grant Park and his mother, Tina, from Cafe Europa in Burnie hosted many 'yes' campaign events. However, Grant and his business were a target of fear and hatred during the survey, just because Grant placed rainbow flags along the facade of his business. Disturbingly, Grant received threats to burn down his business and kill his dog. He feared for his safety and that of his staff. How did Grant respond? He hung more flags.
We should not gloss over or underestimate the damage this postal survey has caused. Whilst many in this place have celebrated the opportunity for people to have their say, I have always sided on the view that it is wrong for a nation to pass judgement on the identity, the ability to love and the status of one's relationships just because of who they are. Should we pose a national survey to judge whether the Prime Minister should be married to Lucy? It sounds absurd, I know, but this survey was just as absurd, in my view. The result was just as we had expected, at a price that could have been expended elsewhere, but at a larger price on the wellbeing of so many Australians.
Yesterday, disturbing data on the impact of the postal survey was released showing that more than 80 per cent of LGBTIQ people and 60 per cent of their allies found the marriage equality debate considerably or extremely stressful. Seventy per cent of LGBTIQ people said they avoided being with people in general during the survey debate and verbal and physical assaults more than doubled in the three months after the announcement of the postal survey process, compared to the previous six months. I was disturbed and disgusted that the Prime Minister, in his contribution on this bill, said that this was the most remarkable political event in his lifetime. There is nothing remarkable about passing judgement on the love of others in such a public and hurtful way, knowing and having been warned that this process would come at a price to those who have to live through these judgements, the comments and the discrimination, particularly to those without strong networks and support.
I have never, ever thought any other way than to support marriage equality. I have never questioned it. Equality is part of my DNA. It is who I am. I have, however, questioned why others do not support it. I wanted to understand the reason they didn't. I had the opportunity to do so while working for a state MP during the debate to legalise same-sex marriage in Tasmania. I read many emails and letters opposing this change. I tried very hard to understand the logic. Some explanations were horrid and abhorrent, and just so wrong. Other reasons for opposition were based in faith, something so intrinsic to a person that I had and continue to have respect for, and I acknowledge that those with strong religious beliefs cannot support same-sex marriage for this reason only.
I will be voting yes. I will not be supporting any further amendments that seek to legalise new ways, new reasons to discriminate. Would I have drafted this bill before us in this way? No. I believe it is a compromise to provide some exclusions for religious civil celebrants. Any more exclusions for others and for other reasons will create new ways to discriminate, and we will never achieve true equality.
When I first came into parliament, I wanted my contribution in this place to ensure my children will live in a society that is not just tolerant of others, but is inclusive and celebrates diversity, based on the fundamental principle of equality. We will go some way to achieving that this week. Now we need to continue to move in that direction.
This will be a historic week, the week that same-sex marriage becomes lawful in Australia. I want to start my contribution on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 today by acknowledging those who have worked very hard to see this change come to fruition, including many individual members of parliament and many people outside of the parliament. The emotional nature of the debate in this place, and particularly by the gay members of parliament, shows how important this change is to so many people. I want to acknowledge this and respect this. Thousands of people across Australia will celebrate the passage of this bill, and, for some, a key ambition of theirs will now be able to be fulfilled. I never considered this debate as being about whether you supported gay relationships or not, and I am disappointed that many equated a 'yes' vote to respecting gay people and a 'no' vote to disrespecting them. My hope is that everybody respects that some people are same-sex attracted and that their relationships are meaningful, complex and loving, just like heterosexual ones. My hope is that we love all people regardless of their sexuality.
My reservations about changing the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples was my view that marriage is an institution that traditionally has been primarily about creating a bond for the creation, love and care of children. And I was concerned that if the definition is changed to be purely one about recognising love, rather than a foundation for the raising of children, then the institution itself would potentially be weakened. I hope I am wrong. I hope that, by expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, the institution of marriage will be strengthened. My hope is that more couples will take advantage of it, make life-long commitments, and that their relationships will prosper.
There has been a lot of discussion about the manner in which we have got to this outcome. Many have said that we should have dealt with it a long time ago in this parliament through a conscience vote. I disagree. I strongly supported taking this issue to the Australian people and letting them decide. Every poll indicated that people wanted to have a say on this, and the outcome of the postal survey confirmed this with 80 per cent participation. Equally importantly, the change to allow same-sex couples to marry has far greater legitimacy because of the public vote, rather than just a vote of 226 members of parliament or a vote of the Supreme Court as occurred in the United States. I would hope that even the most ardent critics of the postal survey would acknowledge this. Marriage is a foundational pillar of society, so changing it was rightly taken to the people to decide.
My electorate of Aston voted strongly in favour of changing the law, and consequently I will vote to support the bill before the parliament. This was my public commitment before the postal survey was conducted, and I will honour that commitment. I would like to see reasonable religious protections in place when we make this change to the Marriage Act. My primary concern is that people are not vilified for having traditional views on marriage or for expressing their view. It is deeply disturbing that the Hobart Catholic Archbishop could be in breach of anti-vilification laws because the church circulated a booklet to Catholic parents outlining his traditional view on marriage.
Freedom of speech underpins our democracy, and I don't want to see this fundamental freedom weakened. I am also concerned that religious charities and schools do not lose funding or charitable status because they hold genuine convictions about marriage. Consequently, I will support amendments to this end. If the amendments are not successful now, I hope they will be considered by the Ruddock review into religious freedom and then brought back to this parliament.
Let me finish where I started by again acknowledging those who have campaigned hard to see this change happen. But I also acknowledge that almost 40 per cent of the Australian public did not support a change. Let's respect the fact that the majority want to change the Marriage Act, but let's respect the 'no' voters and their genuine concerns for religious and speech freedoms.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I'm really conscious of the fact that, whenever I have previously begun a speech by saying that I won't talk for very long, I've rapidly made a liar out of myself. So I won't claim that now, but I will say that I have spoken over many, many years about my support for marriage equality and it is not my intention to go over that ground here today. I know that, like so many people in the community, what I want to see is this vote done as soon as possible, so I just want to place a few things on the record before allowing other speakers to move on.
The first thing I would say is: I am really delighted to finally be able to support this legislation in the House of Representatives and to see these laws changed forevermore. I am also really deeply sorry that it took so long. I know that in not just years to come but in days and weeks to come, people will be scratching their heads saying, 'What was all of the fuss about? Why didn't we just do this years ago?' That's something that we reflect upon as members of parliament, but I also reflect upon the impact that it's had on so many of our fellow Australians' lives that this has been delayed for so long.
The other thing I want to say here today is that whilst this is a huge and very positive step that we are taking, I don't want any member of this parliament to think that with the changing of the marriage laws, with marriage equality in Australia, that means the job is done, because I am firmly of the view that we need leaders in this place to continue the fight to stamp out homophobia in Australian society, and there is a long way to go in that struggle.
I will place on the record that I am the very proud representative of the electorate in South Australia that recorded the highest yes vote, with 70.1 per cent of Adelaide voters voting yes. I'm proud to represent that community and proud to represent their wishes when it comes to this vote. I also want to place on the record my thank you and my congratulations to all of the local campaigners in Adelaide. I had the chance to work with some of those in the yes campaign and to see people who came out to go doorknocking in their neighbourhoods, in the streets of Adelaide, who had never before gone out and tried to knock on doors and talk to total strangers about their views. I met people who had never before got involved in a political campaign and who had not got involved in speaking out in policy issues. I met really brave Australians who were going about our local neighbourhoods and explaining why this vote was so important to them. I want to place on the record my heart-felt thanks for those people.
I know there was a really hard time had by many. Many people were so appalled by the process this government put us all through, and particularly put the LGBTI community of Australia through, that there were many of them who thought about just sitting it out and turning their backs in disgust on the whole process, but then they realised that if this was the process we had to go through, we had to win it. They stood up, went out, got involved, got active and ran a fantastic local campaign. So thank you to all of those people, and I personally hope that you'll keep involved in local issues and that we will see much more of the new faces who were out there.
I mentioned it was an appalling process. I don't say this to try and make partisan political points here, but I do want to acknowledge what an incredibly hard time this was for so many Australians. There's been a lot of focus on LGBTI Australians and how hard this is. I am also really conscious of the fact that there are a lot of Australians out there who might have been thinking about how they were going to come out, and this made it harder. I spoke to one friend of mine who said that he remembers that in the years before he came out to his family he was looking for signs, because he knew that one day he was going to have to. He was constantly looking for signs. How would his family react? How would the community react? How would the neighbourhood react? I do think about how there would be young people in all of our communities today who are out there looking for these signs and having some of the really appalling materials that were distributed in so many communities placed in front of them, and about the impact that would have on them.
I mentioned at the outset that I don't believe that the job's done. I say that because I know that there is everyday homophobia in Australia at a level that every member of this House should say is absolutely unacceptable. We have seen, in our lifetimes, the power of the community to change what is socially acceptable and what's not. I know, in my lifetime, we've seen big changes when it has come to racism in the community. I'm not for a moment saying that the job's done, but I know that there are jokes, there are statements and there are jibes in the schoolyards of 10, 15 or 20 years' ago that would just not be deemed acceptable today. I know that there are changed standards of acceptable behaviour at sporting events and in our community more broadly, because leaders across Australia stood up and demanded that be so. That is the same with racism. That is the same with a whole range of discrimination. It's certainly the case with sexism, though there is a long, long way to go there too.
But we still do still see casual homophobia in Australia and we need to call it out. Too often we see people using the word 'gay' as a jibe. Too often we see criticisms levelled at people who are seen to be soft. Too often we see jokes that are still being made. I don't think that we do call it out in the same way that we do other forms of discrimination. So I would say that, whilst this is a very big step forward—it is a huge step forward and one that we should celebrate—we as leaders of our community should also take this opportunity to recommit to continuing to stamp out all forms of homophobia not just in our laws but also in our neighbourhoods. The reality is that we know that members of the LGBTI community face levels of suicide that are devastatingly high, mental health issues, violence—a range of indicators. This is a group of Australians who are suffering in a way that we as a parliament must always endeavour to prevent.
As I mentioned at the outset, I am really good at saying I'll be quick and then not being quick. I am going to wrap it up there, but I place on the record my thankyou to all of those who have worked and fought so hard to get to this place. My apologies to my fellow Australians that, as a member of this parliament, I've been a part of this being delayed for so long, but I am very, very proud to support changing that law now. I look forward to seeing that done this week.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I want to start by congratulating a few people who have been able to get this bill to where it is. In particular I want to acknowledge Liberal National Party members from Queensland—Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt, and Trevor Evans, the member for Brisbane—who have wanted to see this change. I congratulate them as fellow members of the Liberal National Party. I also want to congratulate the 'yes' campaign on the win, with 61 per cent of Australians voting in support of the question. Congratulations on being able to achieve that. And I want to congratulate the 'no' campaign—the Coalition for Marriage, the Australian Christian Lobby—for standing up and representing the views of the almost 40 per cent of people who said no.
As for my personal position on same-sex marriage, I was very clear with what I told people prior to the 2016 election, and that is that I believe marriage is between a man and a woman and for heterosexual relationships only. I believed that same-sex couples, in Queensland at least, already had the same rights through civil unions in Queensland, and that was a position that I took to the last election. To every same-sex couple that asked me directly what my thoughts were on it, I was straight with them and gave them a completely straight answer face to face.
The plebiscite has been held. I want to congratulate the Prime Minister on sticking to his word from the last election and giving the people of Australia a say on this matter. He needs to be congratulated. We know that this will become law by the end of the week. Same-sex couples will be able to marry in 2018 after applying for a marriage licence. After the Governor-General signs it off, 28 days later they will be able to marry. The Prime Minister needs to be congratulated. He was a supporter of same-sex marriage, but he stuck to our election commitment to give all Australians a say. I think that was really important and it was one of the only ways to get a result, given that the parliament has had this debate many times before. The last time this question was asked was in 2012, when Julia Gillard was Prime Minister and the Labor Party were in power, and it was defeated. 'No' came across. In fact, the previous member for Petrie, now the state member for Redcliffe, clearly voted no and was part of the reason it didn't go forward.
Every step of the way, the members opposite—the Labor Party—have fought to make sure that the Australian people didn't get a say. Why? I'm not exactly sure. It was probably because they didn't trust the Australian people to say yes and they feared failure in relation to that. So this is a big win for the Prime Minister and for the government.
I actually think that having the plebiscite is a win for same-sex couples as well, because what it says to them is that most Australians agree and want to see the bill go forward—which is important. I disagree with the member for Adelaide and the member for Jagajaga, who say there is still more to do because, in many ways, people said this was the last remaining piece of equality that needed to go through. And when I am out in my community talking to people, people are very respectful of many people. The whole plebiscite debate in my area was conducted very well overall, but I think that it does send a strong message to same-sex couples that, yes, the Australian people have had a say. They voted for yes, the bill will go through by the end of the week and we go from there.
I don't really think that the bill itself provides protections for everyone in the community. I think there is a little bit of criticism of this bill outside of the fact that it provides protections for priests and pastors and those religious people who will actually marry same-sex couples. Outside of that and outside church buildings, there are a whole lot of protections that are not mentioned in this bill which could be. Shame on the Labor Party for not voting on the amendments in the Senate last week, for stifling the vote, for not having a free vote there, again, and for ignoring the genuine concerns of many people. The fact is that this week we could do both. We could legalise same-sex marriage and we could also make sure that those protections are put in.
If you look at the front page of The Australian today, one of the articles on there says, 'Schools warn PM on gay marriage'. It says that Simon Benson, head of the one of the most prestigious private schools, located in Malcolm Turnbull's electorate, has warned that unless the Prime Minister secures amendments to the same-sex marriage bill, or the parliament does, to protect faith-based schools, they could be at risk of being defunded or even deregistered. The fact is there are a lot of people that fear that, and I fear that for schools in my own electorate—schools like Mueller College in Rothwell, like Grace Lutheran Primary School at Clontarf, like Grace Lutheran High School at Clontarf and Christ the King Primary School at Deception Bay. The fact is that Protestant and Catholic schools teach that marriage is between a man and a woman. So what does that mean? At the moment they are receiving government funding. Does that mean that down the track, say within the next 10 years, in 2028, they will longer be able to receive government funding because they teach a traditional view of marriage? It is a genuine concern for people, and the parliament could clear it up this week and not skimp on it.
I acknowledge the will of the Australian people is to introduce into legislation a change to the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry, and I support that. I said I would listen and represent the views of my electorate and I am doing that. Even though my own personal opinion was for traditional marriage, I will not be standing in the way. I also acknowledge that nearly 40 per cent of Australia voted no and that many of those who voted yes did not vote to relinquish their parental rights to decide the moral education of their children, nor did they vote to reduce their freedom of belief, freedom of speech and association. As Senator Abetz outlined last week, 62 per cent of Australians believe parliament should guarantee in law for freedom of conscience, belief and religion if it legislates for same-sex marriage. So they want same-sex marriage and they want these freedoms protected. The bill does not provide such protections, in my opinion.
The Australian people were assured that religious freedom is fundamental and that it would be protected in any bill that emerges from this parliament. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief found that, overall, the evidence supports the need for current protections for religious freedom to be enhanced. However, basic protections for parental rights and freedom of religion were rejected by the Senate last week. What confidence can I give to the constituents of my electorate and to the nearly 70 per cent of Australians who hold some form of religion, according to the 2016 census, that any recommendations from the Ruddock review will be supported by the upper House? I don't want to say I hope they will be supported; they should be supported. Unfortunately, as acknowledged by submissions to the Senate committee, Australian law, in contrast to the strong and clear protections for religious freedom under international law—article 18 of the ICCPR—provides weak and inadequate protection for freedom of religion and belief. International experience clearly demonstrates the consequences for Australia if we do not provide adequate protections for fundamental freedoms.
The legislation for change, as it stands, provides minimal protections, to the point of being non-existent, for freedom of religion and conscience for a significant proportion of our citizens. Will parents, foster carers, schools, charities and individuals have their strongly-held beliefs protected? Or will we, in attempting to fast-track legislation before Christmas, impose no religion as the state religion on our pluralistic, tolerant society, and drive religion and conscience from the public square through the threat of antidiscrimination laws? The inevitable intolerance and discrimination in the name of tolerance is disturbing. Here, right now, this week, the parliament has an opportunity to represent all Australians, to bring about the change to the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples—100 per cent—while also protecting the freedom of conscience and belief of many Australians.
There have been a lot of people in my electorate contact me in relation to making sure those freedoms are protected. Here I have an email from Christine in North Lakes. She said:
If you cannot stop this bill—
we don't want to stop the bill; we want it to go through and honour the plebiscite, which it will this week, as promised, despite the nay-sayers on the other side in the Labor Party—
please do what you can to support amendments to this bill that include freedoms for those who do not agree with this bill.
I also have an email from Alana, a grandmother in Deception Bay. She says:
As a 'no' voter, I'm very concerned about the rush to push through [same-sex marriage] into law in its current form. There are totally inadequate safeguards for freedom of speech and protection of each person's right to defend their beliefs and way of life.
An email from Marty Harnisch from Redcliffe says:
Please represent us in protecting religious freedoms, freedom of speech and the right of children to innocence in the wake of the postal survey results.
I am so so concerned about the sexualisation of children and exposing them to confusion with the 'Safe Schools' curriculum …
Come on, little ones can't make decisions on these things! Please protect the church and the church schools so they can be the pillars of society I know they are.
The member for Hotham, when she spoke on this the other day, said that her feedback showed the No. 1 concern was in relation to Safe Schools. Down in Bald Hills, in the southern part of my electorate, Ian says:
I am a Bald Hills resident …
With this battle now lost—
he was obviously a 'no' voter—
and the bill to be presented to Parliament, I am absolutely fuming that religious protections promised at the outset have been dumped by The Senate.
This was written last week.
This is a pathway to inevitable Safe Schools … with parents having no say into this indoctrination by withdrawing their children without facing the weight of the law.
I say to the parliament, and to you, Mr Deputy Speaker Georganas, that there is genuine concern in relation to the bill, and there is absolutely no reason why same-sex marriage cannot be passed this week while also ensuring that those religious protections make sure that the country that we have, the freedom that we have to express our faith and our views, will remain.
Once again, I condemn the Labor Party for ensuring that they do not have a conscience vote on this matter; that they vote en bloc. They did everything they could to make sure the Australian people did not have a say on this matter. The fact is: the government had a mandate, after the 2016 election, to make sure we gave the Australian people a say. We did. They voted yes. Marriage equality will be law by the end of the week. I will not be standing in the way, but at the same time I make the strongest argument to the parliament that we need to make sure that religious protection is upheld. I'll leave it with the parliament. Thank you.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
The simple answer is no, I will not support the amendments, but on the question of marriage equality it is a resounding yes. I want to clear up, for anyone listening, the absolute lies put forward time and time again by those who want to continue with discrimination. Labor has a conscience vote. We are here today because they would not allow themselves a conscience vote in 2012. Labor has always had a conscience vote. We looked at those amendments en bloc and said, 'They're all rubbish; they're all crap; we're not supporting them.' We did that as a bloc to say, 'Let's not waste time; let's get on with it.'
Australia has voted yes, so now it's time for this House to do its job. By removing discrimination for LGBTIQ people this week, we will finally be granting them the same rights as everyone else. When I look back at the history of the Australian LGBTIQ community, I can't help but mourn over the abhorrent treatment they have received throughout the years. From institutionalised criminalisation for their relationships to hate crimes and so many more injustices, they've fought tirelessly to have their love acknowledged as just that—love. For this horrible past, we are deeply sorry. For anyone out there who is questioning or is scared or worried about how others will react, you have to know that we accept you, we welcome you and we will fight for you.
I am proud to represent the seat of McEwen, which had the highest response rate of every seat in every state, with over 112,000 people having their say on marriage equality. That figure outdoes the turnout for the 2013 election, which is a phenomenal feat, and I'm happy that we voted 65.4 per cent yes. That is a clear, concise position from a progressive and engaged community. It's time—it's past time—to change our marriage laws to reflect the diversity that Australia is built upon. It's time to legalise same-sex marriage and send a loud, clear message that Australia cherishes equality and diversity. You are equal.
The LGBTIQ community has been through enough. The postal survey was a demoralising exercise, and it did impact on the mental and physical health of thousands of Australians. A survey—not a plebiscite!—conducted by the Australian Institute and the National LGBTI Health Alliance has shown us just how deep the hurt has been. The number of verbal and physical assaults against LGBTIQ people doubled during the postal survey. Anxiety, depression and stress rose by over a third during that survey.
Yet our PM says he's proud of that achievement, he's proud of that survey. He is wrong to celebrate all of the unnecessary hardship he has inflicted on the LGBTIQ community and the mental strain that his actions resulted in. This week he stood here praising how great the survey was and what a wonderful thing he did, whilst totally ignoring the hurt, the pain and the division he created because of his weak leadership. I hope that soon the PM, for the first time in his political career, will have the courage of his convictions and vote yes for marriage equality. To make it clear, and in support of the powerful message from Rob Stott at Junkee:
… we got here in spite of Malcolm Turnbull, not because of him.
We've seen the distribution of amendments. These amendments are a smokescreen to dilute discrimination laws—amendments to put one group above others in our law.
What we are seeing is amendments put forward under the guise of religious freedoms—funnily enough, by the same people over there who want to ban the burka. So, they want religious freedoms but they want to ban the burka. They're not about religious freedoms but they are about pushing one religion above all others. As section 116 of the Constitution says, freedom of religion is in our laws. There is freedom for people to practise their religion; it is not freedom to impose it on everyone else. They may not want their churches to participate in same-sex marriages—and they have the right to choose not to, and I support that right for the churches—but it doesn't mean that you can stand in the way of marriage equality or discriminate against people. It is time to say enough is enough. The postal survey has happened. It is our responsibility to legislate, to support the overwhelmingly positive responses from the Australian people.
I don't support exemptions for celebrants based on their personal religious views. They are already covered by section 47 of the Marriage Act. They can refuse to marry any couple. But I am not going to let my personal views on this point stand in the way of this legislation. We have put the LGBTIQ community through so much unnecessary pain. I think about all of those Canberra couples who invested their time, their energy and their love to get married, just to have it ripped away by a government hell-bent on promotion of discrimination. Think of them for just one minute. Think of the pain and heartache those opposite caused.
In my work and personal life, I've had and still have some great and incredible LGBTIQ friends, and their stories have motivated me strongly to support this legislation. There were two blokes I met at the Wallan market a little while ago; 40 years they've been together—40 years waiting for the opportunity to celebrate their love like everyone else can. And I remember I got a phone call from an old mate—an old colleague, Coops—and she was rightly angry that marriage equality had failed to pass in 2012. We talked about the issue, and through a tear she said, 'Us gay kids are sick of having our hopes built up time and time again'. We let her down, we let all the gay kids down and we let the country down. And that call made me steadfast in my commitment. We owed Coops and we owed the whole LGBTIQ community the right to be free to marry the one that they love if they choose to. I'm sorry it has taken so long. In the end, love is love. LGBTIQ Australians have to have the right to celebrate that love in the way other Australians have been doing for so long.
So enough with the amendments, which aren't relevant to this bill at all. Enough with the attempts to delay what's right. Let's get it done and get it done now. No more should we hear of 'marriage equality', because after this bill passes, marriage is marriage is marriage: a commitment between two consenting adults regardless of their gender.
It gives me great pleasure to rise today in this debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 in celebration of Australia's resounding yes to marriage equality. I'm particularly proud to note that 82.4 per cent of the people of Chisholm participated in the marriage equality postal survey and that 61.6 per cent of my electorate of Chisholm voted in favour of marriage equality. There was national jubilation on 15 November 2017, upon the announcement of the postal survey result which, in effect, means significant and heartwarming social reform. 2017 is the year when we are embracing this change and it will remain etched in history as the year of one of the most momentous social reforms in our history.
I've always been on the public record as supporting marriage equality. Marriage equality is about equality before the law. It's about fairness, it's about love and it's about family. I'm so incredibly proud to be a member of the House of Representatives under the leadership of our Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the first Prime Minister in the history of Australia to have always unequivocally and consistently supported same-sex marriage. It was always the Turnbull government that promised Australians a right to have their say. The Labor Party blocked the plebiscite, which could have taken place earlier this year, despite the fact that the Turnbull government had a mandate from the Australian people, being an elected majority government at the 2016 federal election.
During the 2016 federal election campaign, I personally promised hundreds of people that, under the Turnbull government, we would ensure that Australians would have a right to have their say—that their vote would count as much as mine. Notwithstanding the roadblocks consistently put up by the Labor Party to deny Australians a right to have their say, the Turnbull government found a way. At every turn, the Labor Party attempted to block our attempts to enable Australians to have their say with the plebiscite, and then, with the postal vote, our opponents continued to say that the postal vote wouldn't work because there wouldn't be a turnout for the vote. We maintained the integrity of that promise to the Australian people, because that's what the Turnbull government does. We don't break the promises that we make to Australians. We kept that promise and Australia has spoken loud and clear on marriage equality.
Chisholm, and Australia, overwhelmingly voted to assert that two loving people can now get married in our great country. During the postal voting period, some said it was 'courageous' and 'risky' of me to be so vociferous in supporting marriage equality as an MP of a marginal seat of such diverse multicultural communities. But I've always believed that fighting for marriage equality was never about political courage or resilience; rather, it's about standing for equality for all, regardless of gender, race, sexuality or ethnicity. Chisholm is one of Australia's most multiculturally diverse electorates. The results in Chisholm speak for themselves. Cultural background is no barrier to embracing equality and it is wrong to assume that people vote in line with their ethnicity. While a number of people voted no in this debate, the Turnbull government respects and acknowledges their vote, and I have no doubt that they will respect this truly democratic outcome. Respectful debate is the cornerstone of our democracy, and telling Australians how to vote was not the way to go, and some did a disservice to their cause on both sides for their behaviour and overreaching statements. I love that Australians are decent people and known around the world for their goodwill and camaraderie towards others. This is overwhelmingly evident throughout our community in Chisholm.
Fundamental liberal values are premised on family as the priority, and freedom of religion and freedom of speech. The change to the law will amend the definition of 'marriage' and protect religious freedoms. In relation to family being a priority, I also believe wholeheartedly that children only need two things in life: love and stability. Early in my legal career, when I practised in family law, I saw firsthand that love and stability are not automatically afforded to children simply because they have a mother and a father. The presence of love and stability is not limited to traditional nuclear families such as my own. Rather, it's in the homes of single parents, widows, divorced and separated parents, same-sex parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles and special friends, regardless of their gender or sexuality.
This week, I'm incredibly proud to vote yes in our parliament and represent the majority of Chisholm voters. Chisholm has voted, and I am voting, to recognise relationships between same-sex couples as being as legitimate as those of other couples. A 'yes' vote is an acknowledgement that social mores change and should be reflected in a change to the law. Chisholm and Australia overwhelmingly voted to assert that two loving people can now get married in our country. This vote tells us never to underestimate the Australian people and never to underestimate the greatness of our country. The Australian people have resoundingly used their voice to enable all to live their lives in this country with optimism and faith, regardless of their gender, ethnicity or sexuality. Last week, we celebrated the successful passage of the marriage amendment bill in the other place, and I look forward to honouring our commitment to the Australian people that the Turnbull government will work towards having marriage equality in place before Christmas. The Australian people are the greatest people on earth, and they have voted for a fair, equal and modern Australia.
I'm voting for this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and it is a fact that the electorate of Greenway, which I represent, voted no. I would like to address some of the commentary that's been circulating about seats in Western Sydney that voted no, including Greenway, where the split was 46.4 per cent yes to 53.6 per cent no in the marriage equality survey. It was not an overwhelming no, but it was a no nonetheless.
Many experts have emerged on the result of the marriage equality survey as it applies to Western Sydney. There's been a whole lot of analysis about why a bloc of Western Sydney seats voted no. Some of the reasons given are religion and ethnicity—sometimes even citing alleged correlations with low educational attainment. We've had case studies of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds who voted no. I must say that much of the commentary about Western Sydney treats it like some amorphous, homogenous zone, not of people but of labels. I hear the blanket statement that migrants voted no coming mostly from the same people who talk about this thing called the ethnic vote or the migrant vote. That term is ignorant and insulting, and I scorn it. It's disrespectful. It consigns people to be defined not for who they are as an individual. I, in fact, know many local residents from migrant backgrounds who voted yes. It is such a simplistic and erroneous notion to suggest that everyone from a migrant background voted no. In the moment of excitement when the results of the survey were being revealed, my electorate and others around it were being analysed by people who don't know Greenway, and they showed great disrespect both for people who voted yes and for people who voted no. The people of Greenway deserve better than some of these people, some of these armchair experts—some of those people who also sit in this parliament.
I would like to point out, for example, the republic referendum in 1999. Have a look at the way Western Sydney seats voted. On socially conservative issues, Western Sydney seats have, by and large, voted no. Greenway voted no in the 1999 referendum. It was a 'no' of something in the order of 55 per cent, a 'no' to Australia becoming a republic. There were other seats in Western Sydney that voted no on that occasion: Blaxland, Chifley, Parramatta and, whilst there has been a redistribution, the then seat of Prospect and the seat of Werriwa. The suggestion that we can define what has resulted from the marriage equality survey in Western Sydney by ethnicity alone is very erroneous. There is definitely a correlation of a socially conservative vote, and it's been there for a long time. I for one am not at all surprised by the marriage equality survey result, because in fact it reflects almost to the exact percentage my own surveys—my own mobile offices, my own consultations with the electorate—that I have done in the electorate of Greenway over many years.
You only have to look at the latest census results for Greenway to see that, yes, we are a very ethnically diverse area. In fact, 45.5 per cent of residents in the electorate of Greenway were born overseas, well above the national average of 33.3 per cent, and the percentage of people in Greenway with both parents born overseas is 55.8 per cent, compared to the national average of 34.4 per cent. So, in effect, what commentators are saying when they try to equate the results in Greenway with the level of ethnic diversity is that just about everyone born overseas voted no. I don't buy that for a second. I think the notion that some people are trying seriously to assert, that every one of those people who voted no did so because they were of migrant background, is simply erroneous. I think it's right up there with what a lot of people, not from ethnic backgrounds, say about why we don't need protections against racist hate speech. It's right up there. So I think it is incredibly disappointing that there was an immediate look, an immediate conclusion, about this so-called migrant vote in Western Sydney, and that many people drew conclusions just to claim that these people who voted no were homophobic. Many people voted yes. Religious reasons were one factor, cultural reasons were another factor and socially conservative reasons that have been there for a long time were yet another. I'll tell you what it comes down to: it comes down to respect. That's exactly what I said on the day the survey results were announced. I said this:
I acknowledge that many residents have strong views one way or the other for or against marriage equality based on factors such as personal experience, religious beliefs or cultural norms. Each and every one of those people should be respected for their views.
In mid-2015, when I was asked about these matters—and this goes to something that I've held very dear, particularly since I had the honour of serving as shadow minister for citizenship and multiculturalism in the last parliament—I said this:
As I’ve been going around for the last 18 months, around the country talking about inclusiveness, I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the whole gamut of inclusiveness and people being part of our society and being able to contribute to it without having a negative approach to marriage equality. That’s a view that I have formed over the last 18 months, but I made a commitment to my electorate that I would go out, listen to their views and as I have a conscience vote that’s how I’ve decided I will exercise that vote …
I was also asked whether that meant I was leaning towards a 'yes'. And I said:
That’s correct, but I’ve given you an example of some of the arguments that have been put to me and look, there’s other people who have told me they have no objection to many of the laws or any of the laws that Labor put in place to assure equality on different points, but for them, the stickler is on the issue of marriage. They see marriage as an institution that is particularly defined as between a man and a woman, and for these people their minds are not going to change. So as a Member of Parliament I need to be respectful of all these things, but again at the end of it I realise the way in which I vote is not going to make everyone happy. I just want it to be an informed decision that is also as representative as it can be of my constituency.
Lastly, I was asked about whether diversity and multiculturalism has an impact on this issue. And I responded:
I think you should never stereotype people based on their ethnicities. I have had people from a variety of cultural backgrounds give me very different views on this matter. Not only in the last couple of days but in the last couple of years. I think it is very wrong to simply pigeonhole people based on their ethnicity for any reason and on this issue of marriage equality I don’t think you should be pigeonholing people either. You need to listen to them, but I think Members of Parliament should inform their views based on what they believe to be right, but also be informed by their constituency.
And that is exactly what I have done in leading to my declaration, some time ago, that I will be voting yes on this matter.
I would also like to point out the large number of people in the electorate of Greenway who enrolled to vote as a result of this postal survey being conducted. When you have a look at the monthly statistics for new enrollees, we had 580 just before the cut-off cycle. On the cycle afterwards, after the survey cut-off date, we had 394. But on the cycle for the cut-off date—new electors who enrolled in Greenway, one of the fastest growing regions of New South Wales and Australia—we had a massive 1,557 new enrollees. I want to congratulate all those people. I know many of them would have been young people who were exercising a vote on a matter for the first time. I would like to thank them for enrolling to vote.
I would like to end with some comments around the issue of religious freedoms. I want to start by quoting the instructive words of Vincent Long, the Bishop of Parramatta. As a Catholic myself, I find Bishop Long inspirational. In his pastoral letter on the postal survey he said:
It is important to remember from the very outset that the postal survey is about whether or not Australians want the legal definition of civil marriage changed to include same-sex couples. It is not a referendum on sacramental marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.
Many years ago, divorce was legalised in Australia; but this change did not alter the law of the Church. Therefore, whatever the outcome of the survey or the eventual legislation by the government, the Church will continue to hold that marriage is a natural institution established by God to be a permanent union between one man and one woman …
It is very clear, and I know well, that many people have concerns that their freedom to practice religion might be impacted by a change in the law in relation to marriage equality. On this side of the House we have made it very clear that we are committed to ensuring that religious freedoms are appropriately protected. We don't believe that religious freedoms and marriage equality are mutually exclusive, and, on that point, I would like to highlight that there has been a panel appointed. It is chaired by Philip Ruddock and includes other eminent people who will be looking at this issue. It should be looked at—it is important, as Australia becomes more and more culturally and religiously diverse, that we ensure our laws keep pace with that.
I want to end by thanking the mother who approached me in Seven Hills some time ago. She gave me a very important perspective. Her son is on active service in the Navy and wants to marry his partner. This man is putting his life on the line in service to Australia, and that woman asked me, 'Who are you to deny my son, who is serving the nation, the right to marry the person he loves?' She is right.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
At the heart of this debate is a simple but profound question: what is the meaning and purpose of marriage? For the proponents of change, the answer is simple: it is about love and equality. But, for millions of others, the answer is different and more complex. For them, marriage is a union between a man and a woman. It is a natural institution upon which all other relationships are founded—the means of having and protecting children and forming communities and nations. For them, it is a pre-political institution, a natural arrangement that predates forms of government and for which the government only has an involvement in order to protect the people historically most vulnerable—namely, children. While elements of both meanings can be found in modern marriage, the latter group believes that the primary purpose is having and protecting children. Indeed, it is a view which has prevailed across civilisations and cultures for millennia. These different understandings of marriage will not be resolved by the passage of this bill. In fact, it has highlighted them.
For some people, the belief in the traditional meaning of marriage is an innate understanding. For some it is an appreciation of the natural law, for others a conscientiously held belief. However described, it goes to the core of universally recognised human rights. In December 1948, the international community gathered at the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Confronted by the horrors of the Second World War and egregious breaches of human rights in many places, world leaders sought to enshrine standards of conduct that respected the inherent dignity and liberty of each human being. Led by the redoubtable Eleanor Roosevelt, the Human Rights Committee of the new organisation had worked for nearly two years to draft the declaration. Australia was a significant supporter of the creation of the United Nations and also the universal declaration. Central to the declaration is the bold assertion that:
… human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want …
which should be protected by rule of law. Article 18 of the declaration states:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.
As the Harvard professor of law Mary Ann Glendon done points out in her masterful account of the creation of the declaration, A World Made New, article 18 was a major achievement of the Human Rights Committee.
Two decades later, the international community concluded a long process to transform the declaration into an international legal instrument. Hence, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was drafted and adopted. Amongst the supporters, again, was Australia. The covenant expands article 18 of the declaration with three additional provisions. First, no-one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice; second, freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; and, third, the nations that are signatories to the covenant 'undertake to have respect for the liberty of parents and, when applicable, legal guardians to ensure the religious and moral education of their children in conformity with their own convictions'. Australia is a signatory to that covenant but it has not been incorporated into our domestic law.
A number of observations can be made about the protection of religion and belief in Australia. First, there is an international definition and standard of freedom of religion and belief that Australia has long supported. Accordingly, there is an objective measure by which the adequacy or otherwise of protections in Australia can be measured. The standard in article 18 of the covenant has also been interpreted by the United Nations committee from time to time. But it's also clear that there is very little legal protection for freedom of religion and belief in Australia. This is consistent with the evidence from experts to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade inquiry into the status of the human right to freedom of religion or belief that I currently chair and which released its interim report about freedom of religion in Australia just this week. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution is limited in its scope, according to these same experts, and does not provide the range of protections covered by the international covenant. Nor does it protect against states restricting religious freedom.
So, these considerations are pertinent to the current same-sex marriage debate. The Senator Smith bill contains very little protection for religion and belief. Indeed, it is limited to the conduct of the marriage ceremony. The range of protections envisaged by the international covenant is missing. To claim that there will not be a range of adverse consequences for the freedom of speech, religion and parental rights in the absence of laws envisaged in the covenant is wrong. A significant concern that millions of Australians have about these proposed changes to marriage laws is the manner in which the freedom of speech and religion is threatened. These concerns are harboured by many people who favour the change, not just by those who oppose it. Their concerns are not fanciful. Already there has been a series of events that bear out the fears. So a bishop is dragged before a tribunal for simply expounding Catholic beliefs. A company retreats from a Twitter storm because it was associated with a respectful debate between two members of parliament about same-sex marriage. A business executive is hounded by activists to resign from the board of a Christian education institution. A sports star is harangued for expressing the belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. A university is pressured about an academic who supports a Christian foundation—and this issue was argued in the name of diversity; a diversity that tolerates just one view. These and other instances have occurred while marriage is still legally defined in this country as being between a man and a woman.
For almost 70 years Australia has subscribed to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and for half a century to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including the important and significant rights to freedom of religion and belief. These are clear, universal and objective provisions that should be protected and, unless they are, proponents of the no case have good reason to assert that human rights in Australia will be diminished as a consequence of the passage of this bill. The great irony of this debate is that the proponents of change are claiming a right to marry which is not recognised in international legal human rights jurisprudence while denying on the other hand the rights of conscience and belief that are clearly stated and subscribed to.
So the bottom line is this: Australians who believe that marriage is and will always be a union of a man and a woman should be free to profess and manifest that belief and not face the possibility of being hauled before a tribunal. Charities which operate on this understanding should not face the prospect of their charitable status being repealed. Schools founded on this principle should not be threatened with deregistration. And celebrants who subscribe to the traditional understanding of marriage should not be forced to participate in a wedding contrary to their beliefs.
This is a conscience debate. Accordingly, it would be strange if members were to ignore or abandon their conscience in coming to a decision on how to vote. Sir Thomas More once said,
… when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duties … they lead their country by a short route to chaos.
In coming to a decision I am mindful that 47 per cent of my constituents and 57 per cent of those who voted supported a change. But I'm also mindful that many, including those who supported change, want to see the protection of conscience and belief in this bill. It is for these reasons that I will support the proposed amendments to uphold and protect freedom of conscience and belief. It's not my desire to stand in the way of the view expressed by the majority of those who voted in the survey, but I want to ensure that this bill promotes, rather than undermines, freedom of conscience and belief.
I am so pleased to be here today to be part of making marriage equality law in this country with this Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Over five years ago I voted yes for marriage equality in this parliament. At the time I said that my belief in fairness, equality, compassion and the importance of striving for a world without discrimination meant that I had no choice but to vote for a change to the Marriage Act to ensure same-sex couples had the right to marry the person they love. For me this sentiment is as true today as it was back in 2012. While marriage equality did not become law in 2012, this week, five years or more later, we will finally see the law changed to allow two people who love each other to make a lifelong commitment to each other, and this commitment will now be properly recognised in Australia's law.
This has certainly been a long time coming for the LGBTIQ community. The persistence over so many years of so many activists and supporters who have not given up, who have made the case time and time again to politicians and the wider community, is to be commended and celebrated. Your work over the years really does show that persistence pays off. For so many people and families in my electorate, I know that the postal vote process was extremely difficult, but I was inspired by so many locals in the southern suburbs of Adelaide that I met who, despite the process being personally difficult, decided to campaign for a 'yes' vote because they knew, whatever the personal consequence, it was the right thing to do.
In particular, I would like to make mention of one group in the southern suburbs: Pride of the South, a group who for many years have provided support and promoted inclusion for our LGBTIQ community members. The group actively worked together to have conversations with members of our community, to tell their stories about why voting yes was so important. In fact there were so many people who shared their stories around the country. These people were brave, they were strong and they were determined. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Pride of the South Committee for both their efforts during the 'yes' campaign and their ongoing work in supporting our LGBTIQ community. They are Llewellyn Jones, Shayne Glaslow, William Rattley, Mel Bennett, Jen Sobey, Marc Roberts, Michael Tomas and Annette Wedding. They have shown immense leadership and courage, and I salute them. I would also like to thank the Flinders University Queer Society for the extensive work they did in support of the yes campaign in the south—in particular, Sean Henschke, who worked tirelessly and with so much passion to get the message across. I would also like to thank Jemma Slevec, who lent her support to the South Says Yes campaign.
There were many people who volunteered all around the country, and I would like to thank them also. I would like to thank those who fought for change in South Australia, but I would particularly like to mention Emmanuel Cusack, who is in the gallery tonight, who coordinated the yes campaign in South Australia. I know that this campaign was a labour of love for you, but it was also a huge amount of work. The support gained through the results in South Australia and in my electorate show that your campaign had a huge amount of support, and your work is testimony to that.
Throughout the survey process, there were some people who did try to make the debate about something else. They tried to make the debate about Safe Schools, about freedom of speech and about political correctness, but it wasn't about any of those things. It was simply about one thing—equality before the law. It was about giving LGBTIQ Australians the same right as everyone else. It was about acknowledging that Australia is not a country of discrimination. We are a country of acceptance, equality and diversity. Now, there is one misconception that people listening to this debate might not recognise, and that is that there are religious protections in this bill. No minister of religion is required to solemnise marriage. There is no watering down of the current religious protections. This is merely about equality, it is about fairness and it is about love.
Throughout the survey process, I spoke to a lot of local people who shared their personal stories with me, and I would like to thank them for doing that. Talking about yourself is a difficult thing to do. Sharing deeply personal information is difficult, and I value those stories that you shared with me. I would like to share a few with the House. There was one gentleman who has two sons, one gay and one straight. He said that he loves his sons equally and that all he really wants is for them both to be treated equally under the law. I spoke to many same-sex couples with children, who told me that all they really want is for their families to be given the same respect and certainty as every other family in this country.
There is one story in particular that I wish to share with the House today, and that is the story of Llewellyn and his life partner, Lyndon. The past weekend marked 10 years since Lyndon asked Llewellyn to marry him. After their engagement, Lyndon and Llewellyn waited patiently for same-sex marriage to be legalised so that they could finally formalise their love and get married. In 2010, devastatingly, Lyndon passed away. Llewellyn shared his story with many people during the survey process. Llewellyn said that he will live with the grief forever that he was not able to marry the love of his life. What he wants now is to ensure that this never happens to anyone else, and that is why I am so incredibly pleased and proud to be part of this parliament as we legalise for marriage equality, because this legislation ensures couples like Lyndon and Llewellyn will never have to wait again to be treated equally. Today, this parliament is saying to every LGBTIQ Australian: 'We accept you for who you are. You are enough. You are equal.'
I rise today to acknowledge the overwhelming support for changing the definition of marriage as expressed by the Australian people and to put my own position on the record as we debate the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. But, firstly, let me wish all of the same-sex couples planning to marry the same joy of marriage that my wife, Tanya, and I have shared in our 17 years together.
Let's look first at a little history on this issue. In 2012 during the 43rd Parliament, legislation to reform the Marriage Act was brought before the parliament and voted down. It is worth noting that in opposition many of those who had previously voted no suddenly became zealous reformers.
At the 2016 election, the coalition parties took a very clear policy to the people of Australia: that we would give the Australian people the opportunity to have their say on this momentous change to the institution of marriage in our country via a compulsory attendance plebiscite. When enabling legislation was put to the Senate in February this year it was cynically voted down by the Labor Party and the Greens. I do note with some irony that all celebrations currently taking place could have occurred eight months ago if not for the political opportunism of those opposite.
Despite being confronted with this roadblock, the government was determined to uphold its commitment to the Australian people, so we facilitated a non-compulsory postal plebiscite. As we all know, and as many in this place have acknowledged, the postal plebiscite has been a resounding success. Despite all of the naysayers predicting doom, 79 per cent of Australians took the opportunity to have their say, and I am very proud to say that, apart from a couple of isolated incidents across the nation of 24 million people, we conducted the debate in a respectful and dignified manner. The 61.2 per cent vote in favour of changing our definition of marriage was resounding and gives enormous legitimacy to the reform this parliament is about to pass. Across my electorate of O'Connor the vote was 56.2 per cent yes and 43.8 per cent no, with a response rate of 75.7 per cent. While this was the lowest 'yes' vote across Western Australia, it's a very definitive result.
My personal position, as reflected in my first speech in this place in 2013, and as has been put consistently on the public record, is that I support the traditional definition of marriage, but I would not stand in the way of the will of the Australian people by voting against a bill to reform the Marriage Act if that is what the Australian people voted for. Having said that, I have always reserved my right, once the overall passage of the bill was assured, to abstain from voting if the bill brought before the parliament failed to contain protections for religious beliefs, conscience and freedom of speech.
Whilst acknowledging the current bill does contain some protections for ministers of religion in relation to performing marriage ceremonies, I don't believe that the broader community is sufficiently protected. The nearly five million Australians who voted no are the new forgotten people. I don't see big business, tertiary institutions, the public service, unions, the media or governments supporting their rights. During the plebiscite, a young woman in Canberra called Madeline was sacked from her job simply for posting on Facebook that she supported the traditional definition of marriage. The Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, was recently dragged before the antidiscrimination commission for sharing Catholic Church teachings on marriage with Catholic school students. In a British example, the High Court recently supported a Derby City Council decision that a Christian couple who had successfully fostered many children were no longer suitable foster carers due to their traditional and religious views on marriage and their noncompliance in promoting or accepting same-sex attracted lifestyles.
As the father of four young children, I am particularly concerned about retaining the right to protect them being taught radical sexual fluidity concepts at school until they are of an age and maturity to make an informed decision. Any decision that my kids make in the future I will respect and support. I'll always love them unconditionally and with all of my heart.
I, myself, have been on the receiving end of personal attacks from those who disagree with my views and spew vitriol on Facebook and via email. I have been labelled homophobic, which I am certainly not, and have been called things that cannot be repeated in this place. As a politician, that's an unfortunate part of my job, but I look for no sympathy. I am not prepared to expose the 33,000 people in O'Connor who voted no to the sort of abuse I have recently received. I am particularly concerned about the winner-takes-all attitude of the many people who have contacted me since the announcement of the result. There appears to be little love in their hearts for those who have the temerity to disagree with them, and this has only strengthened my resolve.
To that end, I am aware of a series of amendments that will be introduced after this second reading debate. I will be supporting amendments that seek to protect free speech, protect freedom of religion and conscience, and provide certainty for religious charities and schools. If, as I sincerely hope will be the case, these amendments are passed, I will be voting in favour of the final bill. If the amendments fail, I cannot in all conscience vote for a bill that will expose constituents in my electorate to the danger of persecution, vilification and legal proceedings for simply following their long-held faith and beliefs, and I will be abstaining.
There has been a lot of hot air expressed in the last few days about this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I'm a conservative 64-year-old doctor who's been married to his wife for 38 years and who really feels that this is a human rights issue. I fundamentally believe that sexuality is biologically determined. On that premise and that premise alone, I believe that marriage equality is a human rights issue and that we need to pass this bill without amendment.
I have seen many, many children in my career as a paediatrician. I never judged them on their possible sexuality and I never believed that any child should be treated differently to another. This bill is about whether we as Australians and as members of parliament believe that all Australians are equal. In fact, the Australian Human Rights Commission considers that 'the fundamental human rights principle of equality means that civil marriage should be available, without discrimination, to all couples, regardless of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity'. It just isn't right that we effectively persecute a proportion of our population based on their sexuality. To not afford same-sex couples the same rights as those that are heterosexual is effectively saying that their relationship is not equal, that their love is not equal and that their commitment to one another is somehow less significant than others—and I don't believe that that should happen. We shouldn't be judging people on their sexuality.
It was, indeed, a joyous day when it was announced that the majority of Australians voted to allow all Australian couples of the same sex to have the same rights to a recognised civil marriage. It was a day on which Australians proved to this government and the world that we believe in equality. I didn't believe that the postal survey was the right thing to do and I still do believe that it did a lot of damage. I apologise to the many people who felt harmed by this—and there, indeed, were a number.
It really is time to move away from the misconceptions that are still being proposed by many people who oppose marriage equality. These misconceptions include things like 'being gay is a choice' or that it can be taught and untaught. As a paediatrician for nearly 40 years, I and the research can assure you it's biology. It's nothing other than biology. The notion that a person can somehow choose their sexual orientation is not only abhorrent; it's scientifically and medically disproved. One only has to look at the recent research into the genetics and biology of siblings, and indeed twins, who identify as LGBTIQ to see that there is clear evidence that suggests that genes and biology have the major role to play in an individual's sexuality. I really think some of the arguments that are being proposed are not only spurious; they're nasty; they're small-minded. They do not really deal with reality and it's time to dispel them. There's no connection between marriage equality and Safe Schools programs and things like this. There's no relationship. We are voting to allow people who love each other to get married. I have been married, as I said, for 38 years, going on for 39 years. Why should I deny that to any couple who love each other? We just shouldn't.
We cannot underestimate the harm that's been caused to individuals in the LGBTIQ community, who have had the nation discuss whether or not they are equal members of our society, and to the same-sex families and the children of these families, who've been told their families are unnatural and wrong. It's just not right. As a paediatrician, I have seen children from all different family make-ups. I can assure you that the only real thing that's important to children is that they are loved. In fact, it's the discrimination that we've seen, and continue to see, which is harmful to children, not that they have parents who are of the same sex.
Research conducted by many paediatric groups has confirmed that children raised in families with same-sex partners do as well emotionally, socially and educationally as children raised by heterosexual parents. The rubbish that's been said to the contrary is really enough to make me despair sometimes. Most of my child health colleagues have come out against the misinformation that's being circulated. Professor Frank Oberklaid, of the Murdoch Children's Research Institute, the most revered developmental paediatrician in Australia, has continuously stated that it's essential that we recognise the potential that the debate that we've just had about marriage equality has to cause harm. We saw mental health organisations, AIDS organisations and LGBTIQ organisations being inundated by requests for mental health support throughout the postal survey, and we continue to deal with the targeted abuse that was put out by some people during this campaign.
A number of organisations have been calling for this matter to be resolved in a far more efficient and effective manner in parliament. My own Australian Medical Association has come out in support of marriage equality. In fact, the President of the AMA, Dr Michael Gannon, stated:
There are ongoing, damaging effects of having a prolonged, divisive, public debate—
about marriage equality—
and the AMA urges the Australian Parliament to legislate for marriage equality to resolve this.
Coming into this place last year, perhaps naively, I believed that the function of the members of this chamber was to make choices on behalf of those we represent. I think that the marriage equality survey really was a denial by this parliament of what it should be doing. What became clear to me throughout the process is that the current government is lacking leadership and backbone, but I'm not going to say anything more about this. I do not believe that this is an issue owned by the Labor Party or owned by the Liberal Party or National Party or by other parties. This is evidenced by the wonderful work of people like Dean Smith, Penny Wong, Louise Pratt, Trevor Evans, Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson, Julian Hill and, I think most of all, Warren Entsch.
Thankfully, the Australian people have led in this debate, and they've called out loudly and clearly for equality. Today, and over the next day or so, we'll be making history and legislating for same-sex marriage equality. We will have a bill that deals with basic human rights. We will be giving rights to a community that for too long have had their rights as people, as Australians and as parents questioned. That has been very, very wrong.
I am very glad that we'll have marriage equality. It's long after time. I congratulate all those who've worked so hard for this to happen, but I am also sorry. I am sorry that we have put a whole lot of people through questioning of their sexuality, of their relationships and of their families. I think that has been a very bad thing. I don't think any political party is particularly to blame for that, but I do think the process could have been handled in a much better way. I look forward to having marriage equality in Australia and I will celebrate the fact. I'm glad to put my name to this debate, but I won't be happy until we have marriage equality. And I'll also be happy to see Trent Zimmerman stop smoking!
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This is a historic week in this parliament, and it is with considerable pride that I will be supporting this bill and voting yes. For thousands of Australians who are members of the LGBTI community and who support same-sex marriage, this is an incredible time in our nation's history. This week we expect to bring into law fundamental social change to the institution of marriage, which is valued by millions of Australians. I would argue this is one of the most important institutions in our society. Australians, by a significant majority, embraced and supported our government's marriage law postal survey. Nearly 62 per cent of Australians voted yes, and in the Corangamite electorate, which I proudly represent, the 'yes' vote was even higher, at 72 per cent.
There were also nearly five million Australians who voted against the introduction of same-sex marriage and who hold a traditional view of marriage, including on religious grounds, and it is imperative that these people and their views are also respected. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are fundamental freedoms in a representative democracy such as ours. At every step of the way in this debate, year after year, I have worked hard to ensure that the views of every person I represent in the Corangamite electorate are acknowledged and respected.
In June 2015, before the issue of marriage equality came before our party room and it was decided to take this question to the Australian people by way of a plebiscite, I confirmed that I supported both marriage equality and a free vote for coalition MPs. I made it clear that support for marriage equality is consistent with fundamental liberal values, which embrace freedom of the individual and stable long-term relationships. If two people love each other and wish to commit to a life together, they should have the option to be recognised equally under the law.
The bedrock of our society is family. To that end, I would like to reflect on the Prime Minister's speech in the second reading debate. His words resonated very much for me. He said:
I have to say that I'm utterly unpersuaded by the proposition that my marriage to Lucy or indeed any marriage is undermined by two gay men or women setting up house down the road, whether it is called a marriage or not.
Let's be honest with each other: the threat to traditional marriage is not from gay people; it is from a lack of loving commitment, whether it is found in the form of neglect, indifference, cruelty or adultery—to name just a few manifestations of that loveless desert in which too many marriages come to grief.
It is not always easy in life to find one's soulmate, the one person to whom one wishes to commit for the rest of his or her life. Many people who oppose same-sex marriage argued to me that I should support a same-sex civil union rather than marriage. But for me it was very important to point out that in our society and our country, as in most societies and countries around the world, there is no greater commitment between two people than marriage, and that is a commitment which gay and lesbian Australians should be entitled to make as much as Australians in a heterosexual relationship.
When I spoke in favour of a free vote 2½ years ago, I accepted and supported a plebiscite to give every Australian of voting age a chance to have his or her say. We made that commitment in 2015. We took it to the election last year. When the Labor Party, in an act of hypocrisy, blocked our plebiscite legislation, we found another way to take this question to the Australian people. I appreciate that some gay and lesbian Australians were hurt and anxious about this process. I also condemn all of the regrettable statements which were made, from both the 'yes' and the 'no' cases. But, on the whole, our government's postal survey was overwhelmingly embraced by Australians, with positivity and optimism and with an incredible participation rate of 80 per cent.
There is a long and complex history to the issue of same-sex marriage in the Australian parliament. Over six years when Labor was in power, led by two prime ministers who did not support a change in the law, this vexed question remained unresolved. Today, however, I don't propose to infuse my contribution with political slings and arrows, other than to say that I congratulate the Prime Minister of Australia, the first Australian Prime Minister to consistently support the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
There were many other champions in this parliament but perhaps none more so than the member for Leichhardt, the crocodile-hunting slightly wild man from Far North Queensland, an unlikely, on the face of it, champion of change, who for a decade or more, in the face of enormous opposition, has fought to introduce marriage equality. I congratulate the 'yes' campaign and the many hundreds of people who championed the right of gay and lesbian Australians to marry. In particular, I wish to acknowledge Rodney Croome, who has fought discrimination against the LGBTI community for many, many years, from the very early days when homosexuality was considered a heinous crime. And, locally, in my community, there was one person who stood out. Her name is Sharon Fawkner, the mother of two sons, one gay and one straight. She has fought tirelessly to ensure that both her sons have the same right to marry, and, as a mother and as a campaigner, she is a pretty incredible woman.
The passing of this act should not give rise to any discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians. The LGBTI community has endured too much discrimination in the past, too many injustices and too much hurt and isolation. These terrible days in our great nation, which so values and upholds freedom and equality, must come to an end. I also believe that charities must be protected, marriage celebrants must be free to marry who they choose, and freedom of speech and freedom of religion must be protected. I am concerned that the bill before the House does not adequately provide for these protections. That is why I may support one or more amendments to this bill, provided these amendments do not overreach, and I reserve my right accordingly, depending on how these amendments are drafted. I am comforted by the decision to establish the Ruddock committee into religious freedom, a decision made by our government, which will have broad scope to address many of these fundamental issues and concerns.
For reasons that I'm not at liberty to or I don't wish to discuss or raise at the moment, this is something that means very much to my own family, this change in the law, and I also want to mention someone, a very dear friend of mine who died very tragically a number of months ago. His name was John Parker. I don't want to say too much about John. He was gay and—it was something—he had a lot of struggles—he was a very dear friend. When I can say more about it I will, but I want to talk to his family first. He really wanted to see this change in the law—and his loss—I haven't been able to write anything about it or speak about it because it's been such a—it's been so horrific. I'm sorry I'm crying. But his loss has been terrible. He was a dear friend from the age of 12, one of my closest friends. In one of the last conversations I had with him, he just said to me, 'Hendo, just bloody well get on with it, okay.' And I say to JP, my dear beloved friend who I miss so dearly: JP, that is what we are doing. I commend the bill to the House.
It's an absolute pleasure to rise in support of this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, as a longtime supporter of marriage equality and as someone who voted in favour of what I will call the Jones bill in 2012. It is wonderful to be really at the point of this reform finally becoming a reality in Australia. This is an important reform in terms of civil rights, and it's important to bear in mind that, as the member for Corangamite has beautifully outlined, any advance in civil rights is not an abstract piece of paper; it's a panoply of very human stories, as we've just heard.
Before the 2012 vote, members who were here were encouraged to go and have a conversation with their community about the attitude that should be taken to the private member's bill that was before the parliament then, which, as I said, I supported at the time. When I spoke in favour of that bill in 2012, I read out an email that is still moving to me from a grandmother in the Port Adelaide electorate. She wrote to me before the debate in the parliament and said: 'When my grandchildren ask me why I can love my partner and not be married, it's painful to explain that I live in a country that does not let people like me get married. After 33 years, three children and two grandchildren, I think I can attest to love, commitment and the hard slog of long-term relationship that goes side by side with the beautiful family moments.'
On the day before the vote back in 2012, more than five years ago, Molly in my electorate emailed me and said: 'As with so many families, we cannot wait to celebrate at our beautiful daughter's wedding ceremony. With votes such as yours, it's getting closer and closer.' Unfortunately, Molly, her family and so many families around Australia have had to wait more than five years since that last vote that we had in 2012, but we are, it would appear, finally here at a point where within 24 hours this parliament will have passed this reform, I very much hope.
This is, as a number of speakers have pointed out, really just the latest chapter in a series of legal and social reforms around homosexuality that have occurred over the last five decades, and in each of those chapters I'm so proud that the Labor Party has played a leading role. That goes back to the decision 45 years ago of the South Australian Premier, Don Dunstan, from my state, to enact the first piece of legislation to decriminalise homosexuality, and to the legislation that the first Rudd government put in place to remove discrimination from dozens and dozens of pieces of Commonwealth legislation against same-sex couples. Labor has played a leading role. And this chapter has been, as almost all of them have been—certainly the significant chapters have been—a long and hard road, most obviously, it goes without saying, for LGBTIQ Australians and for their families.
Like so many of those very important social reforms that we've seen over the decades in Australia, the Labor Party's journey in this question has both reflected and also helped to lead the change in opinion that we've seen over recent years in the broader Australian community. In saying that—as a Labor Party person, obviously I focus on the role of the Labor Party—I think it's important that we also recognise that it was a very long, hard road within the Labor Party. I know, as a longtime activist in the Labor Party involved in these debates, that for many in the community—for some in the chamber today, I imagine—that was too slow. We were too slow. I know that there were points along the way in that journey where we broke the hearts of many people who wanted and expected the Labor Party to be braver and to be quicker than we were. I remember having to report back on negotiations at, for example, the 2009 national conference—negotiations that the member for Grayndler and I had been involved in around these questions—to a room of very, very angry national conference delegates and Rainbow Labor members. There was a lot of anger and there were a lot of tears, and I think we need to be honest about that as the Labor Party.
The negotiations that I was a part of in the 2011 national conference were hard too, but in those intervening two years there had been a substantial shift, both in the broader community and in the Labor Party. The adoption of marriage equality as a Labor Party policy at the 2011 national conference was a huge achievement. It was not only an achievement for leaders like Penny Wong but also, importantly, an achievement for hundreds and hundreds of party members, particularly members of Rainbow Labor, who had been working so hard within the party to make that change. It profoundly shifted the national debate; that decision at the conference in 2011 profoundly shifted the national debate.
For me, I've always been clear on what the legal position should be for same-sex couples on this question. It should be civil marriage as of legal, inalienable right, and it should be religious marriage with choice for religious institutions. In the lead-in to the national conference in 2011, I wrote as much in an op-ed published in The Sydney Morning Herald. I said that Australia should adopt the model that had recently been adopted by the New York state and the United Kingdom, where there was a legal, inalienable right to civil marriage for same-sex couples but also the right of churches and other religious institutions to choose not to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies if that was their preference. I see that position broadly adopted in this bill, which is a very significant reason why I support it.
Other than that carve out, the key work of this bill is to provide that legal, inalienable right to civil marriage. In doing that, we should be honest that marriage in Australia today is overwhelmingly a civil institution, and that is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I became an adult in the late 1980s, 60 per cent of marriage ceremonies were conducted by religious celebrants. In 1999, the majority shifted to civil ceremonies, and since then there has been a precipitous drop in market share, if you like, by religious celebrants or of religious ceremonies. When I wrote that op-ed in 2011, only six years ago, religious ceremonies still accounted for about one-third of all marriage ceremonies in Australia—about 33 per cent. In Queensland and WA, by then, it had already dropped to less than 30 per cent. I looked at the ABS data on marriages and divorces that was only released last week for 2016. The market share of religious ceremonies is down to 23.6 per cent of all marriages in Australia. In WA and Queensland, religious ceremonies now account for less than 20 per cent of marriages conducted in those two states. In what is now a predominantly civil institution, the institution of marriage, it is only proper that civil standards of equality before the law are applied by this parliament.
I've always supported, as I've said, the right for religious institutions, for churches, effectively, to opt out of conducting same-sex ceremonies, but I do not support any of the other amendments that have been proposed by the member for Warringah or foreshadowed by other members of the conservatives. I have to say that I'm somewhat struck by the irony of the 'big C' conservatives on the other side of this House now arguing to enshrine such rights in law. My first campaign in politics was the 1988 referendum, where the Labor government proposed to extend freedom of religion in this country. I remember, at the time, John Howard engaged in a vigorous and, I think, cynical campaign—because his political fortunes where not going particularly well—led by the new member for Flinders Peter Reith to knock that campaign off. As a result, we did not extend the right or freedom of religion, because of a decision in a campaign led by John Howard, reflecting the decision that the equivalent parties took in 1944 in the post-war reconstruction and democratic rights referendum of that year as well.
It is somewhat ironic that you've got the 'big C' conservatives on that side of the parliament now deciding that they do support enshrining rights such as the freedom of religion into legislation or the Constitution because, as I think the newly engaged member for Goldstein has pointed out, that has not been the traditional position of those opposite, as I found in the first campaign that I was involved in as a relatively young Labor activist in the late 1908s. But, as the Leader of the Opposition has said on behalf of Labor, we support the Ruddock panel process. Importantly, it includes Frank Brennan, a great Australian, who pointed to the 1988 referendum, and the failure to give a bipartisan level of support to the extension of the freedom of religion, as being 'a lost opportunity'. I think there is some irony in this.
It is also important to say that I didn't support the plebiscite and the postal survey for a range of reasons, only one of which was the extraordinary cost involved. As a matter of principle, I just do not support the idea of submitting questions of civil rights for groups in our community to a plebiscite of the entire community. As a matter of principle, it is the wrong way for this parliament to work. But also, as a practical question, what we warned would happen obviously did happen. There was enormous division and enormous hurt caused by this plebiscite and postal survey. Although I think what we're about to do in the next 24 hours is a wonderful thing, that should not be taken as any sort of endorsement of the process that has been followed over the last couple of months. But, having said that, the passage of this bill will be a great moment for our nation. It is a moment that should be the cause of substantial pride for a lot of people who have worked so hard for many years, or, in the case of some young activists, for a relatively short period of time. All of that work has just been utterly wonderful.
I want to thank LGBTIQ Australians for their patience and for their forbearance, not just through the recent process but for the years and years that we have been arguing for this important reform. I want to thank rainbow families across Australia for their forbearance over that entire period of time. I particularly want to thank the rainbow family I'm closest to—my dear friend Penny, Sophie, Alexandra and Hannah—who have had the spotlight put on their family like no other. I think they've shown enormous dignity through this process, as a symbol for so many thousands and thousands of rainbow families across the country.
I've talked about the role of Rainbow Labor within our political party. I think they've been fantastic. The work they did to change our party's position and lead the change in the broader community has been utterly wonderful. A range of other organisations have been equally wonderful—AME, PFLAG, the 'yes' campaign and many, many others.
It is very risky to shout out individuals in this sort of long-term reform, but I'm going to do it anyway. Rodney Croome has already been mentioned. He has been in the gallery during parts of this debate. Rodney's courage, his resolve, has been an inspiration to me and to many others in this chamber and around Australia for many, many years—along with his relatively recent sidekick, Shelley Argent, who I do still see in the chamber, who stomps the halls of this parliament, relentlessly making the case to parliamentarians. Their work has been an utter inspiration. To all of the volunteers who worked so hard on this campaign, you have done a great thing for our country. Thank you.
A number of years ago, when I was a political aspirant and wasn't in this place, I was asked about my attitude towards same-sex marriage. I said back then, which was obviously a while ago, that I thought the decision should be made by the Australian people, whether it be through a plebiscite or a referendum. I think the result of what has happened through this process validates that. I always said I would be comfortable in supporting that, and voting yes, if that was the way the Australian public chose. I have always thought that, because what we're doing here is a massive cultural shift. We are changing an institution and the definition of an institution that has been around for thousands of years. It's not something like putting the tax rate up or down or changing other policy, which we do in here on a daily basis—and then another parliament or another government may well reverse or change those decisions. The decision we are making in this parliament on this postal survey that we did is a big cultural shift that will not be reversed. Therefore, I thought going to the Australian public to do this was always a good idea.
Some activists and some advocates for this in the community disagreed with me vehemently on this through the process, and I certainly had sympathy for where they were coming from. People within the LGBTIQ community said, 'We will be discriminated against.' I do not know what that discrimination would feel like, given I am not in their shoes, so I certainly had sympathy for the fact that they thought this process would be damaging. While there were certainly isolated cases of that, I have spoken to a few of them since then, and they felt that the process went exceptionally well. One reason is obviously the turnout of the Australian population in this postal survey, at 80 per cent. Obviously the result was definitive. One person came up to me a day or two after the result and said, 'Kevin, I never thought I'd say this, but I'm actually pleased, even though we've had debates and arguments about it through the process, that this is the way it happened, because this is validating it more than if we'd just had a conscience vote in parliament by 150 MPs, when there would still be, for many, a lot of conjecture about whether it was the right decision or not.' Even those who voted no are very conscious that the Australian people and the Australian public have validated this, as I said, not only in the numbers that came out but also in the numbers that said yes.
I congratulate the advocates, including those in the LGBTIQ community who have been mentioned before, who have been putting this case, in some cases, for decades. There are a couple in my community. Again, I don't really want to pick people out, but I will mention Cam Hogan, who's no relation. Cam was the person I was referring to before, who was very concerned about this process and how it would work. I will also mention Marie Reilly, who also did a lot of work. I'd like to mention my office manager, Peter Weekes. Peter has been a gay rights advocate for decades. He was very passionate about this cause and did a lot of work in our local community to get people to enrol to vote and in pushing the 'yes' case. There were obviously people before them. People over many decades, if not longer, have been pushing reforms. Young gay people now are going to receive the rewards of that and live lives that people before them would only have dreamed about.
I said many years ago that I would support this. I will be voting yes for this legislation. We have had a discussion and a debate about the religious freedoms and the religious protections about that, and I think that's very important. I too applaud the appointment of Philip Ruddock and the others who will look at this, because I think they will do this in a very considered, measured way. Again, as has been mentioned, there were millions of people who voted no and who are struggling with this, and we said, very importantly, that we need to protect the religious institutions. We have separation of state, church and judiciary in our country, and it's very important that we value churches and religious freedoms and that they can protect their values and what they believe.
I will just finish by saying that my mind shifted on this a number of years ago, and it was actually in a discussion with a friend of mine who is a Catholic priest. I was having dinner with him and my wife. I consider him a friend. He's an exceptionally articulate and intelligent man. On theology and philosophy I very much listen to him. I remember the Italian restaurant we were in. The discussion of same-sex marriage came up, and I wasn't there at that stage in my own mind. He said, 'Kevin, I can live with state-sanctioned same-sex marriage as a priest as long as you protect us.' I thought, 'Well, if he can get there, why can't I?' He was the first person who really spoke to me in that way, and I then had to really question my own beliefs and my own values. I was brought up in a very Catholic family. I went to church every Sunday until a relatively senior age; I haven't been doing it as much as I should, but my upbringing was very traditional. But when a friend of mine who was a Catholic priest was sitting across from me at the table saying, 'Kevin, I can get there in my mind,' I thought I needed to question my own principles and values on this.
I think we've come to a good place. The Australian people have done us proud by embracing this in a way that I think was very open and was done relatively well. Again, I look forward to passing this legislation but, at the same time, very much protecting the religious institutions and freedoms in our country.
I'm proud to rise in the House today to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This bill will allow two people the freedom to marry in Australia regardless of their sex or gender. The bill also recognises foreign same-sex marriages in Australia. The requirements for a legally valid marriage otherwise remain the same under the Marriage Act. This is a bill that is faithful to the fundamental values of the Labor Party—that is, the resolve to remove discrimination wherever we find it, whether that discrimination be based on race, religion, wealth, gender or sexuality.
As a senator for Victoria, I spoke in the other place on 20 September 2012 in support of what was then the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. On that occasion I articulated why I, as a Catholic brought up and schooled in the Catholic traditions, earnestly believed that marriage equality was completely consistent with Christian faith. For this reason, I was particularly pleased to see that, according to recent surveys, some 67 per cent of Australian Catholics voted yes in the recent marriage equality survey. I was one of them.
Moreover, while I support Australia's protection of religious freedoms, I have never believed that religious doctrine should ever be enshrined in our nation's laws. Only one-third of marriages today are solemnised in a religious ceremony. The notion that marriage belongs to the church cannot be justified.
I believe that placing a restriction on marriage so that it can only occur between a man and a woman is not relevant to our modern and—for so many—secular society. What is important is that, when people find a loving relationship, they are afforded the dignity and the respect of that relationship by their fellow Australians.
I supported marriage equality in the Senate in 2012. In a letter to Australian Marriage Equality in August 2013, I said I looked forward to voting for marriage equality in that year, 2013. Now we have arrived at the last sitting week of 2017.
I should make this point, as it's been made on several occasions: the achievement of marriage equality as Labor policy in 2011 was a significant landmark for my movement and, I think, for the debate in Australia. As so many others have done, I would like to single out the work of Rainbow Labor in particular. This group worked tirelessly and bravely to change the opinions and the stance of the Australian Labor Party. In so doing, I think it again demonstrated the power of progressive social movements through and within the Labor Party and again demonstrated that the national conference of the great Australian Labor Party is the crucible for real change in this country.
The vote could have happened, of course, in August of this year, but the coalition, as we know, resolved to pursue a postal survey rather than instead moving immediately to a free vote in this parliament. This is, in my view, a terrible abrogation of leadership by the Prime Minister, and I fear it was the fruit of a factional fix to paper over divisions within the Liberal party room rather than a legitimate public policy position. As a consequence, instead of letting parliamentarians carry out their proper role as legislators, the Prime Minister presented Australians with a non-binding opinion poll and a $122 million bill. Worse, the Prime Minister resolved that LGBTIQ Australians should be subjected to a unique process of lawmaking, one that applies to no other group of Australians.
On 24 August, the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Attorney-General joined me at a marriage equality roundtable I hosted in the electorate of Batman. We were joined by many parents, carers and family members from rainbow families across my electorate. The stories they shared with us about their lives, their experience of discrimination, the hurtful things their children were hearing and their anxiety about a new, painful, lower standard of public and private debate were very literally heart wrenching. Our message to those loving families was as clear as our duty: Labor would stand with our LGBTIQ friends and neighbours.
Following that roundtable, a group of concerned mums and dads in my community came together to discuss how we could demonstrate our support for rainbow families and the LGBTIQ community during this marriage equality debate that the survey engendered. Together they organised the Darebin Family Fun Day, a day of fun for all families celebrating and supporting local rainbow families. Hundreds attended and my family and I were among them. The will of my community is clear and it is strong. We want marriage equality now.
Throughout the survey, the Labor Party and local Labor Party branches worked tirelessly to promote a 'yes' vote, to make people aware of the issues in the debate and to make sure that everyone in my community was cognisant of the fact that there was a survey and they must participate in it, and indeed there was an enrolment drive, which realised an astonishing 5,000 new enrollees, most of them young, underlining the fact that this was a cause that particularly captured the emotion and the passion of young Australians. A great part of the credit for the result, of course, belongs to them and their participation.
On 15 November, the result of the postal survey affirmed this truth. A resounding majority of Batman voted yes to marriage equality, with a very high participation rate. Some 83.9 per cent of voters in Batman responded to the postal survey, with 71.2 per cent responding with a 'yes' vote. This was a great success for the 'yes' campaign and I would like to thank the many people involved locally and across the community. I would like to thank every local shop and small business that put up a 'yes' sign in their shop window. I would like to thank the nearly 5,000 local residents, mostly young, who enrolled to participate in this survey.
It is long past time for equality for LGBTIQ Australians. It is long past time for us tell children of same-sex couples that their families will now be recognised as equal to any other. It is long past time for atonement for the inaction of the past. It is long past time for this parliament to affirm what many of us have long known, that the union of LGBTIQ couples is deserving of the same dignity and the same respect that is given to other couples under our law. It is long past time for the parliament to implement the will of the people. My vote will be for loving couples who have long committed to each other but are held to be inferior under our current marriage law. My vote will be for the advancement of equality.
Same-sex couples are not asking for any more, or indeed any less, than anyone else in this country. They are asking for equal dignity in the eyes of the law and this parliament can and should and must grant them that right. Passing the marriage amendment bill in 2017 to remove discrimination and allow two individuals, regardless of sex, sexuality and gender identity, the opportunity to marry will create what the Constitution of our country intends, and that is a separation of church and state. The bill is fair and it strikes a balance, ensuring legal acceptance for everyone's beliefs and their values. The people have said yes. The Senate has said yes. Now it is time for us to get it done. I will be very proud indeed to vote for this bill, and I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. When I first entered parliament I met an incredible character—Warren Entsch, the member for Leichhardt. He was a whip at the time, and one conversation I had with him was on his vision and commitment to the LGBTI community. He talked at length about why he was championing the cause, and during that discussion my own faith and belief in marriage was challenged by Warren, not a in a negative way but in the context of saying if two people love each other, why should we stand in their way? Why should we allow our own personal judgements to prevent them considering the context of marriage the same as other Australians do? Those discussions continued with him, along with many others, over a period of time throughout my first term in this House. I do want to acknowledge both the member for Leichhardt and Senator Dean Smith for the work that they have done. There are many others on both sides of the chamber, and I don't wish to make this a political issue by acknowledging people by party so I will do so by referring to the capacity of those individuals to think outside of confined definitions, to seriously consider the relationships that people enter into.
When we meet someone and we fall in love with them, we fall in love with them because of the endearing qualities that they have. Those qualities mean so much in very endearing terms. Over a period of time I have heard from a number of people from the LGBTI community who I have interfaced with over the years in my roles in education and in health—in health more than anywhere else. I think back to a staff member of mine. I was talking one day about the prosecution of a name that I saw in the paper, Toonen, in Tasmania. I made a comment about Toonen v Australia—the outcome of that case and the implications that it had. It was a recognition that somebody chose to live a different life to what was considered the norm. Out of that he said, 'That was my brother.' We talked about the challenges that he went through. I followed the career of Don Dunstan's, partly because of his own political persuasion but also because of his gutsiness at the time in being very open and frank about the relationship that he had and his own attraction to same-sex marriage.
I have been lobbied by many people in the period that I have been in the parliament. I want to acknowledge Rodney Croome, who I didn't always see eye to eye with, and I also want to acknowledge Shelley Argent. Both of them are very articulate in putting forward the views of the people that they represent. They talked about, and brought to me, people who wanted to have their view expressed. That was important in influencing and making us as members of this parliament think about a section of our community who were being isolated to some extent but certainly treated differently.
As I reflected on what I was going to say tonight, my mind turned to a program called MindMatters in secondary schools. I went to the launch of MindMatters in approximately 2000, and they talked about the resilience of young students in high schools. They talked about the construct of the program and, at the end of it, I sat and I asked the question: 'How did you include Indigenous people, culturally and linguistically diverse groups and LGBTI people?' There was this incredible two minutes of silence before somebody on the panel stood up and said, 'We didn't.' In that process, MindMatters decided to produce a component called CommunityMatters. I had the incredible privilege of meeting a young woman who we did a vignette on because we were needing to reflect a perspective of a young person who was challenged by the construct of being attracted to the same sex while her peers were putting pressure on her to be like them. When that vignette was done and they showed her mother, because we needed to have her permission, her mother said, 'I now understand my daughter.' As a parent she said, 'I now will support her because I became aware of what it was that my daughter was grappling with.'
I heard a colleague from the other side last night talk about her journey and for the first time being allowed to express her emotions for another in a way that she had not been able to. Right at the beginning of the debate, I was interviewed by Patricia Karvelas. She asked me a question at the end. She said she wanted to talk to me about constitutional recognition and, in the typical fashion of journalists, she said, 'Ken, what is your view? What is your position on same-sex marriage?' I said to her at the time, 'I have a personal position, based on my faith, but if my electorate supports through a plebiscite a position that is a majority reflection of the 'yes' vote, I will honour their voice. I will commit to making sure that their views are reflected through my representation as the member for Hasluck.' When I look at the results I see that 79 per cent of people voted and 62 per cent supported the 'yes' campaign. I haven't deviated from that, and I will honour their desire, because when we get those opportunities to reflect our constituents in this place it is a privilege.
The other thing that was important was the basis of the focus on equality. When you belong to a minority group, as I have, and still do, one of the challenges you have is bringing forth your view as a member of a minority group who seek changes. We're often challenged by having to convince the majority that we need a change to reflect our aspirations, our desires, our considerations and our future. Certainly in this campaign we had a very organised group of people committed to those who were in same-sex relationships and who desired to have marriage. They brought together the public of Australia to focus on the aspiration of love and the opportunity to join in marriage. When you're conflicted, you think about their position and your own commitment to what you believe are your values and your obligations to yourself as an individual. But we also have to consider in that context, too, that we have an obligation to consider diversity and to respect difference and those qualities that are inherently important to every one of us within the communities and society in which we live. If I take the human rights based approach—the principles of nondiscrimination, of the availability and accessibility of the same things that all other Australians have—there is an acceptance that as individuals and as couples we are not always the same but the quality of those relationships and that love doesn't differ. It is something that we need to respect, but the universality of the legislation in supporting the rights of fellow Australians to something that they desire is important for this House to consider.
I always was of the view that I would want to seek the views of broader Australian society, not to disaggregate a commitment by this House to addressing the issue of same-sex marriage but to have an important issue like this owned by Australians. It is no different to the argument that I've put forward in respect of Constitutional recognition, on which I have frequently said that I will respect the views of fellow Australians in supporting a significant change within a societal construct. I have listened to the various debates and enjoin myself with many of the comments that have been expressed on both sides of this chamber, and I acknowledge the concerns that individuals have in respect of protecting the rights of those who voted no. I want to share some of the comments from my electorate. I will honour and work towards reflecting their views as well, because there is a percentage that voted no. I quote:
… like so many other "NO" voters, I voted this way because of a variety of deeply held beliefs, including the belief that marriage can only be between a man and a woman.
I had churches within my electorate that said to me, 'If you are representing us, then protect us.' Equally, I had others who said: 'We have no issue. We believe in the love of God for those made in his unique image, and on that basis we would like you to support a "yes" vote if it is predominant.' Another wrote:
As your constituent, one of the many who have spoken up by voting "NO", I ask that you and your parliamentary colleagues now support legislation to permanently enshrine these freedoms into law, regardless of any changes to the Marriage Act.
While I note that there are protections there, I would certainly hope that we will address those protections within a raft of other legislation that we have that holds us to account against the issues of discrimination. The Turnbull government has delivered on its pre-election promise to give Australian people a say on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Thanks to the Australian marriage law postal survey, my electorate of Hasluck have had their say. As Hasluck's representative in federal parliament, I have always said over the course of this debate, as I said earlier, that I would need to respect the majority of the votes of those I represent.
Legislation has been introduced into the parliament to change the Marriage Act, and many of my constituents have voiced their concerns about protections of free speech, religious freedoms and honouring the intent of the postal survey. I share some of those concerns and welcome the decision by cabinet to establish a panel of eminent people, led by Philip Ruddock, who I hold in high regard and who I know will consider the adequacy of the legislative religious protections, not only in this act but in the other acts that are designed to protect Australians in respect of views and positions that they hold. The announcement of this decision demonstrates the strong leadership and commitment of the Prime Minister and the Treasurer to protect religious freedom. The challenge of our democracy is to acknowledge the right we have to express our personal position on many issues.
Your views were expressed to me and I am truly grateful for the overwhelming volume of feedback and differing perspectives I have received. Please be assured that I reflect those views in the government party room on your behalf. Equally, I will continue to fight for protections of Australians, as I did in my stance on 18C to protect the rights of those who would have been disadvantaged by the construct of freedom of speech. I will be equally resolute to defend the voice of those who voted no, the services who take the contrary position, because the beauty of our country is that we are given an incredible privilege to express views and opinions but also our rights and equally our obligations as Australians to make sure that the harmonious fibre of our community and our society prevails and that respect is always two-way in the way in which we consider each other. So I commend the bill to the House and I thank you for the opportunity of speaking on this matter.
I am very glad to support this bill because I believe, quite simply, that all Australians should be equal before the law, because I know that discrimination on the basis of sexuality is wrong, because I know that happiness shared is not happiness diluted, and because I know that giving all couples the right to choose the stability and commitment that marriage represents for some people—not everyone—is the right thing to do. In delivering marriage equality, which we do this week, Australia will move along the path of greater inclusion, equality, respect and love. While the change that we make this week is certainly not before time, there is no doubt that it is time.
The electorate I represent showed strong support for marriage equality. I was rapt to participate in a 'Fremantle Says Yes' rally underneath the iconic container rainbow. I did that in collaboration with the City of Fremantle, which adopted a strong advocacy position in support of marriage equality, initiated by my friend and former council colleague Jeff McDonald. That rally on a beautiful Freo evening, high above the port, was attended by nearly 1,000 people, representatives of many groups. We were fortunate to be addressed that evening by Tiernan Brady, who did so much for the campaign here in Australia and played a leading role in the successful campaign in Ireland. We also heard from my friend and colleague Senator Louise Pratt, who has been an inspirational and indefatigable warrior in the cause of equality and social justice for LGBTIQ people and for all people who face discrimination or disadvantage. Our final speaker that night was Emma Gibbens, who did such a fantastic job coordinating the 'yes' campaign in Western Australia. But the most amazing attendees were all the people who showed up in solidarity and celebration of the principles of equality and inclusion, in support of the change we make this week and in support of love.
There was a woman at the rally who travelled from the Perth Hills to attend. She said to me afterwards it was the first time she could remember feeling genuinely welcomed and accepted for who she was within a large community gathering. That was particularly meaningful to her because the rainbow sign that she had hung on her fence as part of the marriage equality campaign had been defaced the day before.
More than 82,000 people in Fremantle took part in the postal survey, which was approximately 80 per cent of eligible participants. The highest rate of participation was from those aged 70 to 74. On that basis, 70 per cent of participants supported marriage equality. Fremantle said yes. It said yes loudly, joyously and overwhelmingly. We have reached the point here, this week, that we could have reached earlier and more easily.
I have no doubt that the process of the postal survey was wrong, and we shouldn't glide over that. There was no need and there was no justification for a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey which came with a hefty price tag of close to $100 million. We have heard, frankly, a lot of waffle in this place this week about tradition and conservative values and the Westminster system, but there is no way you can reconcile a non-binding, non-compulsory postal survey with the tradition of legislative process in this place. Even in relation to this particular piece of law, there was no such process when former Prime Minister John Howard changed the Marriage Act previously. There was no such process on any number of significant changes that could just as easily be characterised as matters of conscience. I know there are a lot of people in my community and around Australia who were made to feel that their right to feel included and that their right to be equal before the law was being made subject to a strange and badly-fashioned popularity contest. But in the end, the people of Australia made it good. They made a bad process good by their participation, engagement and campaigning. That was uplifting to see, and we in this place owe them a debt of gratitude for that.
No meaningful change occurs unanimously. No person has their seat in this place unanimously. Very few have it on the basis of 70 per cent support, which was the result in Freo. No government has ever been formed with 133 seats out of 150 in the House of Representatives, yet 133 electorates around Australia supported the change we are making this week to deliver marriage equality. Every electorate in Western Australia, every single one of the 16 electorates, voted in favour of marriage equality. Let's not be mistaken about the strength of feeling, the strength of reasoning and the strength of principle behind this outcome. Let's go forward now, together, with a change that takes from nobody, a reform that simply makes our society more equal and a shift that allows all Australians to choose marriage if that's right for them.
I say in welcoming the extension of that right—the right to choose—for people to live in loving, committed relationships with or without children, that those relationships are not any less worthy or any less deserving of respect if they don't happen to be marriages. My wife and I married in 2006 or 2007—I will get in trouble now for saying that!—and we had been together for 11 years. We were in our second house; we had three children. We were married by a civil celebrant. We were very glad to celebrate our relationship with our friends and family, and we were fortunate enough to have that choice. That is what we deliver through this bill to people right across Australia, and it's right that they have that choice, but it doesn't mean, with all of the talk about what marriage means and delivers, that people who don't choose to marry live in relationships that are any less equal.
As we make and celebrate this reform, let's remember what has gone before and what there still is to be done. Delivering marriage equality builds on the hugely important reforms that occurred under the previous Labor government. It removed discriminatory terms and rules that worked to exclude same-sex couples from 84 different pieces of Commonwealth legislation.
Let's also be clear that marriage equality, in itself, will not magically bring an end to other kinds of discrimination against LGBTIQ Australians. The wider pursuit of respect, the cherishing of diversity and the rejection of stereotypes are a matter of culture and character, and we've still got a long way to go on that path with respect to LGBTIQ Australians, as we do with respect to other sections of our community, particularly Indigenous Australians. But saying that doesn't take away from the significance of this reform; it simply means that we have more to do.
Important struggles can only be won through leadership, and to some degree the big struggles create the leaders that they require. I think it's also fair to say that the experience of disadvantage and discrimination can fuel the fire that burns as resistance to injustice, inequality and exclusion. It's never been surprising to me that some people I have been influenced by in my involvement with Labor politics and progressive politics also have the perspective that comes with being a member of the LGBTIQ community: people like my very good and longtime Fremantle friend Justin Di Lollo, who bears some responsibility for having switched me on to the Labor Party in the early 1980s in Fremantle; people like Susan Brennan; people like Andrew Sullivan; people like Felix Pal. It's not surprising to me that some of the leaders in progressive politics around this country—I'm going to talk about some in Western Australia—who fight for the rights of working people, who fight for social justice and who stand up for those who have least and need strong voices are also people who have that perspective, that resilience, that deep humanity and courage. They are people like Carolyn Smith, Stephen Dawson and, of course, my colleague from the other place Senator Louise Pratt.
There are many Labor parliamentarians who have worked on this cause for many years, but, in addition to Louise Pratt, I want to of course recognise the unstinting, essential, inspiring work of Senator Penny Wong. I also mention the work of my colleagues in this place the member for Whitlam and the member for Griffith, among others. I would like to recognise and pay tribute to the determined, reasoned, courteous and honourable way that this particular bill was created and negotiated by my colleague from Western Australia Senator Dean Smith.
As I said at the outset, I believe the change we are about to make is driven by a simple matter of the principle that people should be equal before the law. I say to the LGBTIQ community in Fremantle: I'm sorry that this has taken so long. I'm sorry for the extent to which you have been put through the wringer. I thank you for your strength of purpose, for your fierce commitment to seeing this done, for the way that you have lived the great, binding values of love, equality and inclusion. We owe you a debt of gratitude for leading us into the light.
Marriage equality is not a gift or concession to LGBTIQ Australians, their families, their friends, their colleagues and their neighbours. To our families, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours, it is the right of LGBTIQ Australians. They have fought for it; they have won it. In fact, it's their gift to all of Australia, to all of us together, because it makes our nation a fairer place and a more cohesive, respectful and loving community.
Firstly, I would like to thank Australians for having such a well-run, calm, respectful survey into this issue of changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. In the election of 2016 I was asked repeatedly how I would vote on the issue of same-sex marriage, and I said then that, whilst I would personally vote in favour of same-sex marriage, I would ultimately respect the views of the nation. In the seat of Murray, during the same-sex marriage survey, the seat of Murray had 57.6 per cent vote yes and 42.4 per cent vote no. Of all people registered in the electorate, just under 80 per cent took the opportunity to partake in the survey. The electorate of Murray voted about five per cent less for the 'yes' vote than the Australian nation did as a whole.
I disagree with the previous member; I think the process was by every measure a stunning success. We had over 80 per cent of Australians actually have their say on this important issue. Most people were thinking we'd be doing well if 60 per cent of Australians were to go to the trouble of casting their vote, but we had over 80 per cent of Australians take part in this process. They have given us—they have given all Australians—an undoubted mandate to get on now with changing the Marriage Act. What this has meant is that the nearly five million people who voted no now realise they are in a minority. Whilst they might not agree with changing the Marriage Act, they now understand that the parliamentarians have been given a mandate by the majority of Australians. They will be considerably more accepting of these changes than if 150 politicians had simply gone off to Canberra and changed the Marriage Act on their own.
Whilst I am really happy for same-sex couples to now be able to marry—I'm genuinely happy—I am also hopeful that this parliament will be able to ensure that we protect the religious freedoms of religious ministers and celebrants so that they are not forced to take part in a ceremony contrary to their religious beliefs. Certainly, nobody should ever lose their job for simply stating their opinions, even if those opinions are politically incorrect. I will be making a short contribution to the second reading debate tonight, but I am really hoping that this parliament can find a balance that will show the nearly five million people who voted no that their opinions and their views are truly respected. At the same time, we need to ensure that the nearly eight million people who voted yes have their will granted to them. Australians clearly voted yes, and we need to honour that vote.
I see both sides of this debate, but I also believe very clearly that humans are either born gay or they are born straight. I therefore don't want to be part of any discrimination where people are not allowed certain rights simply because of how they were born. Hopefully this parliament can find the balance that best reflects the views of the Australian nation—that is, to change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry and, at the same time, put in place protections for those in the community that have very strong religious views so that we do not replace one type of discrimination with another.
Like many of my Labor colleagues and those opposite, I rise to speak in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 and, in doing so, in support of marriage equality. Australia is a proud, progressive country, and has long led the world when it comes to human rights and protection from discrimination in our society. Our nation's rich egalitarian spirit is a product of our history and a product of our forebears. Indeed, in 1902 Australia was the very first country in the world to give women the right to vote in federal elections and also the right to be elected to parliament on a national basis. Why? Because in Australia we stand for equality. In 1962, the Commonwealth Electoral Act provided that Indigenous Australians should have the right to enrol and vote at federal elections. Why? Because in Australia we stand for equality. Today we have the chance to again stand for equality by legislating for marriage equality—a once-in-a-generation chance to again show that Australia is a proud and progressive country that treats everybody equally before the law and treats everyone equally when it comes to love.
All of us in this place have an enormous responsibility to prove that everyone is equal when it comes to the law and to love. The journey to reach this point has been a long one and it has not been an easy one for the LGBTIQ community in Australia. The first bill introduced to parliament to legislate marriage equality occurred over 10 years ago, and we have since seen 22 failed attempts. This includes multiple coalition governments who have sought to prevent or delay this rightful course of action. The latest of these manoeuvres was the postal plebiscite to tell us what we already knew—that Australians are overwhelmingly in favour of marriage equality. It was a waste of $100 million to appease the right-wing conservatives in a desperate last-ditch attempt to prevent the inevitable.
Whilst, yes, the voter turnout was very strong, and, yes, over 61 per cent of Australians voted in favour of marriage equality, the lack of leadership by this weak Prime Minister meant that hundreds and thousands of gay and lesbian Australians had to endure months of speculation about the legitimacy of their relationships and sexuality. Now we see the Prime Minister and some of those opposite trumpet their contribution as some sort of achievement. They should be ashamed, not proud. It was not an achievement for the Brisbane woman who had rocks thrown at her home whilst the vandals yelled homophobic slurs. It wasn't an achievement for the 14-year-old who received death threats from a schoolfriend's dad over supporting same-sex marriage. It wasn't an achievement that saw posters plastered across our cities with slogans such as 'A vote for gay marriage is a vote for child abuse'. There should be no sense of achievement from those opposite. They should be ashamed, not proud.
What we should have been doing is what we are doing right now by having this debate on the floor of the people's parliament. If only the Prime Minister had had the backbone in the first place, we would not have subjected LGBTIQ Australians to those atrocities, and this could have happened a long time ago. So, no, Prime Minister: when you said:
It will be forever to the credit of the coalition that this momentous social change occurred …
you are misplaced. You are out of line and you are insensitive to the enormous damage this plebiscite did to thousands of LGBTIQ Australians.
What was intriguing about the postal plebiscite, however, was those who prided themselves on championing so-called free speech being the first to condemn and to attempt to shut down those voices they did not agree with—those who supported marriage equality. This included—to the bewilderment of the Australian public—the member for Warringah suggesting the censorship of American rapper Macklemore at the NRL Grand Final and banning the playing of 'Same Love', an extraordinary act coming from someone saying that the freedom of speech is quite a sacred principle.
Nonetheless, Australians turned out in force to support marriage equality, including in my own electorate of Oxley, where 60.3 per cent of locals voted in support to almost match the national figure of 61.6 per cent. I was also proud to see my home state of Queensland vote in support, with 60.7 per cent of people returning their ballot forms marked 'yes'. Like most other electorates, it was the youngest and oldest in my local community with the highest representation in the figures. This included several locals at a retirement village near my house in Durack who made a point of stopping me at a visit recently to inform me of their support for marriage equality. They told me that the time had come to pass this into law so that all Australians could be treated equally. That's not to mention the hundreds and hundreds of emails my office has received that were sent from far and wide by people to show their support. These came from not only LGBTIQ Australians but from heterosexual Australians, young Australians and old Australians to show their overwhelming support. This includes one from Jennifer in the Centenary Suburbs of my electorate, who said: 'I believe the time has come to treat us all equally. This is one of the most important issues of our time and it is time to stand up.'
I want to focus on the effort in my home state of Queensland, which was led by so many committed activists from Labor over so many years. I'm proud tonight to recognise the strong leadership of Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk; Deputy Premier Jackie Trad; my good friend and long-term marriage equality campaigner, the mighty Grace Grace; Shannon Fentiman; Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath and her groundbreaking work as an equality campaigner; and my brother, Cameron Dick, a minister in the Queensland government. I'm proud of his work and achievements in the portfolio of Attorney-General, as Minister for Education and as health minister, and his support for the LGBTIQ community. He is someone who has always stood up on the side of equality.
Evan Moorhead, Jon Persley and Rainbow Labor in Queensland worked alongside so many grassroots activists in Queensland to deliver this change. There were people like Shelley Argent, who is in the gallery this evening. Thank you, Shelley, for your commitment to your family and to so many families here in Australia. I also want to thank members of this place on the other side—people like Trevor Evans, my colleague from Queensland, Trent Zimmerman, Tim Wilson, Warren Entsch and, of course, Senator Dean Smith.
To my own friends, who have shared their own painful stories with me, I know what this decision means. For many of my best friends—my dear friend Tom Kenny, Ben Mulcahy, Tony Rickards, Nino Lalic and Mat Cooper—I know what this all means. When you get married, you can ask me to be the best MC at your wedding! And so it is.
It's incumbent on us, the members of this House, to make it a reality. We cannot afford any further delays that would see this process drawn out any further. In 2015, the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Maribyrnong, introduced his own private member's bill in an attempt to legislate for marriage equality. Speaking on the bill at the time, he said:
We cannot assume this change is inevitable. We cannot imagine it will just happen. We, the 44th Parliament, have to step up to rise to the moment.
Prior to and since that time, the Leader of the Opposition and Labor have been leaders in calling for marriage equality to become a reality. This also includes my other Labor colleagues, such as the member for Sydney in her relentless campaigning and advocacy, the member for Isaacs in his continued passionate work to ensure this parliament would see a bill for marriage equality, and of course, as many have said before, the amazing Senator Penny Wong, who has been at the forefront of this debate and this cause for many, many years—because that's what the Labor Party does. We show leadership when others won't. We stand up for what's right when others won't. We stand up for the fair go when others won't. And we stand for equality when others won't. We stand for an inclusive and accepting Australia where your relationship is not judged by the gender of the person that you love but simply by love. It's time to get this done. I commend this bill to the House.
On 15 November, Australians voted overwhelmingly to change the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. It was not so in the electorate of Parramatta. My electorate voted in almost a mirror image of the national vote: 61.1 per cent of those who voted voted no. It's fair to say that on 16 November, the next morning, there were very few people in Parramatta feeling particularly good about the result. My LGBTIQ community was feeling more than a bit bruised about the process as a whole and about the local result, and some were wondering aloud with me if they should have reached out more to the broader community. The 'yes' voters were a bit shocked by the strength of the 'no' vote and the 'no' voters had lost the national vote and were feeling more than a little shocked themselves. No-one was feeling very good on 16 November in Parramatta, in spite of the fact that, for many LGBTIQ people all around the country and their families, this was a momentous day. To make matters worse, the media and the commentators seemed to think they had a right to make all sorts of assumptions about my community and who voted how and why and to lay the blame with various groups, without really understanding just how complex we are in Western Sydney. There isn't one community there; there are many. They really weren't great days and, for me, I felt quite depressed at the split in my community and that so many people were feeling that their views were no longer the majority view.
But we are a diverse community in Parramatta and we're a great one, and we get along and have done for decades. We are a success story and I want to talk directly to my extraordinary community tonight. To the LGBTIQ community and their friends, I am so pleased for you. I know it's been a really long journey for many of you. I know many of you remember the days when your love was illegal and I know that the last few months have dredged up some awful memories for some of you. What the parliament does this week will not remove all discrimination, but it's a huge step. I wish you well, and I wish for a wedding boom in Parramatta and I know we'll have one!
But my character at the moment, unfortunately for you guys, is to want to spend time with the people who are hurting the most. So I want to spend quite a bit of time tonight speaking to those who voted no and who have been rocked by the national result. Those of you in the LGBTIQ community know what it is to be a minority and to feel undervalued, but many people in my community are feeling that for the first time and it doesn't serve any of us well to leave those people behind. We have a job now to pull together and find a place for all of us in our community.
I have met and talked with many people in my community about this over several years. In fact, I've opened my office on several weekends in a row and had queues of people all day on Saturday coming in specifically to talk to me about this issue. So I am well aware of how my community feels about this and how split they are across the community. I went out before the last election and told my community that I would vote yes. I told them that because I wanted to give them the opportunity to take that into account in deciding whether to vote for me. As promised, I am going to vote yes tomorrow. I know for many of you that will be more than disappointing. I know that many of you have a profound religious belief that marriage is an institution and that it can only be between a man and a woman. But there are others whose reasons were different. I met some who voted no because they were tired of the debate and they'd had enough—they just voted no. There were others for whom the idea was a little alien to their world experience, but they're okay with the national result, even though they voted no personally. But, from my perspective, something unpleasant happened in my community during the postal survey process. It's as if the whole process turned this into a matter of winners and losers. I wouldn't be a member of parliament if I didn't believe that in most cases we can find space for reasonable people of good faith to live alongside each other on their own terms. That is our task now.
For those who are most concerned about religious freedom, I said before the election that I would vote yes. But I also said that I would not vote yes if I believed religious freedom would be harmed. I still hold this position. But from hours of asking advice, of talking to experts, of reading and of talking to religious leaders in my community, I am absolutely convinced that such freedoms are not at risk. I would very much like to explain why I believe that, in an attempt to take some in my community from the position that they now hold, of fearing the future, to a place that I consider to be a more realistic view of what the future holds. I know that people are concerned and worried and, in some cases, afraid of what the future holds. But we didn't go through this whole process—a process hurtful to many—over recent years and months to replace one group of people who felt left out, the LGBTI community, with another one, a group of people of strong religious faith who feel, either rightly or wrongly, that their right to practise the most important thing in their life is under threat. If this whole thing—the whole survey and this bill—is about respecting who people are, then we must respect all. It is now our job, as members of this place and community representatives, to walk away from the winner and loser situation and find a place for all. The 'no' voters in electorates that had majority votes are no less important than the 'no' voters in mine. We must now work through the issues of concern and either demonstrate that the fears are unfounded, and that religious freedom is protected, or respond to deficiencies in the law and find security for those of strong religious belief and a right to live without discrimination on the basis of sexuality or on the basis of religious belief.
I don't foresee the problems in terms of religious freedoms that many see. I believe our religious freedoms are protected and I believe this bill actually strengthens those protections. I believe we've been doing it for decades. Definitions of marriage are already different between church and state. In many cases there are religious groups that don't believe in contraception, divorce or living together before marriage, and we all coexist successfully and will continue to do so. The freedoms that now allow churches to define marriage on their own terms in a way that is different from secular law will continue to exist. I know that there are people in my community who are profoundly wounded, and we must work through these issues. We can't leave people behind on this.
I'm going to talk about three issues: the right of churches and religious organisations to define marriage on their terms; the right of religious organisations, particularly religious schools, to teach their view of marriage; and the protection of charities from loss of DGR status. Then I will talk about where we go from here—in particular, the review of religious freedom that's going to be chaired by the Hon. Philip Ruddock and what process we can go through in my own electorate to look at key areas of concern and work out together whether there actually is something to be afraid of here.
In terms of the law, religious freedom has two faces: the right to hold a view and the right to express, or manifest, a view. The first one is universal; you can hold a view. In dictatorial countries you can't hold a view—you get killed for that—but in Australia you can. But when the manifestation of that view bumps up against another citizen, that is where antidiscrimination law cuts in. There are very real exemptions for religious organisations and schools, but if you are a layman, a motel owner, for example, who holds a religious view that people should not live together before marriage, you cannot refuse to rent a room to an unmarried couple on religious grounds. That would bump up against antidiscrimination law. You can hold the view, you can express it as part of public debate, you can argue against laws—the Fair Work Act protects you from being sacked for holding that view as a layman—but you can't discriminate as a layman.
But the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which defines all those rules, provides religious exemptions in the act that already cover churches, religious organisations and religious schools. Section 37 already allows churches and religious organisations to employ, train or:
… any other act or practice of a body established for religious purposes, being an act or practice that conforms to the doctrines, …
Churches can define what marriage is to them now—whether it's between a man and a woman, whether it's for life with no divorce, whether it's only people of the church's faith—because the law allows them to do that, and nothing in this bill will do anything other than strengthen that.
There was a case recently of a church that cancelled the wedding of a couple because the bride supported marriage equality, and the church believed that showed that she didn't have an understanding of the true meaning of marriage. That's fine; that's the church's business. It's entirely the church's business, and most of us in this place would stand up here and fight for the right for the church to make that judgement. That is a matter for the church to define marriage in their terms. They do it now, and there is nothing in this bill that will change it. In fact, the Dean Smith bill strengthens that. It provides protection for ministers of religion in explicit and extensive terms; there is specific additional strengthening of those protections. It also provides protections for civil celebrants who have a religious belief. It allows a new category of marriage celebrant called a 'religious marriage celebrant'. It also provides further protection for religious bodies, including that a body established for religious purposes—which, by the way, includes schools—may refuse to make a facility available or to provide goods or services for the purposes of the solemnisation of a marriage et cetera or for purposes reasonably incidental to the solemnisation of a marriage et cetera. So it strengthens—it strengthens!—the current protection.
When it comes to religious schools, they can teach according to the beliefs of their church now. They'll still be able to do so after this amendment to the Marriage Act has passed. Schools can discriminate in employment practices now. Section 38 of the Sex Discrimination Act specifically gives an exemption to religious schools. When it comes to the curriculum, there is no requirement for any particular curriculum in religious schools. That's a matter entirely for the school. State and federal governments and education departments do not define what is taught in religious schools, and the changes to the Marriage Act will not change that. It will have no impact on what children are taught in religious schools. I'm just going to say that again, because I know a lot of people in my community have heard the stories that are circulating that somehow this is going to change everything when it comes to schools: the passage of this legislation will not in any way prevent schools from establishing for religious purposes or from being able to teach according to their doctrine. Neither this bill nor any other existing Australian law requires any religious organisations to express or associate with or endorse a statement or opinion about marriage that is inconsistent with its doctrines, tenets or beliefs. In state schools, the minister for education has stated categorically that this change will have no impact on curriculum in state schools.
I know there is also a concern about charities, and there has been a fear campaign running out there that charities would lose their DGR tax deductable status if they expressed a view on marriage equality that is different from the definition of marriage included in this bill. I just want to say this: Senator Dean Smith is way ahead of you this on—not you, Deputy Speaker Claydon; those who believe that's a problem. He's written directly to both the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. In their responses, the respective commissioners confirmed that the amendments to the Marriage Act proposed in this bill will not affect a charity's charitable status or DGR status under Australian law. I've seen copies of those letters. The capacity for charities to engage in advocacy without endangering their charitable status was also confirmed in the High Court in the Aid/Watch decision. And if you think about it, there were charities that were advocating to retain the current Marriage Act, so they were already lobbying and working in various ways, and that was not a problem. Labor does not believe that anything in this bill makes it unlawful for people to hold and express their traditional views on marriage. People in organisations who continue to hold traditional views consistent with their religious convictions will not be discriminated against as a result of this bill.
The government has established an expert panel to conduct a review of legal protections for religious freedom in Australia, partly in response to the concern in the community, and I and Labor take that review very seriously. The panel will be chaired by Philip Ruddock and will include Australian Human Rights Commission President Rosalind Croucher, retired Federal Court judge Annabelle Bennett and Jesuit priest Frank Brennan. Labor welcomes the establishment of the expert panel and looks forward to engaging with the review as it completes its important work.
For those in my electorate, I will be in contact with you again very shortly to explain how you can participate in that review. If you have things you want to say, things you want to add or questions to ask, we will make sure that you have every opportunity to do that. I'll also be organising forums with experts in discrimination law, religious freedom law and education to work through the specifics of concerns that people in my community have.
I want to reassure people out there who are worried that I'm not just leaving you out there. It doesn't serve anyone well when we have a section of our community that feels left out, ignored or undervalued because of their beliefs. I will work incredibly hard with you to make sure that your concerns, whatever they are, are addressed, either by finding out that they're not a problem or by working with the review to protect the freedoms that they value so greatly.
For many in my community, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 is a wonderful bill. Again, for those in the LGBTI community, congratulations. We will vote tomorrow. It's extremely likely that something you've worked on for decades and decades will finally come to fruition. Break out the champagne. This is your night. You've earned it; you've worked so hard. Congratulations.
Deputy Speaker, we are probably 24 hours away from a major shift in social policy in this country. It is very clear to me that, within this chamber and in my city, in my electorate and nationwide, there is a view that every couple deserves to marry. While there are unique and special elements to every bond—and certainly your own marriage is a very good example of that—all marriages deserve equal recognition and two adults should be able to do it. That broader definition will come into force as early as the coming days. Recognising love in its all forms must now be recognised by a mature nation that can make that shift. The world, this country and my electorate are better places with more love—as much love as we can muster—and states that recognise that love.
Of course, two people forming a serious bond with the right intentions deserve state recognition. History will remind us that Australia legislated the Marriage Act, which, up until now, has been the only way to have it officially recognised. So to broaden this definition of marriage was, by far, the most expeditious way to make sure that every Australian adult had an equal opportunity to have that relationship recognised, and setting up parallel institutions, civil unions and other options, while they've been toyed with, was not the best way to proceed. Marriage of course occupies a central if not a pre-eminent place in human history, but other permutations do not necessarily corrode that. Until now, as I've pointed out, solemnising those relationships could only be done through this very limited Marriage Act. That had two fundamental weaknesses. The first one was obvious: it was unfair for same-sex couples. But remember also that it forced non-religious marriages for couples who had no connection to any form of faith whatsoever. It doesn't make faith any stronger to make it the only avenue to officially recognising a relationship.
Five or six years ago, I was the first MP in this place to defer the decision on same-sex marriage to my electorate. Back in 2012, I committed to undertaking an annual plebiscite—a postal plebiscite; a household survey—through Australia Post, with a free post return, and that process yielded a result every year. I undertook to adhere to that result every year and to keep repeating that plebiscite until there was a better version. I am delighted that last year that became a reality with a commitment to a nationwide plebiscite.
Whatever your views might have been on that methodology, there is one thing that is very certain—that is, we have today come to the point where we can look at a genuine change to the Marriage Act that potentially would not have occurred for years or for parliamentary terms as the Senate consistently found ways not to pass it into law. That has been avoided. In my electorate we have been holding plebiscites since 2012. We have allowed every household a say. We have promoted it through social media. We have built participation. We have had scrutineers from both sides and we have publicised the count.
What we realised was that people don't mind having a say on this matter. Sure, it took me five or six attempts over five or six years, undertaking to repeat it every time. But over a quarter of my households had their say, and I had a reasonable read on the view of my city. Let it be known that the view of just under 50 per cent was to say yes and the view of slightly more than 50 per cent was to say no. That was because our participation rates were far lower than the $100 million affair that the ABS put together so professionally. But to criticise polls that were held in my electorate as not being realistic is like criticising the ABS survey because only 80 per cent of people participated. The point is that everyone had the opportunity to participate if they thought this was an issue important enough for them to participate in.
Two years, two months and two days after the much celebrated Irish vote, Australia did an even better job. And just like the celebrations in the streets of Ireland, Australia saw exactly the same thing. We had exactly the same result as the Irish plebiscite, a 'yes' vote of around 62 per cent, but we had an 80 per cent participation rate, mostly down to, I think, Australia's general predilection for participating in votes when they come along. But no-one came near to forecasting that 80 per cent participation prior to us actually carrying it out.
I am actually delighted that the Liberals crafted this methodology; that under a Liberal government we have seen these laws passed; that we have crafted commonsense amendments that many on the other side have taken seriously. But I am disappointed that the Labor Party have elected to vote as a bloc against those amendments. I respect their right to do it but I think we could have had a far more mature debate about those very valid concerns.
It is a shame, isn't it, that we do have to dive into these detailed amendments? It is because 99 per cent of Australians can accept the verdict and operate in a civil democracy and respect the views of others but we do have an incredibly tiny minority on both sides of this debate who will take this to the nth degree, who will explore every single legal loophole and push their view until they can possibly get it to court. That is very regrettable. We will never get rid of those extreme elements, but I thought the reflections from the previous speaker, the member for Parramatta, about those legal protections, particularly for religious freedoms, churches and not-for-profits was extremely well considered and I congratulate her on them.
I am going to spend about three minutes running through eight of those amendments. The first one is the primacy of the marriage between a man and a woman. While I accept that someone would hold that view if they were in that relationship, I do not think that writing different versions of marriage into law is in the public interest. We can each hold our views on marriage and the various configurations and the benefits of them. I think there is no gain for this nation and no external benefit whatsoever in defining multiple versions in the act.
We have expressive rights which we are very concerned about, in order that they are currently adequately protected. There are states that in fact do not protect them, but I am not sure that this bill is the right place to be protecting them. They should be protected in other legislation. Certainly if you do not like the protections in your state then it is up to you to vote out that state government and replace those laws. I don't think this bill is the place to be hanging every exemption for things such as expressive rights for a range of religious issues of which marriage is just one. I don't support amendments that insist on multiple definitions of marriage. I also recognise that many of these amendments are unlikely to pass. So many of our positions, if we do vote for amendments, will fundamentally be to send a signal to our electorates. It is hard to know if these expressive rights concerns are genuine, apocryphal or just theoretical. I accept that there are occasionally challenges under 18C, but in reality this is extremely infrequent. Nonetheless, I'm glad that the Hon. Philip Ruddock will look into these issues, and I signal my support for protecting expressive rights, though I'm not confident that it needs to occur in this legislation.
The third issue is religious and conscientious protections, particularly for military chaplains. If that chaplain is a religious member of a church, they should be able to continue to have that protection if they're not paid in the armed forces. The minute you take a public purse then you agree to operate under the laws of the land, not the laws of the church. If you're a paid military chaplain then you can answer to the Chief of the Defence Force and how the military wishes to operate. This is no place for MPs to be telling them how to do it. There is a clear religious exemption, and chaplains can seek that out. If that is not the view of the military, and you don't like it, you can cease being a chaplain in the military.
Likewise with celebrants, I can respect the primacy of conscience. That point was very powerfully made by the member for Fairfax—conscience, believe it or not, probably trumps religion. But, alas, we live in a world where all sorts of bizarre views can be passed off as conscience. For that reason I cannot allow people to act freely from their conscience in circumstances like working as a celebrant in a commercial position or running any form of business that may encounter someone who's married in a configuration that they may not support. For that reason I'm also not terribly in favour of some sort of register of religious celebrants. There is an exclusively religious exemption, which I think there is support for. If you're a celebrant, seek out that church and stick to your version of marriage in the church. That's why it is there. If you're a celebrant and you're taking commercial exchange for the services of marriage then you should do so under the law of the land, which now recognises all forms of marriage, as we see in the act. Celebrants are running a commercial enterprise. If they want to take on the religious exemptions, churches are there for them to link with.
We're also somewhat concerned that business would discriminate for a whole host of reasons, including using same-sex marriage as a way of simply discriminating against people who are in same-sex relationships, or against homosexual Australians in general. Occasionally in life we may encounter these circumstances. But, again, this is not the place to be writing in the exemptions for those kinds of attitudes, which in many cases are bigoted ones. If you are in a commercial setting offering services to the nation, the law already makes it very clear that you will not select people by a whole range of what we refer to as 'protected attributes', and the form of your marriage should be an attribute that does not allow that kind of discrimination. You may not like something about a customer; sometimes you may have to do what you don't like doing. But the degree of hurt in doing that is not sufficient to demand exemptions under legislation.
Now we move to schools. Again, I have great concerns, not with Safe Schools in general but with how it is applied. In Queensland it is not a part of the curriculum but it is a resource made available to teachers to use when they want, and parents are not allowed to know that they are using it. That is a completely unsatisfactory circumstance, but I do not support the moral right of removing children simply because you think that some other form of marriage is going to be taught at school. That is a dangerous precedent, and we need a far more balanced approach. Obviously, if you don't like the school, that might be one reason to remove your child. If you are absolutely adherent to religious definitions of marriage, you seek out the school that teaches it. But you cannot move into a public school with publicly funded workers and be selecting when your child sits in class and when they don't. To be honest, for your child to listen to different versions of marriage is probably a public good.
Lastly, we have two very similar amendments from two of my colleagues about associational freedom. I agree completely that faith based organisations should be protected. Most of them already are, but there are genuine concerns that that could change in the future, and there is a desire for stronger protections. This is not the bill for those stronger protections. I support stronger protections; I'm not convinced this bill is the place to do it. Similarly, that would be the stripping of charitable status from organisations, as we've seen overseas—also extremely disappointing and extremely regrettable. But this bill is not the place for those exemptions, and it is something that will be considered very early in the new year.
This is a very, very important bill. I'm the only MP in this place who represents exclusively one city. The city of Redland, on the coast of Moreton Bay, voted slightly more strongly than the Queensland and the national average in favour of same-sex marriage. Regardless of my personal view, which I've never expressed on this issue, in 2011, as I said, I committed to following the verdict and the guidance of my people. I'm delighted that over the years more and more MPs have come to do the same. If you chose not to follow your people, as an MP, I respect that also, but the decision of Redland city has been made. I'm glad that it concurs with the view of the nation, and I look forward to passing this legislation in the coming days.
I rise to support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 and oppose the amendment. I'd like to acknowledge the contributions made since I've been in the chamber. The member for Parramatta and the member for Bowman made very persuasive, well-informed and considered contributions to this debate. I believe this debate is very important. It's a momentous week for the LGBTIQ community. It's a momentous and historic week for this country, and it's overdue. It is time we remove discrimination and ensure marriage equality becomes the law of the land.
Before I get into the substance of the debate, I want to acknowledge the efforts of members opposite—indeed, some Liberal senators, including Senator Smith. I'd like to also pay tribute to all the members and senators who were involved in the culmination of the bill that was debated in the other place and is now being debated here. I believe that there was a great effort by the authors of this bill to take into account the concerns that were expressed by people in relation to religious freedom and other matters, and I think that's important.
My electorate does support this change; however, I do accept and acknowledge that there was a very significant proportion of constituents in my electorate that did not support the survey. I accept, also, that the survey was successful in this sense: an overwhelming number of Australians participated, even though it was voluntary. And I support the result. However, I still believe that there was some harm done. People were affected by that debate. I don't support plebiscitary democracy. I believe in parliamentary democracy. There was no reason to have that survey, and there were constituents of my electorate that were adversely affected by the debate.
I received a letter from a young gay man who had not disclosed his sexuality to his family, and he indicated to me that the impact of the survey on him had been harsh, had been difficult. He wrote to me, and I responded to his letter, informing him that I was sympathetic to the difficulties he confronted as a result of the process. I also indicated to him that I was going to support the change to the law. In fact, in 2004, when the then Prime Minister John Howard sought to amend the Marriage Act, I said that I thought this change was some way off but would eventually happen. I do recall saying in 2004, at this dispatch box, that Australia had evolved. It wasn't that long ago—two generations ago—when people thought a mixed marriage was a Catholic marrying a Protestant. People had concerns about mixed-race marriages of heterosexuals. There were concerns about people living in heterosexual de facto relationships. But all of these things became increasingly more accepted, as they should be.
The discrimination towards this community had to end. It's not just on the statute books; it's decades of discrimination. It is decades of violence towards many people in the LGBTIQ community and it has to stop. It won't just stop by us changing the law, but I do believe that the debate in this place will go a long way to preventing the intolerance, the bigotry and the hatred that has, unfortunately, been part of our history. The member for Grayndler referred to Paul O'Grady, New South Wales Labor's first openly gay member of parliament. He was courageous in his stance and in his campaign to see equality and justice for himself and for same-sex couples.
This has moved relatively quickly. I remember my relatives in Ireland informing me that they believed the referendum—that did have to take place in that country to change the constitution—was going to be successful. I have to say I was somewhat sceptical. It is a rural country, predominantly Catholic. I was sceptical that the result would be overwhelmingly supportive of marriage equality, and I was proven wrong. When I saw that result in Ireland, two things struck me. One was I didn't believe that Ireland would get there before Australia. The second was I realised that this would eventually happen in this country, despite those who sought to impede its progress. That's what's going to happen this week, and that's a wonderful thing.
I also want to acknowledge a couple of other people, including, certainly, Senator Wong and Senator Pratt. I've mentioned the member for Grayndler and the member for Whitlam. There was an occasion just as recently as 2012 when we were debating this matter. I want to place this on the Hansard. I was away for that vote because of a very serious family illness, but I sent out a press release indicating that, if I had been present in this place on that occasion, I would have voted in favour of marriage equality on that day. It's important for us to understand how important this matter is to so many people in this country. I've been asked to acknowledge Leah Newman, who was the creative talent behind the 'yes' campaign. I'm happy to do that, to acknowledge the creative skills she brought to this campaign. And there are many others. There is no doubt that campaigning by the union movement assisted. Campaigning by people across this country for change led to such a positive result in this country.
Mr Katter interjecting—
I accept that the member for Kennedy and I have different views on this. My point is that, overwhelmingly, Australians have said they want to see change happen. I believe this could have happened already. I don't believe everyone was motivated in a particularly healthy way to have the survey occur before this vote. Anyway, we're here now. This parliament gets to do what it should have done originally and earlier—that is, vote on a bill, which is how we do things in this contrary. Tomorrow, I believe, we will have the opportunity to vote for this change. I won't be supporting the amendments that have been moved by members in this place. I do support the bill as passed by the Senate, and I do believe that after this debate this vote will be a very welcome change to the law in this country. And it should be a day of joy and a day of celebration for people who have been discriminated against for too long. People who have loved each other have not been able to formalise that love. The state did not recognise that relationship in the way it should have, and I'm glad to say that we are very close now to seeing the end of that discrimination. That's a very good thing.
After all the things that we've dealt with this week and indeed this year, it's nice to think that we'll end on a very positive note, one that will end discrimination. It's been an overdue change, and I pay tribute to all the campaigners throughout the country and indeed all the members and senators who support the change.
Along with the member for Grayndler, who's been here three years longer than I have, I've been on a long journey on this issue. We've been on a long journey. For nearly a decade we've stood up in this place supporting the rights of what was then called the gay community, now the LGBTI community, to not have discrimination enforced against them in Commonwealth legislation. Albo, as he's known, the member for Grayndler, and I had a lot of joy 10 years ago, in 2008, in successfully moving to remove discrimination against LGBTI taxpayers in Commonwealth legislation.
Let's look at this marriage equality survey in its international context. The first country to vote for marriage equality was the Netherlands, in 2001, and 26 other countries currently have marriage equality, including Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. I agree with the previous speaker that Australia is a country of parliamentary democracy, not a democracy that believes that a referendum or a survey should be taken on every issue. We're here now. There is a famous film called The Rise And Rise of Michael Rimmer, which points to the dangers for democracy of imposing endless referendums on people.
There were difficulties; there was hatefulness during this survey. But we got through it. Across the nation, 61.6 per cent of people voted yes and 38.4 per cent voted no. Participation was 79.6 per cent—a very high response for a voluntary vote. The survey was mailed out to 16 million-plus Australians, and the ABS received 12,727,000 surveys back. Victoria received the second-highest result in the nation, behind the ACT, and the highest result of all states, with 64.9 per cent of the population voting yes and 35 per cent no. In Victoria three million people participated in the vote: 2,145,000 'yes' and 1,1661,000 'no'. Again, I think it was a bit of a surprise to observers that people over 50 were overwhelmingly supportive, with a 'yes' vote of more than 85 per cent. In Melbourne Ports the result of the survey was astonishing. We achieved the third-highest result of all 150 electoral districts in the nation; 82 per cent of eligible voters had their say. That's 86,000 of my constituents who participated, and 82 per cent of those voted yes. Only the seats of Melbourne and Sydney had a higher return.
This has a history, of course. Every place has its own social history. Most recently we had the shadow Assistant Treasurer, the member for Brisbane and Terri Butler come and do a roundtable with the LGBTI community in my seat. Prior to that we had the shadow foreign minister, Senator Penny Wong, at one of the best attended public meetings that I've ever participated in in my electorate, with a great deal of enthusiasm for the Labor Party supporting positive change for marriage equality.
Melbourne Ports is, of course, where the Victorian pride march takes place, often with 11,000, 12,000 or 15,000 people—not quite as big as the Mardi Gras. It's the place where that great, iconic film Kenny was filmed. Some of the scenes at the pride march are inculcated in the Australian public's mind from that. The pride march began in 1996, but just 18 months before that Victoria Police detained 463 patrons of the gay nightclub Tasty, conducting public strip searches in one of Australia's most notorious instances of homophobic police brutality. That was 18 months prior to the beginning of the pride march in 1996 in Melbourne. So how much has Victoria changed? Victoria Police now participate in the pride march.
Of course, Melbourne Ports is the location of the new Pride Centre that's going into Melbourne, the first of its kind in Australia. It is an initiative of my friend the member for Albert Park, Martin Foley, and the state Labor government. I have to pay particular tribute to its chair, Jude Munro, a great battler for equal rights who I've known since university. She's been part of my education on this. The Pride Centre aims to be one of the unique initiatives that celebrate, bolster and protect equality, diversity and inclusion in our electorate. We have a very big LGBTI community. Hopefully, this will pave new directions for its future and honour and celebrate the brave and sometimes difficult past of people in the LGBTI community. It will house the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives, the Victorian AIDS Council and that great beacon of equality JOY Radio 94.9 FM, the community radio station that describes itself as the only LGBTIQ radio station in Australia. The Pride Centre will host the Midsumma Festival, the Melbourne Queer Film Festival, Switchboard and Minus 18.
I've reflected in this debate on my personal journey on this subject. Following deliberations over the years and consultation with friends—particularly LGBTI community leaders, who I'll come to in a second, and faith leaders—my views have evolved on this subject. A lot of it's due to close friends in the LGBTQI community, who have had a profound effect on me, led by the formidable Macca of JOY FM radio, David McCarthy; Tass Mousaferiadis; the very important author on the issue of AIDS David Menadue; my dear former staff member Jamie Bingham; and my current staff member Josh Spiegel, who's worked very hard to see equality achieved on this issue.
I realise that everyone living on this earth, no matter what their gender, sexuality, race or faith, is God's work and everyone is equal. Everyone is entitled to the same rights and, of course, responsibilities. I decided in 2013, despite a campaign to put a bit of a fatwa on me, to announce my position with my trusted friends Macca and Tass Mousaferiadis on Australia's only community LGBTI radio station, JOY 94.9, as a demonstration of my commitment to equality, and I'm glad I did. It's brought us all to this day, a day that began a long time ago for me with seconding the member for Grayndler's motions, which we passed during the Rudd government, to remove discrimination in Commonwealth legislation against members of the community. I can think of no better way of concluding my remarks than quoting two brief paragraphs from the member for Grayndler's speech on this bill. He said:
… in supporting this legislation, we are saying that we are a tolerant nation, that we are a respectful nation and that we are a nation that is stronger because of our diversity. I think it is unfortunate that we will be one of the last advanced industrialised nations to recognise marriage equality when this legislation is passed. Nonetheless, catching up with the rest of the world is a good thing. I pay tribute to all those who did the hard yards—the really hard yards—to get us to this place.
He concluded by saying—and I absolutely agree with this:
It is, however, of course, the Australian people who have led the parliament on this issue. I've been convinced for some time that a majority of Australians had shifted their view to favour marriage equality some time ago. I hear many Australians—
I certainly hear them in Melbourne Ports too—
say: 'I didn't used to support marriage equality. I do now.' I don't know of anyone who has said it to me the other way around—
I have to echo Albo's sentiment—
who has changed their mind from 'yes' to 'no'. Australians want us to live and let live—
It's the great Australian doctrine of the fair go—
They've decided that as individuals we have no right to cast judgements on love as it is felt by others.
I commend this bill to the House. I commend the great day that's going to come for members of the LGBTI community who have been working so hard for so long on these issues and for the many people who've faced terrible discrimination in the past because of their sexuality. I think tomorrow will be a great victory for them and a very inclusive moment for Australia.
It is unusual in this House to dedicate a speech to anybody in particular, and I have never done that in my 13 years in this House. But I begin my remarks by dedicating what I am about to say to my friend Robert McMahon and his husband, Paul Stewart.
On 24 March 2002 I married the woman I love. At home I have my marriage certificate. At the top of the marriage certificate is the Australian coat of arms. It is not a religious symbol, it is not a symbol of faith; it is a symbol of our country. It tells me that it was my right as a citizen to marry the person I chose to. It is a construct of the state. It is regulated by this House. Of course, marriage is also a religious institution, and that tension has led to some tension in this debate, but it is a construct of the state. It is the right of all citizens to marry the person they love—except, at the moment, it is a right that is not given to all. Hence, I will be voting in favour of this legislation. This is the latest and perhaps the last in a very long march of legislative reform from the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1970s through all the reforms of governments of all persuasions, most notably the last eradication of discrimination during the Rudd government.
I do want to deal with some matters head-on. As has been commented upon widely, my electorate voted 'no' in the recent survey. Some people were surprised by this. Some in the media appeared to be surprised by this. I was not. I fully knew and expected that to be the view of my community. If I dare say, I know my community well. That is actually why I took the conscious decision before the last election to make it clear that I would be voting in favour of marriage equality if I should get the opportunity to do so this term. I did so to seek a mandate, so that voters in my community were very clear: for those for whom this was an important issue, for those for whom it might determine their vote, if they strongly wanted somebody to vote against marriage equality they should not vote for me. I did that deliberately and consciously.
Having been here for 14 years, I hazard a guess that this is not the first time I have voted in a different way to what my community would want. I would put it to you that there is not a member of this House who serves for any period of time who could put their hand on their heart and say that if the community had a say they would vote the same way as I am in this House. Whether it is an economic matter, the introduction of the GST, or anything, there is no manner, I would suggest, in which a long-serving member of parliament could say, 'I always do exactly what my community wants.' The difference here is that we had a survey. This was a poor process. It was a process we never supported. It is a process we have not gone through for any other legislation. On no other legislation where we have dealt with discrimination, on no other legislation where we have dealt with people's rights, have we held a survey to first see what people think.
The people of my community who opposed this change are good people. I know them well. They are people, overwhelmingly, of faith. Having spent much time with them over the recent weeks and months, and indeed years, talking about this issue, I think I understand what drives their concerns. Many of them fear that their church will either immediately, or over a period of time, be forced to change—to change its thinking or its teachings. I have used the example of no-fault divorce many times in conversations. In the mid-1970s no-fault divorce was made legal in Australia. It was a controversial debate, not unlike this one. It was hard-fought. It was a conscience vote. Many people of faith argued that if the state allowed divorce more easily, so too would the church be forced to. History does not bear out that argument. It's now been legal in Australia for 40 or so years, and, certainly, while some churches may have chosen to liberalise their views on matters of divorce, the Catholic Church, for example, has not. It chooses not to recognise divorces, and there is no pressure on the church to change its teachings.
I would put to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and to the House and to my community, as I have done, that the definition of marriage is a similar matter. It is our job in this House to ensure that the right to marry is available to all citizens. It is not our job to teach any church or religious institution what they shall believe and teach. We are not doing that tonight, and we will not do that when we pass this bill tomorrow. There are specific protections in this bill. Clause 47(3) says, that 'a minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage'. Clause 47B says that 'a body established for religious purposes may refuse to make a facility available, or to provide goods or services'. These are important protections and, of course, I don't believe it is the wish of any member or senator to force a religious institution to change. They will not be. I completely, however, respect and understand those concerns and I will continue to work with my community on those concerns. Bill Shorten has made it clear in his statements. He said: 'The Labor Party believes in religious freedom. We understand it is central to our democracy and our society.' And we do. But I also recognise the concerns in the community that, somehow, people of faith, people of religion, will be forced to change.
In many senses, we have not rushed this. Far from it. Nobody can say that Australia has dealt with this in a way that has not allowed people to think through the ramifications. We are the last English-speaking country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage—to introduce marriage equality. I do not believe that society has broken down in the other countries. That is not to minimise or belittle people's concerns, but it is simply not the case that societies have broken down in the countries that have legalised marriage equality.
I do not endorse this process. I believe it is a poor process. I am not comfortable with the fact that the rights and liberties of members of our community who are same-sex attracted have had to go through the opinion poll which they just have, but the fact of the matter is that we are now here in this parliament finally doing our job. We will do our job tomorrow. When this bill passes tomorrow, as I believe it will, it will be an important day in the history of this House, but it will be a more important day in the history of our country. It will be a day in which finally those Australian citizens will no longer have to scurry overseas to marry, having to go to the trouble of leaving their community and their country, to exercise the same rights that I exercised in 2002 and that so many millions of Australians have exercised. They will be able to exercise it here, equally, with pride, with freedom and with love. It is time that that occur, and I am proud it will occur tomorrow.
This debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 is not about the definition of marriage. That question was settled by the Australian people. It is, however, about how parliament enacts the will of the Australian people and the values that Australia projects into the future. There are three simple statements in the Australian Citizenship Pledge which beautifully encapsulate the values which, to date, have characterised Australian society. Those statements are:
… whose democratic beliefs I share, whose rights and liberties I respect and whose laws I will uphold and obey.
This legislation is a test of those values, and it embodies all of them. It is legislation which reflects the will of the Australian people and therefore goes to the first of the three principles being our belief in democracy.
The legislation arises from a process in which all eligible Australians were given a vote. Almost 80 per cent of eligible Australians participated in the process and, of those, 7.8 million voted yes, 4.8 million voted no and 3.2 million did not vote. The outcome was clear. In the Makin electorate, which I represent, 60.4 per cent voted yes and 39.6 per cent voted no. Those who argue that the 'yes' vote did not reach an absolute majority and, therefore, is not a mandate for change are in denial. To use a phrase borrowed from Abraham Lincoln: this legislation is of the people, by the people and for the people.
That brings me to the second principle being 'whose rights and liberties I respect'. The word 'respect' does not mean acceptance or entitlement. It does, however, imply 'acknowledgement' and 'having regard to'. The question of rights and liberties is complex. It is a matter covered by numerous state and federal laws and international conventions which Australia is signatory to. I particularly note the reference by others who have spoken in this debate to article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In every society, the rights and liberties of one person inevitably impinge on the rights and liberties of others. Nevertheless, in a democracy, the greater good prevails, and that is determined by the majority view. The survey question that Australians responded to was about marriage. It was a simple question:
Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
It did not contain questions about civil and religious rights. Those matters were not canvassed. That raises the questions about the rights and liberties of the over 4.8 million people who voted no. In this parliament, in a normal election, their votes would have been reflected in Senate representation, where proportional representation applies. Over the centuries, people have died because of their faith or their conscientious objections and beliefs. It still happens in the world today. Such is the faith and conviction of people that they will give up their lives for their beliefs, and no law will ever diminish their conviction. They, too, have rights that should be respected and protected.
Both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition stated before and after the survey that protections would be provided, as also recommended by a parliamentary Senate select committee which carefully examined the questions about rights. There were clear commitments that I believe were well understood and accepted in good faith by the Australian people when they cast their votes. I also note that not all people who voted no did so because of religious objections. People also voted no because of conscientious or cultural convictions. Protecting rights and liberties is complex. Notwithstanding the complexities, commitments made by political leaders should be honoured.
The government has referred the question of protections to an expert panel headed by the Hon. Philip Ruddock and including Father Frank Brennan, Professor Rosalind Croucher, Fiona MacLeod and Annabelle Bennett. They are all eminent Australians with extensive legal and human rights expertise. Parliament should allow the panel to do its independent work and to present its recommendations. It may take some time, but it will ensure that the best possible outcome is achieved. I also note that the legislation before us already contains some religious protections. More protections may be needed to address matters of conscience or culture. Those are matters for the expert panel. Rushing through amendments now may result in more uncertainty and more court challenges rather than less. Yet I note that government members want to go in both directions—that is, set up an expert panel while simultaneously moving amendments which pre-empt and may even undermine the work of the panel. Few of our laws, if any, are so well written that they are always fair in all situations to all people. That is why matters regularly end up before the courts. That brings me to the third principle about the rule of law: once legislated, laws must be adhered to. It is therefore critical on such a difficult and complex matter that parliament enacts well-considered legislation, that the law is clear and that the legislation does not cause more problems than those which it seeks to resolve.
The reference to the expert panel also highlights a much broader question about human rights. It is a question raised not only by this legislation but in association with other legislation of the Turnbull government, including, in recent times, refugee policy, national security legislation and social welfare laws. If Australia had a bill of rights or something similar, there might not be a need for the individual safeguards that we often see attached to other legislation and that are now being called for with respect to this legislation.
To sum up, marriage is a construct of society. It has existed for thousands of years, across cultures, religions and nations. It is not exclusively a religious construct. Society can therefore deconstruct or reconstruct the meaning of marriage to reflect the will of the people at any given time. I do not expect that passing this legislation will be the end of the matter. Indeed, it will likely lead to many other necessary changes to existing laws and possibly court interpretations of those changes. The will of the Australian people is nevertheless clear. Parliament should accept the will of Australians and change the law to allow people of the same sex to marry. The change will not just legalise the relationship but, importantly, bring widespread social recognition to same-sex relationships. Of greater consequence is that passing this legislation, combined with the 61.6 per cent 'yes' vote, sends a strong message of acceptance by Australian society of people in same-sex relationships, regardless of whether they marry, as well as acceptance of all people who, to date, have been discriminated against because of their sexuality.
I conclude with these remarks. On 10 May 1972, Dr George Duncan, a law lecturer at the University of Adelaide, drowned after being thrown into the river Torrens for being a homosexual. It was a dreadful, malicious act. His death became a turning point in homosexual law reform and in community acceptance of people regardless of their sexuality. The passage of this legislation, which I will vote in support of, will be an even more profound turning point for Australian society and what we value.
I support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I voted yes in the voluntary postal survey. I love Darwin and Palmerston, the electorate of Solomon that I represent. It is a welcoming, open and tolerant place. This marriage equality survey has mostly shown us at our best: civil and loving. As the Labor leader, Bill Shorten, said in this House in this debate:
… young Australians have shown Australia the sort of nation we want to see in the mirror—a generous, inclusive and tolerant Australia.
Of the eligible voters in Solomon, 65.3 per cent voted yes and 34.7 per cent voted no. I saw this issue as a matter of equality and of human rights, of the rights of two people who love each other to marry. I respect the deeply held beliefs of those who voted no, of those who oppose marriage equality. Indeed, some members of my own Catholic Church congregation have told me they oppose marriage equality or same-sex marriage, and I respect their views.
But this bill does not in any way change the importance and significance of marriage between a man and a woman or indeed of the sacrament of marriage. The church's laws will remain. This change is not in any way disrespectful of their loving and enduring marriages; instead, this change extends to other loving couples, same-sex couples, the same opportunity, the same respect, the same recognition for them to commit to each other through marriage. My friend, Dave Taylor, who I worked with at St Vincent De Paul Society, summed it up to me in this way:
I am excited to be on the verge of having the same rights as every other Australian with regards to marriage.
It will be comforting to know that the sanctity of my 20 year partnership will finally be legally recognised. Glenn and I will soon be able relax in the knowledge that our wishes will be honoured on our passing and that hateful family members will no longer be able to override our wills and advanced care plans.
We both work hard in and out of our jobs to give people a chance at a happy and productive life.
Passing this bill will also validate the lives of young Australians who will be able to live happy fulfilling lives knowing that their love and commitment to their partner is just as real and just as meaningful.
We are not asking for special treatment or extra rights. We just want the same as everyone else.
Thanks again for standing with us to make the difference.
This reform has been painfully achieved for many same-sex couples through this unnecessary postal survey. It told us what we already knew—that most Australians support marriage equality, equality before the law. Despite the government saying it gave all Australians a chance to have their say, what it did was force many Australians to feel that they had to justify their sexuality, their relationships and indeed their existence. This was painful and ultimately unnecessary. The sense of anxiety and then relief at Hotel Oaks in Darwin, where I was with many of the yes supporters when the result was announced, was so palpable that it made me even more acutely aware of how anxious many of our LGBTQI brothers and sisters were about the outcome. To have their sexuality and their very humanity questioned, and their relationships the subject of public debate, was very painful for them.
Up in Darwin, in my electorate, I want to acknowledge the leadership shown by the NT News in support of the 'yes' campaign. In Darwin and Palmerston the debate was mostly civil and respectful, but there were some hurtful actions and words and we need to acknowledge that. The debate about freedoms and protections will continue, and that is healthy in a democracy. But, having said that, there are already protections for religious freedoms and freedom of speech and I am worried about further harm being caused.
These amendments are mostly an attempt by those who have opposed equality every step of the way to frustrate it further. I personally will not vote to replace one form of discrimination with other forms of discrimination and will not be supporting amendments to this bill. Australians did not vote for the intent of these amendments—they voted for the straightforward question: 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' The 'no' campaign tried to convince people that the postal survey was about other things, such as the education of children or discrimination against those who believe in only marriage between men and women. Most Australians saw that the 'yes' campaign was about equality, about love and about human rights.
To all of those who kept up the fight over the years, well done—I am so proud of you all. I want to mention just a few from my electorate: the Darwin Pride committee—Daniel Alderman, Jill Pope and James Emery; Jane Black and Rainbow Territory; the Yes Campaign NT convenor Pat Honan; the Palmerston 'yes' convener Seranna Shutt; Crystal Love and the Sister Girls of the Tiwi Islands; Tiana Hokins and her partner Mel; Sandra Smiles; Jo from Viva La Body; Jenny Smith; Dave Cotton; Rosemary Jacobs; Sara Scrutton; Throb Nightclub; the NT News; Darwin City Council; Palmerston City Council; and all of the other individuals, organisations and businesses that supported a respectful debate in the community.
Finally, I want to invite all couples to come on an adventure to the Top End of Australia—bring your family and friends. You'll have fun and you'll find Territorians wonderfully welcoming. The law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, and I support the bill.
On Monday, 10 September 2012, I rose in this chamber to be one of the 42 to give a speech in favour of the then Jones bill for marriage equality, and I'm very glad that I did. I have to say that that debate felt very different from this debate. It felt different because the parliament was acting as it should—as the proper vehicle for changes in law and for advancements of people's rights. This debate should have taken place here and this law should have been enacted by this parliament—and should have been enacted by this parliament some time ago.
I'll talk a bit about the postal survey a little later on. I just want to reiterate the reasons why I voted in favour of marriage equality. I'll be plain, my speech in that debate wasn't the best one I had ever made but I think it was one of the most important. My sister had convinced me over some time, during many arguments over the kitchen table, to back in marriage equality. As we know, in 2012 electorally it was a different time and place and, once I had become convinced, holding fast to that conviction was an important thing to do. I think that is the way members of parliament should conduct themselves. You feel much better about yourself if you hold true to your convictions once you arrive at them. You do that over the course of deliberation, talking to constituents and to friends and family. But, in the end, a representative in this parliament should make up their own mind and should hold to it, no matter what the electoral consequences.
Many members have referred to the postal ballot, and I want to talk mostly about the process, because the arguments have been made. This debate feels very different because we've had such an elongated debate. Most of the arguments to and fro have been made and have been done to death, but this debate should have been a conscience debate where you saw the best of members of parliament, where you saw the best speeches, where people listened to the speeches and where we didn't have empty galleries late at night. It should have been a debate full of passion and fury, and that passion and fury should not have been pushed into the community.
The parliament and representative democracy is a very old and important construct. In my speech in 2012, I referred to Edmund Burke, who was one of the founding architects of parliamentary democracy and modern conservatism, at least for the moment. The problem with the government's postal ballot was that it departed from that in such a dangerous way. If we can grant rights through referendum, what is to stop a government in the future from taking rights away through popular appeal? What is there to stop a desperate Prime Minister, say, appealing to public opinion about the death penalty or, conversely, about euthanasia or any one of the myriad other issues on which there are strong and passionate convictions in the community? It is a very dangerous thing that the government has done and has forced the country into.
I am pleased that my party and the leader of my party campaigned so strongly in the referendum and helped to make this a success, and I thank all of those in the 'yes' campaign and all of the people who have been brave enough to stand up. They've been thanked many times in many speeches in this House.
Including the member for Sturt—he names himself, helpfully! But they should not have had to do that. That should have been a debate in this parliament. Most of all, you've got to thank the many family members, friends and community members over many years who've just had arguments around kitchen tables about what in the end is a pretty simple matter of equality.
I've heard some members, including the member for Warringah, claim this as some sort of great moment. It's not a great moment. We were lucky to escape unscathed from a process which is fraught with danger and which undermines the operation of this parliament and has undermined the nature of this debate in this parliament. In particular, I've heard a few speeches and a few opinions about this issue of religious protections, and the government's had to put up a panel and a whole process to deal with it. If we had had a conscience debate at an appropriate time, there would have been time to consider this. Those matters could have gone to a committee in advance of a debate.
The member for Sturt says, 'It should have been done years ago.' Well, who by and what for? People will treat it as if it's an esoteric point, but it's actually a critical point. If we have a situation where the executive or a Prime Minister irresponsibly—or they might believe they're acting responsibly—can appeal to the public in a very simple way on the notion of people's rights, that is a very dangerous precedent, I think. No matter how well it's worked out this time, it is a very dangerous precedent.
I began my speech in 2012 quoting Edmund Burke, and I just want to do it again for those on the benches opposite. None of them are here at the moment—the member for Sturt is listening. I'll just remind him about Edmund Burke's famous speech to the electors of Bristol. Burke said that a representative owed his constituents:
… his unbiased opinion, his mature judgement, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living. These he does not derive from your pleasure; no, nor from the law and the constitution. They are a trust from providence, for the abuse of which he is deeply answerable. Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgement; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
This parliament and its representatives should not be swayed always by the simple matter of public opinions, of public opinion polls, of referenda, of postal ballots, because sometimes people's passions lead them to decisions they later regret, and sometimes simple notions have very counterproductive outcomes. So I hope in the future that these debates are dealt with by this parliament. Rights should be granted by this parliament, and if they have to be granted by the people then that should be done as part of a properly organised constitutional referendum. But I fear the government has set a precedent, and I hope it is a precedent that is not followed for a very long time.
That said, I commend the bill to the House. I think it is a simple and kind measure that fellow Australians have finally granted gay and lesbian Australians.
I'm glad I made a mistake and had to come down early so that I could hear the speeches, as I know now why I do not sit here and listen to speeches or question time. I have heard a conglomeration of snivelling drivel in my life, but there is not the slightest scintilla of intellectual content in any one of tonight's speeches.
I was rung up about this by the media. I had no idea what was going on—as usual, I was out there in the boondocks working away. He said, 'How are you going to vote on the gay marriage bill?' We had a little bit of an argument about the word 'gay'; we compromised and said 'same-sex marriage'. I said: 'What are you ringing me up about? What are we going to vote on? 'You can't be serious.' I've never been angry throughout this debate. I've found it extremely humorous, I've got to say. I said, 'Listen, mate, I don't know what it's like down south, but five per cent of the population of Australia lives up here in North Queensland, and I don't think it's a great deal different to the rest of Australia, and no-one seems to get married up here. I can't remember the last time I found a couple getting married. So, mate, we can't get the heteros to marry—you've got absolutely no hope of getting that other mob to marry. But thanks for your call.' I thought it was funny.
Whilst you people are all piously holding your hand over your hearts and saying, 'This is the best thing since Burke invented freedom and democracy,' down in the pub, in the real world, where I live and other people live, I walked into the pub and said, 'Bobby, I'm going bush, mate, before they make it compulsory,' and everyone roared laughing. But you don't live in that world. You don't live in that world where real people live. You live down here, where you listen to this incredible concoction of drivel.
Well, you must've forgotten where you come from, mate. Let me continue. People accuse me of being anti-homosexual. You could read my book—which I might add is only $29 at all best-selling bookshops—An Incredible Race of People: a passionatehistory of Australia, which was the bestselling non-fiction work in the year it came out. I thank the Murdoch press—the only time I have ever thanked the Murdoch press—for publishing it. The head of COSBOA in Australia said: 'I always had you tagged as a redneck. The part of your book I loved most was about that homosexual friend of yours. It was very humorous.' I couldn't leave that out of the history of Australia, because we are a fun people. Have we lost our sense of humour completely in this country? I thought his humour deserved to be put in the history of Australia.
While you were down here congratulating yourself on your popularity and winning the vote, I was at the coalface trying to get some votes up in the state election campaign. As a party—and I am not particularly proud of this—we started out our life with an advertisement, which was a most unpleasant advertisement. I agreed to it, so I will take the blame, along with everyone else. It established us as a very anti-homosexual party. There was no doubt about that. It was a first-time-out party—they took our name off us—but exit polling indicated that our vote was effectively 20.5 per cent of the population of Queensland.
Coming back to this election: while you people were all running around advocating a 'yes' vote, the first polling booth came in in Queensland. It is the biggest polling booth in the state electorate. I was handing out how-to-vote cards. When the vote came in—and while I would like to attribute it to myself, I really don't think I had a great deal to do with it; this is a booth which is almost always won by the ALP—we got 720 votes, the ALP got 320 votes and the Liberals got 120 votes. I said, 'Would you please go back and get the correct figures,' because they were staggering. When I looked at the figures in all the electorates we ran in, they were between 19 and 25 per cent—bracketed the four parties. One Nation and KP, where KP was running, were continuously achieving many more votes than the majors. But the way the preferences fall isn't always the way we want them to fall. The Labor Party in Queensland got one of its lowest votes since 1915. Ooh! That's something to be proud of, isn't it?
You might say, 'The majority rules and the majority has it right, because this is a democracy.' I think it was back in year 2007 or 2011—I can't remember—when a bloke called Barabbas ran, and jeez he got a good vote! I can't help but point out the abolition of slavery! We won it on a trick. We Christians won it on a trick. It was the only way we could get the abolition of slavery through the parliament. As the writer of the book on liberty said: the tyranny of the majority in a democracy doesn't deliver justice, truth or rightness; it delivers the majority, which may not necessarily be very just.
The people advocating this proposition tonight, the LGBTIs, have maybe 60 years on their side. I have 3.5 million years of genetic programming on my side, because we human beings, they tell us, have been around for 3.5 million years. One thing that is absolutely certain is that we've all developed from heterosexual couples. That is one thing we know absolutely—up until the last 40 years, anyway. So, genetically, we are programmed that way. If you want to make a young lad between the age of nine or 10 and 15 go to school wearing a dress, you'll seriously mess with his head. If you are looking for reasons why, there are distinguishing factors of the incredible race of people, as I call us in my book—and I think we are. We always get there in the end, but, jeez, we run off the rails badly at times. If you analyse why this country continuously has the highest male juvenile suicide rates in the world—why is that?—there is something going wrong here. We have an extraordinary incidence of homosexual behaviour in Australia compared with other nations, and I think the people who have been speaking for this bill would agree with me on that.
The speaker before last said, 'Oh, it won't be held against you. There'll be no discrimination against people exercising their right to have a view on this conduct.' That's what he said. Well, go and ask the doctors who don't want to do abortions in hospitals how well they're travelling—those that you can find who would speak up on this issue. The Bishop of Tasmania was criminally prosecuted for saying, 'It's wrong to do that.' Well, doesn't he have a right to a moral position? I'm not going around advocating that people who advocate homosexual behaviour should be put in jail, but the opposition is advocating the opposite. The intolerance there is magnificent! I was in Sydney soon after my little party ran in that election—in which, as I said, we had an advertisement which I'm not particularly proud of—and a bloke in a flash, top-of-the-range Mercedes-Benz came up with such speed that I actually pushed my grandchild onto the pavement and jumped myself, and then he screamed abuse. At another age and in another time and another place, I would have taken him out of the car and dealt with him as he should be dealt with for screaming obscenities in front of little children. But that's the 'tolerance' of the people who oppose us in this debate: they try and throw the Bishop of Tasmania in jail; they scream abuse at us; they campaign against us. But that's all right. They can do that.
I didn't know a lot about this, and I was asked to speak. We addressed a meeting of about a thousand people in Brisbane. And, not knowing a great deal about it, I spoke about Christianity and the contribution that Christianity had made to the history of the world, from the abolition of communism, which killed more people than any other ism in human history, to the abolition of slavery, to the civilisation of the Roman empire. I spoke about all those things.
I listened in horror to the story of the two young mothers. The first one started off by saying: 'My son told me that he had to go to school tomorrow in a dress, and I said my boys will never, ever go in public in a dress. I rang up the headmaster of the school, and he more or less told me, "It's the orders of the education department, and you'll send your kid to school in a dress."' Then the second lady got up and she said, 'My son was told not only that he had to go to school in a dress'—that's messing with young people's heads on a major scale here—'but also that in his head he had to become a woman for the day.' Throughout history, in the range and breadth of human history, there is no precedent for this sort of rubbish taking place. Do we have rights over our children? Do you think seriously that the LGBT group are going to stop here? It may be funny to yell out in a pub, 'I'm going bush before it becomes compulsory,' but it's not quite so funny.
You talk about equality. They wanted equality in the giving of blood. They said, 'We as homosexuals have a right to give blood,' so they did, and I think 72 children were injected with AIDS from the blood that was given. It was hushed up. It was amazing to me that it never got any publicity at all. I actually had to ring up to verify whether the newspaper report I'd read was correct. There were 724 AIDS cases in this country, and no-one ever brought up the fact all of those AIDS cases, apart from the poor little children who got it through blood transfusion—whatever figure it was—were either intravenous drug users or men participating in homosexual behaviour. There were only two out of 724 cases that claim they weren't, and the report noted that they were living with an at-risk person—in other words, a homosexual person. So there was no such thing as AIDS in this country except within that narrow group of intravenous drug users and people participating in that sort of behaviour.
I watched on television last night a murder case involving two people of that persuasion. When I came to the office today my chief of staff, who, I might add, voted yes, said, 'You'd better write'—so and so—'a card or something.' I said, 'What's that all about?' 'Oh,' she said, 'the son got murdered. He was in a homosexual relationship.' We all know about the Versace case. This was another case. There's no doubt there is a DNA thing there, and some people can handle it but a lot of people can't. And there is a very, very ugly side to this, where the curtain comes down and we're not allowed to talk about it.
Mr Deputy Speaker, there is an ultimate statement upon a race of people, and that is that they simply vanish from the gene pool. If you take out my cousin-brothers, the First Australians, and if you take out the migrant population in Australia—recent migrants—then we have the lowest birthrate on earth. We are a vanishing race. Bob Birrell, the demographer from Melbourne, wrote an article in which he said that the current population of Australia is 22 million and within 100 years the population of Australia will be 7,000. I thought, 'This is ridiculous!' I went down to check it in the library. He said that when 20 Australians die they're replaced by only 17 people, and if that happened five times over a century then we would go from 21 million or 22 million people—whatever it was at the time—down to seven million people.