Wednesday, 6 December 2017
Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading
It is also about a fair go for Stephen and Dennis, who, despite being the first gay couple in Australia to marry here, under the ACT's short-lived laws, by my friend and colleague Terry Healy MLA, ultimately had to marry in Ireland. It is about a fair go for my cousin, my aunt, CT, and my cousin-in-law, Jack. It's about a fair go for my friends Craig and David and so many others in the LGBTIQ around Australia so that, should they wish, they too can marry the person they love. It is about our country legally recognising their relationships and removing discrimination against them so that they can all enjoy the same legal rights, privileges and status in our community that my wife, Annabel, and I have—because the love we share is the same as the love all these couples share too; because all Australians are equal and should be entitled to full participation in our society. That's why I voted yes in the survey and will vote yes in this parliament for marriage equality. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I do not wish to detain the House for long in moving to a vote on this matter but I did feel that it was proper to explain briefly to this chamber why I will be voting in the manner and form in which I shall be voting. I cannot say that I had some sort of road-to-Damascus experience, an epiphany brought about because someone I loved or respected or held in high regard had shared with me their experience and its injustices were so clear and the virtues so sure that they pleaded like angels, trumpet tongued, against it. The truth is: for as long as I can remember, I have known people who were gay and were treated no differently except—and this is a rather large exception—under the law.
My father had a business partner who openly lived with his boyfriend at a time when homosexuality was illegal in New South Wales. One of my good friends in the Liberal Party was Ross Barlow. I say this because he recently passed away. He lived with his boyfriend and partner for over 50 years. As he lay in the hospital bed, delirious from his long illness, he asked me if the postal ballot had been successful. Unfortunately, Ross passed away before I could answer that question definitively.
Homosexuality has never really struck me as being unusual or, honestly, that different. I guess it would be easy for me to hide behind the clarion call of democracy in support of my views. We gave the people a voice and they spoke with a roar. In Mackellar, 84 per cent of people voted and nearly 70 per cent said yes. But I'm also persuaded, as many who have come before us have noted, that replacing the tyranny of dictators with the tyranny of the majority is no advance. Instead, I believe that government is at its noblest when it is providing freedom to its citizens, when those freedoms do not impinge adversely on any single person and are giving voice to those freedoms. To have a freedom that cannot be properly exercised is also no advance. If government is to regulate marriage then it should be regulated to ensure everyone has access to it.
As a practising Catholic, I accept that my personal views on marriage may no longer be expressed in law. However, it weighs more heavily on me that I should not use government to enforce upon others my personal views. Just as I would not want those opposite to impose their personal views on me, it is not unreasonable for them to ask that I do not impose my personal views on them. Few of us in this House are gods. And few of us always know what is good for us, as is readily demonstrated on a daily basis. So how can we presume to always know what is good for others? These choices, whether right or wrong, are best reserved for the individuals who are most directly impacted by them.
I know that there are many who are worried that their freedoms to express their beliefs and conscience openly and without undue constraint may be compromised by this bill. I'm obviously one of those people. A discussion about the inherent rights of those of conscience is long overdue. Compared to the United States, where these matters were considered and resolved some two centuries ago, Australia has much work to do. My distinct preference is for this discussion to be dealt with holistically rather than piecemeal in a bill designed to give expression to the people's voice by expanding the definition of marriage in law. As such, I support the Ruddock review as the best path towards protecting those rights both now and into the future.
This parliament should always look to give as much freedom to people as possible, only constrained by the removal of a right or freedom of another. Therefore, this parliament should support provisions that protect people's rights to express their conscience, and, where there is doubt, we should sow certainty. But just as importantly, this parliament should now allow people who love each other to marry.
I'm delighted to have the opportunity to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 that we have before us in the House today. This moment has been a long time coming, and I'm so pleased and proud that the time is now here to deliver marriage equality to all Australians. As a number of members have already said in this place, particularly the member for Gellibrand, there is a considerable level of frustration at the fact that all of us here in this chamber are presenting speeches on this issue. But it's very important to me to explain why it is that I am making my contribution here today.
In my home state of Tasmania, eight out of 10 eligible voters took part in the marriage equality postal survey, with 63.6 per cent of them indicating their support for changing the law to allow same-sex couples to marry. Tasmania has a transformative history with respect to LGBTI rights, and it is heartening that a majority of Tasmanians are today supportive of marriage equality. Tasmania has experienced a significant shift in social and political attitudes ahead of national trends in that time. Many played their part, but I would like to recognise Rodney Croome in particular for his dignified, reasoned and principled activism over decades—firstly, with respect to removing criminal sanctions against members of the gay community and, subsequently and progressively, addressing issues of discrimination, culminating in this debate.
I'm thrilled that every electorate in Tasmania returned a majority 'yes' vote. I am, however, acutely conscious that the result for many in the LGBTI community involved very significant stress, anxiety and, indeed, questioning of their very identity and self-worth. I'm very sorry that this process was imposed upon this community. I cannot begin to understand what it would be like to have my feelings of self-worth, my sexuality or my identity questioned in the full glare of the political process with the opportunity for prejudice and discrimination to be brought to the fore despite every exhortation for reasoned and respectful debate.
Nevertheless, given the fact of the survey and its sanctioning by the High Court, it was vitally important that those seeking marriage equality campaigned for a successful result. In my electorate of Bass, around 55,000 participants completed the postal survey, with 61.7 per cent supporting a change in the law. My office played host to a 'yes' campaign official announcement party on 15 November. Members of the LGBTI community and their friends, allies and supporters gathered to watch the ABS deliver the result. The electorate office was bursting at the seams, with people spilling out on to the street waiting anxiously for the result to be announced. On this occasion, it was an absolute pleasure to stand by and watch as history was being made. This was a time for those with a personal interest in the matter to speak out and have their voices heard. I personally felt that this was not a time for appropriation of the result by those without that vital personal interest.
I'd like to recognise the efforts of everyone involved in the 'yes' campaign and give a special mention to the Bass volunteers. This was truly an issue that encouraged people to become politically motivated. I must also acknowledge Rick Marton, Mara Schneider and everyone else in Launceston who worked hard to push marriage equality forward over the years—in particular, Susie Clarke, 'super grandma' and tireless supporter; David Broughton, master letter writer; and Ray Mostogl, business leader. A big thank you also to the team from Party in the Paddock and LUSY Productions for getting enrolments together in the lead-up to the survey.
My office had a group of around 20 volunteers knocking on doors, hosting street stalls, making calls and putting up posters. It was a small group, but each and every member displayed such a passion and enthusiasm for the task at hand. I would particularly like to acknowledge those people for whom the 'yes' campaign was their first experience of campaigning. Jacob, Robyn, Mikala, Petra, Elaura, Katrina, Hilda, Harriet and Cordelia, thank you.
I well recall campaigning in one shopping centre. We identified what we called the 'nanna factor'—a succession of elderly people who exhorted us that it was now time for marriage equality. That factor was proved time and time again in many electorates across Australia, with 133 electorates recording a positive response. The overwhelming positive outcome of the postal survey was a clear directive from the Australian people to their parliament: 'Just get this done.'
There are those who seek to minimise and belittle the result. For example, some are claiming that less than 50 per cent of eligible voters have supported a change in this legislation. I absolutely reject any such contention. The government made it clear that, in introducing legislation to conduct a plebiscite, it was seeking to fulfil an election promise. It indicated at that time that, if the plebiscite was unable to be passed by the parliament, it would conduct this postal survey on the same principles. Whilst the survey didn't require any enabling legislation, it is instructive to review the defeated bill to conduct the plebiscite. The 2016 bill was never expressed to require a majority of all enrolled voters. It is absolutely ridiculous and intellectually bankrupt to claim that either the defeated plebiscite or this survey required a majority of eligible voters to support the proposition. Rather, it is significant that Australians have provided leadership to the parliament on this issue—leadership that the Prime Minister could not deliver.
Those everyday Australians have told us, loud and clear, that they want to live in a country of fairness, of tolerance, of equal rights for all. Of the cohort who voted no, there were some who expressed their views by reference to their religious beliefs without expressing any sense of intolerance towards the LGBTI community. I acknowledge and thank them for their representations to me and the courtesy with which they made those approaches, which were many, both for and against the bill. Unfortunately, there were many who, in the name of religion, wished to revisit many of the antidiscrimination provisions introduced by each of the states and the Commonwealth over more than 20 years and, in particular, seemed to argue for a return to the dark days when same-sex relationships were not acknowledged and in some cases had potential criminal consequences. My firm view is that, if it is necessary and appropriate to provide for express freedoms, this legislation should not be amended so as to provide for those freedoms. As a number of people have already said in this place, as a matter of principle, piecemeal amendment of this legislation will do a disservice both to the LGBTI community and to any religious seeking the protection associated with religious beliefs and rights. It is significant that there are already state based and federally based antidiscrimination provisions, not only within antidiscrimination legislation but also within legislation like the Fair Work Act, which prohibits discrimination with respect to particular characteristics, including religious belief. This means that in most cases a person may not be the subject of discrimination with respect to a religious belief or religious practice. In contrast, there are express exemptions with respect to some discriminatory issues—in particular, sexuality—which benefit those who claim a religious connection, such as a church or a school which is based upon religious principles.
I appreciate that, during the survey, many in the 'no' case argued that freedom of speech with respect to the exercise of religion was already under threat, both here and overseas, and would face a further threat if same-sex marriage was made lawful. My understanding is that many of the examples given of supposed consequences of same-sex marriage, particularly in the international context and in the context of a notorious case involving the Catholic archbishop of Hobart, involved conflict between antidiscrimination provisions that benefit both those who are LGBTI and also those who are religious. Those arguments appear to me to be misconceived, because they relate to the right of the LGBTI community to be free from discrimination, not to the right to be married.
There is no doubt that the LGBTI community deserves the right to live their lives free from discrimination, as do those who profess religious belief. I absolutely believe that it's possible to practice deeply held religious beliefs without in turn engaging in conduct which, for example, from section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act:
… offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person …
But as I've already said, parliaments have already decided that in certain limited cases those who profess a particular religious view shall be free, notwithstanding antidiscrimination law, to act in a discriminative manner with respect to employment of persons.
I'm quite prepared to consider the outcome of the inquiry which is to be undertaken by Mr Ruddock. The irony of the right of politics effectively seeking the introduction of a bill of rights with respect to the exercise of religious freedom has already been identified by the member for Goldstein in several public statements. I firmly believe every family deserves the stability and recognition marriage confers, and that is why I stand here today in support of this legislation. I commend the bill to the House.
We're here this morning after a late night last night, continuing to debate this Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 because the Australian people have had their say on same-sex marriage. Their decision was clear. A majority want a change to the traditional definition of marriage, and that is what we will deliver. We, the coalition government, promised the public that they would have their say in a decision that was reached before my election to this place. We took our policy to the Australian people at the 2016 federal election and, by voting to elect the coalition government, they voted for our approach. The Prime Minister and the government fulfilled our commitment to carry out a same-sex marriage plebiscite. We were unwavering in our promise to give Australians the right to contribute to the debate and to have their say. I wish we could say the same about those opposite, but they blocked us at every step and in every way. We, however, fulfilled our promise so that each and every Australian could express their view on this historic change and reconcile themselves to this historic change.
This is a very important point. Everyone who wanted to have a say had a say, and their voices were heard. This was a democratic process. The unprecedented turnout for the voluntary survey—far above what those opposite and some commentators expected—reflected the strong will of voters on both sides of the debate to express their views. The Australian people voted to change the traditional definition of marriage and we, as their elected representatives, are now acting to honour their decision. Just over 60 per cent of the Australian people voted to change the traditional definition of marriage. This result was reflected in my electorate of Boothby, and I will honour their decision and that of the Australian people. It is now the job of this place to implement this decision and to legislate to change the definition of marriage. However, it is also the job of this place to ensure that the views of almost five million Australians, who voted for the traditional definition of marriage, are maintained and respected too.
Many of these people hold strong religious convictions. The fundamental tenets of their faith were formed thousands of years ago and have not wavered through the centuries between. We owe it to these people to protect their religious beliefs and freedoms. In fact, as the Treasurer expressed so beautifully in his contribution to this debate, we owe it to our nation. It is my hope that everyone watches or reads the Treasurer's contribution, especially those opposite. It's one of the most thoughtful and impressive speeches I have seen presented to this place. As the Treasurer outlined, our Christian values informed the founding of our Federation. I will quote some of the Treasurer's words because it's difficult to say it better:
… at section 116, our Constitution deliberately afforded the protection that 'the Commonwealth shall not make any law for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion'.
This is the religious inheritance of our Federation—our Constitution, from more than a century ago. If we ever act in dissonance with these founding principles, I believe it will be to our nation's great peril. This is not to say that Australia is a nation with an established state religion. Thankfully, it is not. We are, thankfully, free of such a restriction on our liberty. Such freedom should not be used, though, as a weapon against the importance of faith, belief and religion in our society or as a justification to drive faith and religion from our public square. At the same time, protection of religious freedoms cannot be used as a cloak for religious extremism that undermines our very freedoms.
We may be a secular state but we are not a godless people to whom faith, belief and religion are not important. Quite the contrary: it is deeply central to the lives of millions of Australians.
The Treasurer goes on to say:
Separation of church and state does not mean the inoculation of the influence of faith on the state. The state shouldn't run the church and the church shouldn't run the state. In fact, the separation of church and state was set up to protect the church from the state—not the other way around—to protect religious freedoms.
And this is what we must do. We must protect freedom of speech, freedom of religion and religious beliefs, just as I believe we must protect the other institutions that have enabled these freedoms and have made us one of the most respected, respectful and peaceful nations on earth: our system of constitutional monarchy, our Westminster parliamentary tradition and our Judaeo-Christian principles that have informed our wonderful society.
On this issue, the mandate of the Australian people is clear: introduce legislation that changes the definition of marriage. However, to pass legislation that does not encompass fair and comprehensive religious protections would put at risk the freedoms we hold dear and the democratic values that we all represent. This is why I will be voting to honour the result of the plebiscite but supporting the amendments to be moved by the members for Cook, Deakin, Mitchell, Canning and Mallee.
The question of same-sex marriage turned out to be a very simple one for me a few years ago, thanks to my two children. I asked myself, 'If one of them falls in love with someone of the same sex and they want to be together for the rest of their life, why shouldn't they have the choice to show their love and commitment by getting married?' The answer is clearly that, as a mother, I do not want to see discrimination against either of my children, so this has not been a difficult debate for me. I have not agonised, and I have not been swayed by counterarguments. My electorate has known my views since 2010. I can't wait to vote yes to marriage equality.
But I'm not sure that it would have been such an easy question for me and my generation 30 or 40 years ago. In 1978, Jan Forrester, who now lives in the upper Blue Mountains in my electorate of Macquarie, participated in the first Sydney Mardi Gras parade. New South Wales police violently broke up the march, arresting 53 people. And in fact my husband, who joins us in the chamber today, recalls, a few days later, being part of another group protesting the arrests and fleeing from police in Taylor Square, in Sydney. The Sydney Morning Herald, of course, published the names of those arrested in that first Mardi Gras, effectively outing them, resulting in many losing employment and being ostracised by their family and their friends.
It was a different time. And I'm sorry that it has taken us as a nation so long to move away from that time and that so much harm has been done to so many people along the way. Many are not here to see how far we have come, and this parliament should be sorry for that.
Today, however, I am proud. I'm proud to vote for the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 for Craig and Mark, of Lawson, who are looking forward to getting married and having their relationship of 20 years recognised under Australian law. I'm proud to vote for this bill for Tony and Kenn, of Wentworth Falls, who've shared each other's lives for 23 years. When Kenn needed a kidney transplant, Tony was the donor. And there's nowhere else in the world they'd rather be getting married than here in Australia. I'm proud to vote for this bill for Hawkesbury resident David Briggs, who was told by the previous local member that if he wanted to marry a man he should move to England; for Kelly and Birgitta and their young son; for Tim and Matt, of Blackheath, who have been together for 11 years; for Andrew and Colin; and for Kirrily and Wenone, from Leura, who travelled to New Zealand to marry and for whom the phrase 'wife and wife' means so much. For them, I'm proud. For PFLAG, for rainbow families, I am proud. For Jack, who has put his heart and soul into this campaign for the electorate of Macquarie and is part of my team, I'm really proud.
63.9 per cent of my community voted yes. It voted yes to love. It voted yes to equality. It voted yes to inclusion. It voted yes to ensuring that every member of our community, whether they be gay or straight, has the right to marry. People did not, however, vote to wind back discrimination legislation. They did not vote to provide wide-reaching exemptions to the right to marry. They voted for love, and I intend to respect and uphold that decision.
Religious freedom is important, but nothing about this bill threatens the religious beliefs of those in my community. This bill merely extends fundamental legal protections afforded only by marriage to same-sex couples and their families. It seeks to afford these relationships the same status under the law that my husband and I share, that my straight friends share. This bill removes state-sanctioned discrimination, but, most of all, this bill is about fairness. It's about equality. It is about equity.
We didn't need a plebiscite or a survey that has hurt a lot of people in my community. I am still aghast that those opposite could shirk their responsibility as members of parliament under our Westminster system and outsource their decision to a mass survey. This parliament claims to be concerned about mental health, and I'm right to be worried about the mental health impacts caused to the LGBTIQ community, particularly among young people. But we had it, we won it and now we're here.
I want to recognise the young people within my electorate. We had over 800 people under 25 enrol to vote or update their details in the postal survey, and 18- to 19-year-olds in Macquarie made their voices heard at a rate significantly higher than many of those older than them. They turned out to street stalls, they called for equality, they got to train stations at 5 am to hand out flyers and get out the 'yes' vote. Young people have been galvanised by this issue like no other, and I'm incredibly proud of how hard they fought for this change.
In particular I want to recognise the LGBTIQ young people of my electorate. To them I say: I know you've been hurting a lot recently and I know how hard this postal survey has been and some of the hatred that has come from it. I've stood with you as you explained what marriage equality means to you to people who were not really interested in opening their hearts to you. Please know that your community respects you for who you are and for who you love. Know that so many of your teachers, your peers, your families and your representatives love and care for you and think that you should be entitled to every happiness that heterosexuals are entitled to.
To the army of volunteers, especially those in the Hawkesbury: thank you for stepping out of your comfort zone and talking to your friends, neighbours and total strangers to get the 'yes' vote out. It was an honour to work with you. Thank you to the leadership of local LGBTIQ support group Pink Mountains, who have made the mountains an inclusive home for the LGBTIQ people. Peter Hackney, Kevin Hardwick, Tiphanee Athans, Kylie Watson—there were many others involved. I want to thank Malcolm McPherson, Katoomba local and New South Wales Co-Convenor of Australian Marriage Equality, who's been a leader of this campaign since 2005 and has come to Canberra to witness this historic event. I thank Audrey Marsh, originally from Blackheath, who was one of the state organisers of the campaign. Thank you to Hawkesbury and Blue Mountains councils, who both flew the rainbow flag. Your efforts are finally rewarded.
Finally this place can do its job and vote for marriage equality, and then I look forward to the weddings where Australians in love get to bring this legislation to life.
I rise in this chamber to speak to the private member's bill Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, which seeks to change the age-old definition of marriage. In the postal survey my electorate voted 61.8 per cent—ostensibly the state and national average—in support of changing the definition of marriage. There is no question that that is a clear mandate for this parliament to make a change, and I respect that mandate as I respect the will of the Australian people. Our democracy depends on that fine point. I let my electorate know from the outset that I'd be voting no in the postal survey, whilst also stating that, if the electorate voted yes, I would not stand in the way of a bill passing through the House. Today I'll honour both pledges as I honour the democratic will of the Australian people and sincerely respect its institutions.
I have voted on two issues in the last decade in this House to deal with same-sex couples. I fully supported the Rudd government's legislation to remove all discrimination from same-sex couples so they'd be treated in ostensibly the same manner as de facto heterosexual couples—a lifestyle should never set the stage for discrimination. I voted no in the bill to legalise same-sex marriage in the Gillard government. My voting record has been consistent with my strong Christian value set as outlined in my maiden speech a decade ago: the view that marriage was defined by God as 'a man and a woman united together and becoming one'. This basis, definition and meaning of marriage for me has not changed—a man and woman, made powerfully equal in the image of God, created to be together within the sanctity of marriage to raise a family and literally populate the earth. This view, while clearly no longer the majority in our nation, remains a view held by millions of Australians and literally billions of the earth's citizens. It's a view that deserves to be heard and understood. It's also a view that deserves to be protected. That's why I'll be supporting all of the proposed protection amendments today. It's also why I'm strongly supporting the current review into religious protections led by the honourable Philip Ruddock and I'll be campaigning strongly for the result of that review to come into this House as all-encompassing enabling legislation in 2018.
Those churches that marry according to the God-given instruction in the word of God, the Bible, must be free and able to marry according to that God-given mandate. They and their facilities must be protected. Likewise, other faith groups, as they marry within their faith based norms based on the marriage of one man and one woman, deserve similar protections. Furthermore, parents who send their children to faith based schools must be assured that their children will be taught the tradition and standing of marriage according to their faith. Schools' ability to teach the traditional God-given standard of marriage must be protected.
Freedom of speech and freedom of religion are foundational and fundamental principles of our nation. They were the principles that much of our nation was built on. My mother's forebears were one of the 10 very first original free-settling families that arrived in Australia in 1802 from Scotland and from England. They arrived as free passengers on the convict ship Coromandel 14 years after the First Fleet. They came seeking religious freedom and independence as they were so-called non-conformist in England; they did not conform to the prevailing religious view at the time. These families would build the first non-conformist church and school at Ebenezer on the Hawkesbury River six years after arriving in New South Wales. This church still stands and is the oldest in our nation, testimony to our nation having been founded on religious freedoms.
As a conservative Pentecostal Christian, today I remain strongly non-conformist and, as is their legacy, I still hold the torch for religious and faith-based freedoms. These families had watched their friends being dragged to the hulks and ultimately transported for the religious crime of not conforming to the prevailing view of the time—for there were no protections for them to worship in England and Scotland as they believed, no protections to marry as they believed and no protections to educate their children as they believed. These families, my family, came to Australia in search of freedom and independence that their forebears, often betrayed and imprisoned, had cherished, longed for, hoped for and prayed for.
This lack of protection for my forebears began 140 years before these first 10 pioneering families left England to seek religious freedom in Australia. In England the Clarendon Code of four acts—the Corporation Act in 1661, the Act of Uniformity in 1662, the Coventicle Act in 1664 and the Five Mile Act in 1665—removed all protection for religious freedoms. The combined act of the Clarendon Code was that any worshippers who did not adhere to the 39 articles of the Church of England's Book of Common Prayer were called non-conformists and their religious meetings were outlawed, and any meetings or gatherings were punished with prison for the first and second offence, and transportation for the third offence.
Indeed, the MP at the time, Samuel Pepys, wrote in his very famous journal after watching men and women of faith hauled to the hulks and dragged to transportation. He said:
They go like lambs, without … resistance. I would to God they would … conform, or be … wise, and not be catched!
Furthermore, my ancestors, those nonconformists, were debarred from holding any municipal offices or places of trust in the state or the military. Their children could not attend Oxford or Cambridge or receive a degree. They could not be married except under the tenets of The Book of Common Prayer, and their children could not be registered at birth unless baptised by the Church of England. Back then, as a nonconformist Pentecostal Christian, I could never have gone to RMC Duntroon or held a commission in the military or served on military operations overseas or stood here as a member of parliament, not because of my citizenship but because of a difference of expression of faith in the grace of Jesus.
This is what happens when religious freedom is not protected. The Toleration Act of 1688 would provide some relief, as did the repealing of the Conventicle Act in 1689. However, the provisions of the 1662 Act of Uniformity were only modified and partly revoked by the Act of Uniformity Amendment Act 210 years later, in 1872. Indeed, history tells us that in 1793, nine years before my family embarked on that fateful journey of the first free-settling families and 70 years after the Clarendon Code, five politicians were tried and found guilty of sedition for having the temerity to campaign for universal suffrage and parliamentary reform. All five were transported to Australia—political martyrs, unfortunately, standing for freedom.
This was the backdrop, in 1802, of the first 10 free-settling families, 18 adults and a staggering 20 children aged one to 11 on a boat no bigger than a Manly ferry, arriving into one of the harshest climates known at the time. One of the families knew the captain of the Coromandel, hence their choice of ship. They were persecuted nonconformists, at least five of them in the same non-conformist church in England. They all left everything they knew. They left everything they loved to seek freedom from religious persecution. They despaired of finding any protection in England and Scotland, so they sought to come and build into a new nation where freedom of faith was axiomatic and where fear of being dragged into the dock because of one's religious views would never again rise.
Two hundred and sixteen years later, that same call for religious freedom once again finds voice. There should never be a time again when people of faith cannot believe or marry within their faith ordinances under fear of persecution, reprisal or the courts. That is not who we are as a nation or how we were settled. Protections are important. It is folly to think that the perversions of the past cannot be revisited on the promises of the future. They can be and they will be, unless faith based beliefs and norms surrounding marriage, children and education are protected by law. I, like all of us here, cannot foretell the future, but history is a portent of what the future will tell.
So I commend the amendments to the bill to the House, as I commend the Ruddock review of religious protections that will report next year. I commend the future 2018 religious protection bill to the House, noting that marriage was defined by God in the very cradle of civilisation, the Garden of Eden, where mankind was created. I also recommit myself to the task started by my family 216 years ago to continue to champion religious freedoms, rights and protections in our great nation and to hold that torch of freedom of faith for my generation.
I rise to speak in support of this marriage equality bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This is truly a great day because, with the passage of this legislation, it means that love wins. This is a bill and this is a debate that are essentially all about equal rights and fairness. The bill and parliament's support for it have been a very long time coming, and this is a day for which many Australians have worked so hard. It's a historic day for our parliament and, indeed, for our country.
I support marriage equality, as I believe that everyone should be able to marry the person they love. It's as simple as that. I voted for marriage equality when it came before the parliament in 2012 and I'll proudly vote in support of it again. What a great day it was on Wednesday, 15 November, at 10 am when we learnt that Australians had voted for equality; Australians had voted for love. It was a great day for LGBTI Australians and their families and friends, and a great day for our entire community, because extending and expanding any human right enriches all of our lives and our entire society.
As I said, this campaign's all about equality and rights. Fighting for equality and those rights were huge numbers of people right across the nation, who were able to deliver such a great result. In total, 7.8 million Australians, in a historic and overwhelmingly positive vote, said yes, and this was carried in every state and territory. One hundred and thirty-three of the 150 federal electorates recorded a majority 'yes' response, with a resounding 61.6 per cent across the country voting in support of marriage equality. I'm very proud that, in my electorate of Richmond, 67.9 per cent of people voted yes, recognising that equality matters. Indeed, my electorate had one of the highest numbers of 'yes' votes in New South Wales.
In terms of the campaign, I particularly want to acknowledge the activism of young people during the survey. So many of them got involved in a campaign for the very first time. They got on the electoral roll. They had conversations with family and friends. They campaigned hard. They worked hard to make this happen, because it mattered.
I also want to commend the Equality Campaign for their tireless work in recognising that all citizens have a right to marry the person they love. Their campaign comprised more than 15,000 volunteers who made over a million calls, knocked on over 100,000 doors and distributed more than a million stickers, 60,000 placards, 250,000 posters and five million leaflets. What an amazing effort! They helped organise the largest LGBTI rights rallies in Australia's history. I want to also commend the more than 2,000 organisations across Australia who registered their support for marriage equality. This great result demonstrates overwhelmingly that our families, friends and colleagues in the LGBTI community deserve to have their committed and loving relationships recognised under our law.
I've told the House before about friends who've had to marry overseas because they weren't able to be lawfully married here in their own country. I've spoken before about Wil and Paul from Mullumbimby, who were married under the British flag at the British consulate in Brisbane. I thank both of them for their continued advocacy for marriage equality in this country. Indeed, Wil's enthusiasm and support is truly inspirational. I've also told the House the story of two of my constituents and good friends, Julie and Cas, who were married in the United States in 2015. One of the most exciting aspects for them was the fact that they received a congratulatory message from then President Obama. I'd like to read that message to the House:
Congratulations to you on your wedding day. May this special time be blessed with love, laughter and happiness. We wish you all the best as you embark on your journey together, and we hope your bond grows stronger with each passing year.
This meant so much to them: the President of the United States endorsing and congratulating them on being married. At the time, Julie and Cas highlighted that this was in stark contrast to the current situation in Australia. I said in the House, in my original contribution:
If the White House can turn rainbow, then surely this House can do it too.
Just recently some very good family friends, Mary and Amanda, were married in Hawaii, and it was indeed a beautiful wedding, right next to the beach, as the sun was setting, at Waikiki. The ceremony so eloquently showed the couple's strong love and commitment to one another. It also captured the truly stunning magic and charm of Honolulu. We were so pleased to have been invited to share this special occasion with Mary's and Amanda's family and friends. Like all weddings, there was lots of good fun and laughter, but it did highlight that they should have been able to lawfully have this great occasion, their wedding, at home, at any one of the equally stunning locations we have here. With the passage of this legislation, they and others will soon be able to rightfully get married in Australia.
We in Labor opposed the plebiscite, the postal survey, for very good reasons. We opposed it not just because of the cost but because of the damage we knew it would cause and, in fact, did cause. It was distressing to learn that across Australia there was an increase of between 20 and 40 per cent in calls to many LGBTI helplines and mental health services. It was upsetting to hear about the number of unauthorised and factually-incorrect leaflets distributed by the 'no' campaign and the many cruel emails and some social media posts. We opposed the survey because we didn't want to put people through the pain that we knew they would inevitably suffer because of the survey. We wanted this decision to go to the parliament, to have the determination made here.
We didn't want the postal survey, but when it was forced upon us we fought passionately for equality and the right for all Australians to be equal under the law. Quite frankly, it was not right that Australians were asked to vote on whether their fellow citizens deserve equal rights. It was hurtful and insulting to so many of those in the LGBTI community. But once the decision was made and the postal survey was in place, we in Labor were committed, rightly, to campaign very strongly for this great result, and I commend everyone I know in my area who worked very, very hard to make sure we had a resounding 'yes' vote—which was returned. A lot of people in the community worked extremely hard because we wanted to make sure we had a strong voice and we had a strong result, which did occur.
Of course, the recognition of same-sex relationships is an issue for many people; it is a struggle that has gone on for decades, and it's been a very painful journey over a long period of time for many people and for a diversity of reasons. It has been very harmful and very hurtful. Indeed, it has been very harmful and very hurtful for many young people as well; it has been very difficult and challenging for them in terms of coming out to their family and friends about their sexuality.
I'd like to take a minute to reflect on an issue relating to young people—that is, the issue of youth suicide. I want to do that from the perspective of my former job as a general duties police officer. As a police officer, one of the jobs my colleagues and I attended and investigated on far too many occasions was, very tragically, suicide involving young people. I know for a fact that on many occasions those young people had committed suicide because they were either being bullied because they were gay or because they were yet to come out and tell their family and friends, and were fearful of the rejection and discrimination that they may face. Of course, what is most tragic about youth suicide is the lost potential, the lost dreams, the lost ambitions. We as individuals and communities and governments have to do better. We must do better. This is a very real debate. It's about how people will be affected. It's about young people's lives, and we should always be very cognisant of that; we should remember that all the time. That's why all of us, as community leaders, have a responsibility to speak out regularly and publicly to support younger people and send them a very positive message to let them know they are valued, to let them know their relationships are valued and to let them know their families are valued.
The passage of this legislation does send such an important message about equality, and it's a particularly strong message that same-sex relationships are valued and they're recognised by the community. That is also what this legislation does. I'm proud of voting yes when it comes to this legislation, and I'm very proud that my electorate of Richmond overwhelmingly voted yes as well, which is certainly what people had said to me right throughout this campaign. Indeed over many years, many people in my community had certainly wanted to see this parliament address marriage equality and pass this legislation—particularly from the viewpoint of making sure that everyone's human rights were recognised.
I'm also very proud of my country for voting yes to equality, and doing so in such overwhelming numbers. It's wonderful. I certainly look forward to the number of weddings that will allow same-sex couples to declare their love as equal under the law. How wonderful that will be. And of course I'm very much looking forward to the number of weddings to be held in the most beautiful part of Australia, northern New South Wales. We look forward to many joyous occasions and many weddings. It already is the most popular part of Australia for weddings; many people go there for their weddings, so we are looking forward to so many more wonderful celebrations. Today in this parliament we have a remarkable achievement and, indeed, a historic event. It's a great day to be celebrating that love wins. It is wonderful, and I commend this bill to the House.
I rise today to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 that's before us. I actually voted no in the question that was asked in the postal survey. I guess I get to that point from my upbringing, from the community I live in, from the people around me and from my strong belief that marriage between a man and a woman has held Western civilisation in good stead for a long time. But, I've got to say, in the 10 years since I've got into this job and represented a large part of western New South Wales, my outlook has changed and broadened. I understand that life is not as simple and quite as black and white as some of us might think it could be. I have had conversations and I have built friendships with many same-sex couples right throughout my electorate. I have great respect for them and I have a great respect for the struggle that they've had over the years.
I have said that I would respect the wishes of my electorate and the wishes of the Australian people and so without hesitation I will be voting yes for this legislation. I believe that the clear majority of Australians support this change. The majority of my electorate support this change, even though the majority is not as high as in the rest of Australia. There's a large number, probably 40,000 or 45,000 people, in my electorate who voted no and so, with respect for their concerns, I will be looking at the amendments as they come through in the final stages of this bill and looking at the need to support religious freedoms, educational freedoms and the right of parents against discrimination. But, regardless of where that leads to, I'll be supporting a bill that represents the question that was asked of the Australian people. I think the idea of giving Mr Ruddock the imprimatur to look at issues that might arise is quite a good one. But the Australian people were asked a question and they delivered an answer. I will vote to reflect the answer they gave, and I will be supporting this bill.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. As one of the only seats in Western Sydney to vote yes, I want to place on record today the pride I have for my community who did so. I am proud that every day I come in here and speak of having the best people, who roll up their sleeves and work hard to get stuff done. This was an exceptional result for our community. I know that many people are unaffected personally by the discrimination which has prevented people in the LGBTI community from being married. It didn't affect everyone, but we had a large voter turnout. So to the people who weren't affected but who participated and supported the rights of everyone in our community, I want to say thank you.
Although I will always argue that discrimination affects us all, and all should be involved in honourably participating and counting when it comes to ending discrimination, I am also the first member to hold the marginal seat of Lindsay and declare my support publicly for marriage equality. I note that the former member, now out of office, holds a very big opinion, but she holds no power or weight. It's such a shame that she didn't provide any leadership on the issue when it counted or when it could have made a difference. Leadership is critical in this discussion. I didn't seek election to sit on the fence, or sway in the breeze or be swept up in popular decision making; sometimes hard and difficult decisions need to be made. Not every decision will please everyone all of the time but we must always do the least harm when making decisions. As a marginal seat holder, it would have been much easier for me to say nothing and do nothing, but that amounts to me being nothing—a zero contributor in this debate—and I didn't seek election in a hard-fought battle to do that. I want things to change. I want ours to be the best country, with the most generous hearts and open minds; not afraid to make change based only out of fear.
I do accept that changing stuff, remodelling the status quo, is scary for some people and that we should never, ever make a decision based on fear, division, scaremongering or the spreading of mistruths. This is why leadership in this is important. This wasn't an easy process, and many difficult conversations were had with people who wanted to talk about everything other than marriage equality—children of LGBTIQ Australians, their family structure, what's taught in schools and unicorns—although I never disagree with talking about unicorns. But marrying bridges was how ludicrous this public discourse actually became!
To those people who involved themselves and engaged respectfully, I say thank you.
After spending most of my life advocating, standing up for people and fighting for our community, I saw this debate as being no different from the other things that I have done: fighting to end inadequate disability services; making sure public places didn't discriminate against people with access issues; standing up for, and giving a voice to, people who are homeless in our community; and ensuring their needs are met. So, when it came to ending discrimination for so many people in Australia who needed it, there was no difficult decision to make.
I'm a Catholic—my children are also baptised—and I grew up respecting the Bible. What I learnt was to treat people with respect and with dignity and with inherent worth, no matter who they were. I accept that not everyone voted yes—that was their right—but religious freedoms are protected adequately by this bill. To all the people who voted no, I offer this: when we held Lindsay's 10th Welcoming the Babies event, recently, over 80 families came. It was during the thick of the marriage equality survey. A few days before it, my office received one of the saddest phone calls. It was from a mum, one of the two mums of a baby in our area who was registered to attend this event in a public place—at the local Westfield, in fact. She called to say they wouldn't be coming. They were not comfortable coming along because of the debate that was currently underway and the scrutiny placed on their family, their lives and their love for each other. She said: 'We don't feel safe. We're feeling a little bit vulnerable in our community right now.' This made me incredibly angry, but it also made me overwhelmingly sad that, in 2017, two adult women in our own community felt the pain, rejection, persecution and judgement so badly that they excluded themselves from a community event. Nothing in the Bible or my religious teaching ever said that this was okay, no matter who you happened to be. To those mums, I say this: I hope you feel safe, more accepted and part of our community, once and for all, when we pass this bill and finally end all the forms of discrimination that you have endured.
I say to my friend and basketball teammate Sam and to her partner, Kirsty—I never miss an opportunity to mention basketball in here!—that I have never felt more ashamed as a person than when I stood next to you and your boys under the big 'no' message painted in the sky at our children's basketball presentation. It was a hateful reflection of discrimination that your love and your family could be so demeaned at a community event and in such a public display. That moment will stay with me forever. Worse than that were the judgemental conversations that we overheard, the judgement that spiked and how you must have felt, which would have been incredibly difficult. As always, though, you handled it with grace and dignity. To your boys, who had to endure that among their peers: I am so sorry that the attention and the value of your mums' love for each other is so hard for other people to accept.
I offer this to those people who think their freedoms are being trashed by creating a more equal society. To the families of those who didn't make to it see an end to the last form of discrimination levelled at our LGBTIQ community because their loved one could no longer withstand the hurt, the hate and the harassment: I can only imagine that this victory is bittersweet as, for years, you were forced to watch your loved ones accept the hate and bullying that LGBTIQ people have had to endure; they have been five times more likely to die by suicide than those who are not in the LGBTIQ community. There are those whose shoulders carried the weight and suffered as a result of discrimination. And there are those who never lived to see the day when their love was finally accepted and recognised. I want us all to remember those people and their grieving families and never forget the battle it has been to get here. I want us all to remember those who paid the ultimate price for simply being who they were. And with not just this discrimination but with every single piece of discriminatory practice we still involve ourselves in—most notably, those against our first nations people—let's remember this debate and how it feels to end discrimination finally and move forward as a community ending it now rather than later. There is so much more power in inclusion and acceptance and diversity.
To my gay friends in committed relationships—Dan and Chris; the men we met at dinner; Devillers and Craig; and my comrades Steve and Hayden—whose love has been solid for years: congratulations to you for withstanding hate for so long and also for finding someone to love. Thank you for standing up for those people younger than you, less experienced and still questioning their sexuality, for whom this debate has been tough.
Since the announcement of this survey, I have been concerned for the welfare of all of the young people who aren't yet old enough to have been in long-term relationships. There has been a spike in mental health referrals of about 40 per cent since the announcement of the survey and, for this reason alone, I never supported the use of $122 million of taxpayer funds to conduct an opinion poll on other people's love, care and respect for one another. I will always resent that it was done. I cannot understand why other people feel that it is their right to pass judgement over the relationships of other people.
I do, however, take heart that the overall sentiment of Australians is positive, that our country is in front of the parliament and government, that this government is behind and that it's those in here playing catch-up with what our communities actually want. So to the young people in my community and right around Australia who have been struggling to figure out their own sexuality and to understand why the storybook tales of living happily ever after with someone of the opposite sex didn't make sense to you: please take heart that they have had their say and they voted overwhelmingly to accept your love, your diversity and your sexuality. To the young people who I have the pleasure of knowing, Mitch, Mat, his partner, Mat—not confusing at all!—Elissa, Kate, Vanessa and Chauntelle: I look forward to watching your relationships and your love blossom as this country finally matures.
To my colleagues who led the way long before I got here: thank you for being honourable and progressive—in particular, Penny Wong, Louise Pratt, Julian Hill and those opposite for whom the debate is personal. Sometimes, as much as we try, politics is personal. I know something of that and the toll that it takes. Thank you for your courage to be yourselves and share your talent and your skills with us.
Lastly, to Nita Green and Sally Rugg, two of the unsung heroes of this campaign, for whom this survey was deeply personal and also confronting at times: thank you for your tireless work for those in the LGBTI community, to make them feel accepted, and for teaching those who don't accept and respect other people's love how it's done. I'm incredibly proud to know you both. As I always say, no freedom till we're equal—damn right I support it.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
In my electorate, the people of Kooyong have spoken loudly in favour of same-sex marriage: 63,592 people, or 73.7 per cent of responses, voted yes, well above the national average of 61.6 per cent and the Victorian average of 64.9 per cent. Kooyong had the fifth highest 'yes' vote in the state and the equal highest participation rate, with Goldstein, at 86 per cent. Despite the doubters, the postal plebiscite has been a huge success and given added legitimacy to this important social reform for our country. Everyone has had the opportunity, as I have had, to have their say and to do so in a respectful, democratic way. It is now the job of the parliament to act on the will of the people.
At a personal level, I am very pleased, as no doubt many in our community are, about the result, as I have undergone a journey on this issue. Initially, I was hesitant about the need for change, but, after meeting and hearing from so many constituents about their own personal experiences and relationships, I have recognised that there is a need to move forward. I met with parents and grandparents of gay children, siblings with gay brothers and sisters, and gay couples who were deeply in love, not to mention the many people who were in heterosexual relationships who came to speak to me on behalf of their gay friends. It has been an issue that has cut across all demographics, irrespective of age, religion and race.
I remember the passion and the purpose of a delegation of Kew High School students who, with more than 200 of their classmates, had signed a petition supporting change—not to mention the strength of Father Chris Middleton, rector of Xavier College in my electorate, one of the most prestigious Catholic schools in the country, who said:
In my experience, there is almost total unanimity amongst the young in favour of same-sex marriage, and arguments against it have almost no impact on them.
… … …
They are driven by a strong emotional commitment to equality, and this is surely something to respect and admire … They are idealistic in the value they ascribe to love, the primary gospel value.
Just today I met with Jacqui Tomlins and her partner, Sarah, who together with their beautiful children, Corin, Scout and Cully, are here in the chamber. They took the extraordinary step of getting married in Canada and have raised their children in my electorate. I've had an ongoing discussion with Jacqui and Sarah since first meeting them soon after I was elected back in 2011. After being together for 25 years, they are so excited about this prospect of soon being legally married in Australia. What Jacqui and Sarah exemplify, like so many others like them, is a lifelong, loving commitment to each other, and there is no reason why this should not be recognised as a marriage under our law. Their marriage in no way diminishes mine. In fact, it strengthens the community as a whole and the institution of marriage.
Sir Robert Menzies, a former member for Kooyong, who no doubt lived in a different time, where views may have been different on this particular issue, said:
I do not believe that the real life of this nation is to be found either in great luxury hotels and the petty gossip of so-called fashionable suburbs … It is to be found in the homes of people who are nameless and unadvertised, and who, whatever their individual religious conviction or dogma, see in their children their greatest contribution to the immortality of their race. The home is the foundation of sanity and sobriety; it is the indispensable condition of continuity; its health determines the health of society as a whole.
This is what Jacqui and Sarah and so many like them represent: the health of our community by the strength of their family and the love in their home. What I have felt as a parent—and no doubt what every parent wants for their children—is simply for them to have a life of love and happiness. To have this is a blessing, and we should wish this for everyone.
I do also accept that while nearly eight million Australians voted yes, nearly five million Australians voted no. They did so for a variety of reasons, including matters of faith. We need to be at all times respectful of these views and the strength with which they are held. I do believe in the need for some protections in the bill and will be considering these on their merits, particularly around parental rights. And it is disappointing that those members opposite have not provided all their members with a free vote in both the House and the Senate.
We have come far in our community over a number of years in removing discriminatory provisions, whether they relate to medical benefits, tax, employment or superannuation. And soon, in this place, we will be removing the discrimination against same-sex couples in relation to marriage. My message to those who seek to formalise their union in marriage: we respect you; you belong to the community; we do love you. And now this is a time to rejoice in the fact that the Australian people have spoken so loudly. This has been Australian democracy at its best, and now our community will be much stronger for the future. Thank you.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
I'm very proud to report that in the recent marriage equality survey 81 per cent of people in Kingsford Smith participated, and 64.1 per cent voted yes in favour of marriage equality; that is above the national average. I'm honoured to be here today to represent our community's voice on this very important issue, and to cast my vote in favour of marriage equality. It's an uplifting way for this parliament to finish the year and I'm very proud to represent our community's voice on this issue.
I have been a long-time supporter of marriage equality. I voted for marriage equality in 2012 when I was a senator when that bill was brought on in the Senate. But, like many, I wasn't always a supporter of this issue. My views changed in the late 1990s when my brother, Chris, told me and our family that he was gay. That changed my view on everything. I saw this issue, and many other issues for the LGBTI community, in a different way, through a different lens. I began to see the discrimination that existed in many parts of our society towards gay and lesbian people. I began to see that this issue was a breach of human rights. I began to see the misery and unhappiness that was being perpetrated upon LGBTI people in our community by the nature of our laws, and by the way our culture and society worked at that time. And I saw the effects that that had on people's physical and mental wellbeing. And I couldn't understand how denying the right of two people who love each other and the expression of that love through marriage could prevail in Australia. I saw the effect that that was having on our fellow Australians.
So I changed my view in the late 1990s about this issue and became a supporter of marriage equality. But at the time I was well aware that I was still in the minority in terms of Australia's views. But the great thing has been watching the shift in the views of Australians over the course of the last decade and the feelings and sentiments and the changes in those feelings and sentiments towards gay and lesbian Australians, and the advances that we have made as a society. I was very proud when the previous Labor government, the Gillard government, removed about 80 pieces of discrimination in various Australian laws, led by the Attorney-General at the time, Robert McClelland, to remove discriminatory parts of our laws related to superannuation, taxation and health.
It's been pleasing to see the cultural and social change in Australia around this issue. If you look at the gay mardi gras that occurs in Sydney every year, when those who were first involved in that mardi gras participated in it, they were arrested by the police. Their names were published in TheSydney Morning Herald and great shame and burden was brought upon those people by those actions. But the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is now one of Sydney's greatest events. It's a highlight on the Sydney event calendar, a great tourism boon and an economic powerhouse for Sydney and this nation over the course of that week.
Australia has changed for the better over the course of the last decade on this issue. It's now time that the Australian parliament caught up with the Australian public and the rest of Australia and also changed for the better. It's time to eliminate one of the final pieces of discrimination that exist in our laws—the right of gay and lesbian people to express their commitment and love for one another through the sacrament of marriage. Marriage is the pinnacle expression of love in our society and in our laws, and it has been denied to so many because of how they were born and because of their sexuality. At its very heart it is discrimination. It is unfair. It pervades a feeling that people don't belong. It creates distress, shame and guilt. The Australian people now want to change this. They want to remove the discrimination, the hurt and the suffering. They want to let LGBTI people know that they belong. You are a part of our society and you deserve the right, like every other Australian, to express your love for one another through the sacrament and the law of marriage. The Australian people want you to live happier lives. We're saying to the gay community that you have the right to express your love through marriage, like every other Australian, and it's incumbent upon this parliament to deliver that change. I'm firmly of the belief that we will do this over the course of the next 24 hours. In six months time, in a year's time, in two years time, we will look back and think, 'God, what was all the hassle and fuss about?'
To those in the Kingsford Smith community who voted no, I respect your decision. There are many reasons why people hold views and have voted no in this survey. I've had many conversations with people in our community about those reasons. I've replied to all of the letters and emails I've received on this issue. I have been respectful and pointed out the reasons why I have been a long-term supporter of marriage equality, why I will vote for equality and why I voted for it in the past in the parliament.
Many of those who contacted me told me they were voting no on the basis of their faith and religious beliefs. I want to say to those people that I support the notion of freedom of religion—it's enshrined in our Constitution, in section 116—and I support the right of churches to refuse to solemnise a same-sex marriage. But to those who are concerned about this issue I say that this bill provides the necessary and adequate protection for those religious freedoms. In fact, it is very clearly pointed out on the first page of this bill, which states:
It is an object of this Act to create a legal framework:
… … …
(c) to allow equal access to marriage while protecting religious freedom in relation to marriage.
It can't be any clearer in those words, and the details contained later in the bill provide that protection for religious freedom. It couldn't be any clearer, and this bill comprehensively protects religious freedom. On that basis, there is no need to amend it further. There is no need for this parliament to amend what is proposed here today, and the amendment moved by the member for Warringah should not proceed on that basis.
In conclusion, I thank the LGBTIQ community of Kingsford Smith for the dignity, the strength and the courage that you've shown throughout the period of this survey and particularly those who've been campaigning on this issue for decades. In the lead-up to the issue of the plebiscite coming before the parliament, I sat down with members of the Kingsford Smith LGBTI community and I said to them, 'What do you want me to do in terms of my vote in the parliament on the issue of a plebiscite?' They were very clear. They didn't want the plebiscite to go ahead, because of the hurt and the fact that the rights of Australians were going to be determined by a public vote. That was new ground for this country. I respected that view, and I said that I would vote against a plebiscite in this parliament. I stand by that view and I think it was the right view to hold. I thank those who had the courage and conviction to contact me and to point out their views on this issue.
I particularly thank those who've been campaigning on this issue for decades: those that faced persecution, those that lost their jobs because of their personal views on this issue. Your courage and your conviction have been vindicated. And I want to give a special mention to Alan, who is in the gallery today and has travelled all the way from Maroubra to be here to see this historic vote. Alan, thank you so much for the work that you've done in our community on this issue. I hope you get to enjoy the Australian parliament voting in favour of marriage equality over the course of the next 24 hours. You're a great representative of the views of many in our community.
Finally, I thank the people of Kingsford Smith for the respect that they've shown each other during the course of the debate and, importantly, for voting yes in such overwhelming numbers. It really is why I love representing the community that I grew up in and that I have been a part of for my whole life. I'm very, very proud to express their views and cast my vote in support of marriage equality in this parliament. After that, I know Kingsford Smith and Australia will be a little bit happier. We'll all go into the Christmas break feeling a little bit better about ourselves, and that is a great thing. I'm very, very happy to commend this bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
I did not come into politics to be a cultural warrior. I didn't come into politics with the intention of imposing my morality on others. I most certainly didn't come into politics to lead the charge, one way or the other, on the question of same-sex marriage. I had other objectives in mind when I decided to abandon my first career for a parliamentary career. Mostly I came here to strengthen Australia as a country offering extraordinary opportunities and freedoms to all our citizens.
I don't consider my personal view on the issue of same-sex marriage as more or better informed than anyone else's. Each and every one of my constituents has their own view about this matter, and I have always thought, 'Who am I to judge any person, let alone any constituent, on this question?' Same-sex marriage is a personal, individual question of values. Each person, whether for or against, has views on the matter formed by his or her own life experiences and is capable of reaching an opinion on the question of same-sex marriage without any expert assistance whatsoever. We do so by reference to our own moral compass. Some people do so by reference to a religious conviction, others without requiring a religious framework at all. As I said, I judge no-one on this matter.
There are valid moral arguments on both sides of this debate. Anyone who cannot acknowledge that is essentially, I believe, a deeply intolerant person. For this reason, since before I was even preselected to run in Hume back in 2012, I said that I would follow the views of my electorate on this issue. That was well before any idea of a national vote on the issue was even on the table. When the idea of a national plebiscite arose and then turned into a postal vote, I immediately committed to voting in the parliament in accordance with the national vote in order that a national vote not be frustrated.
Now, I acknowledge that my approach is at odds with the Burkeian proposition that in a representative democracy in the Westminster system:
Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
This proposal that a representative does not and should not capitulate on every matter to authoritative instruction from his electorate is a very good rule of thumb, but in rare issues of pure morality and values where no expert opinion is of any assistance, where it is a matter of pure personal judgement, such as it is in this case in my view, I believe the sound idea is to seek to follow one's constituents rather than to lead them.
I congratulate the 'yes' campaign on their win, and I fully accept that the nation and my electorate have had their say and have voted yes. For those who have argued in favour of this for a long time, including old friends of Louise and me, I offer my sincere congratulations. In accordance with my pledges in connection with my own constituency, and in accordance with the national vote, I will support the passage of this bill through the House.
I personally voted no. I do have strong Christian beliefs—these have informed me throughout my life, and they will always guide me—but the decision to vote no did go beyond this. We've seen heinous acts against people because of their sexuality, acts that should never ever be repeated. I don't want to see similar acts against those with strong beliefs, often religious beliefs, about the definition of marriage. We've seen these things happen to good people who take a different view on the definition of marriage in other jurisdictions. People have been harmed as a result of their contrary views about same-sex marriage. We know that people have lost jobs, have been kicked off boards, that charities have closed down, that faith-based schools have had their registrations threatened, that fundamentalist Christians have had their businesses destroyed because they take a different view. They have been harmed merely for taking a different view and expressing it. This, in my view, is an intolerable situation in a representative democracy, just as bullying based on sexuality is intolerable. I will always fight against both.
Central to my personal vote was Labor's intransigence and clear intention to deny its members a conscience vote on speech and religious freedoms and parental choice. We know that roughly the same number of Australians who voted yes also want the protection of the freedom of those who believe in a traditional definition of marriage. The Smith bill does not offer adequate protection to those who voted no or the very large proportion of reasonable, fair-minded Australians who voted yes, relying on the promise that we would protect people who took a different point of view. So I believe that this should be a bill for all Australians, both those who voted yes and those who voted no. This has the potential to be a unifying moment for all Australians.
So, I will support sensible amendments to protect the freedoms of those who believe in a traditional definition of marriage. I expect these amendments will cover a range of issues. Most importantly, they should include protections for freedom of speech, protecting people such as Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania, who simply expressed his deeply held beliefs, despite state legislation limiting free speech in this area. The amendments should protect charities that favour the traditional definition of marriage against attempts to take away their status recognised by the government. The amendments should protect employees who have a traditional definition of marriage. They should not be, in any case, victimised for their beliefs. The amendments should include freedom from being required to express or associate with or endorse a statement or opinion about marriage which is inconsistent with a person's or organisation's genuine religious or conscientious convictions about marriage. The amendments should include freedom for parents to choose how their children are educated on this important issue.
In Australia and in jurisdictions overseas, the experience is that individuals and organisations that support traditional marriage can and will be subjected to discrimination and detrimental action because they hold, express or lawfully act on these convictions. Unfortunately, as I've said, the international experience shows that, unless changes are made, disputes and lengthy, costly litigation are absolutely inevitable. Interestingly, we are seeing a Supreme Court case in the United States being heard, as we speak, on exactly this issue.
In all common law countries other than Australia, there are statutory or constitutional bills of rights that provide for freedom of speech and freedom of religion. I don't believe in bills of rights. But the point I make is that protections exist in all of these countries. We have the ability to put them into specific legislation—not a bill of rights but specific legislation—to provide equivalent protections for this country, just as there are in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.
It's crucial to note that the proposed amendments that I have outlined in my speech protect individuals, businesses and organisations which support traditional marriage against discrimination and detrimental conduct that has been initiated against them. The amendments do not license supporters of traditional marriage to discriminate against same-sex married couples or people of same-sex orientation in any way that is not already permitted under Commonwealth law. The only exception to this in the amendments is the discussion on the non-minister or marriage celebrants which extends the Smith provision to be consistent with the Senate select committee's report and, of course, international law.
We should support this bill but we should also support amendments that provide for genuine protections of religious belief, freedom of speech and parental choice.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
A story in The Border Mail, my local paper, on Tuesday, 16 November, said: 'Remember when gay meant happy? Well, that was yesterday'—a full page, with rainbow colours. There was 'elation as gay couples finally feel acceptance'. 'The people of border and north-east have spoken along with the majority of Australians demanding marriage equality. With 63.1 per cent of Indi electorate voting yes in the same-sex plebiscite, voting in the north-east was higher than the national average of 'yes' votes of 61.6 per cent.' In Farrer, my neighbouring electorate, it was lower, but still a majority of 55.2 per cent. The border LGBTI community gathered in Wodonga for the result, with most describing it as a 'sense of relief'.
Colleagues, today in this House I join my voice with those of the Senate, the Attorney-General and others, in saying that there is no place for discrimination in my country. In my speech today I'd like to focus particularly on young people in my electorate and the role they have played in the Indi vote. I'd like to share with you some of the lessons learnt. I'd also like to make a small note about organised religions and the role they have played and I'd like to finish with some personal observations of this campaign.
But I will start with the young people in my electorate of Indi. I want to make a huge call-out and thank you. I would particularly like to reference Georgina Ridley, who, in April 2013—when I first put my hand up to stand as the member for Indi—organised to have a meeting with me and her year-12 year and said, 'Cathy, my friends and I will support you, but first: what's your opinion about marriage equality?' And I was stumped. Of all the things that we could be talking about, why was this important? But Georgina was persistent. She said, 'Cathy, this is really important to us.' So I said, 'Of course I support marriage equality.' And I think in those words I really didn't understand what I was opening myself up for. Georgina and her friends then got organised.
I have to say the reason why I'm in this parliament today is because the young people of north-east Victoria organised. They wanted a member of parliament who would stand up in this place today and vote yes. Sure, there were other issues, but that was the defining one. Georgina and her friends made videos, and they did social networking and, I have to say, they became politicised. The wonderful thing is: the politicisation of the young people in north-east Victoria doesn't mean they all support me but it does mean they pay attention to politics and they pay enormous attention to what this House does and says. So my yes vote is particularly for the young people of north-east Victoria. I hope that you take great courage in what you have done and you apply that energy and enthusiasm equally to climate change, to our environment and to making sure that this country becomes and reaches its potential to be fair and equitable to everybody.
And in acknowledging the young people, I'd also like to bring to the attention of the House the work of the Victorian government, and particularly Ro Allen as the Equal Opportunity Commissioner for the terrific work she did with the rural and regional LGBTI roadshow. I would like to thank her and the Victorian government for supporting and encouraging the young LGBTI community of Victoria as this survey took place. Ro, I acknowledge you and thank you for your work. I love the work that you do.
The next group of people I'd like to briefly address in my presentation today is the Anglican Church in Wangaratta. I request leave to table a letter from the Bishop of Wangaratta and I'd like to speak briefly to it.
It was written on 15 November and is signed by the Right Reverend John Parkes AM, Bishop of Wangaratta, an Anglican bishop. In his letter to me, he shares great wisdom and encourages me to vote yes. I would particularly like to bring this to the debate. Of the Anglican Church, he says, 'It is fair to say that we have not always undertaken the task of sensitive listening well across our church. On occasions we have been more ready to talk to, or perhaps at, rather than listen to our brothers and sisters. And some of our language has been less kind, less respectful and less dignified. Words have power, and wrongly chosen words can do damage.'
In referring to organised religion and the role it's played in this debate, I want to put out a call of recognition particularly to the churches in my electorate. We have had disagreement on this topic but that doesn't mean we don't bring to bear that fundamental Christian tenet of love your neighbour as yourself. And I think we've got a lot of work to do in our community in how we can actually enact that in all ways, shapes and forms. I'd like to think that we could let the argument end and that we could move on to a place of choosing our words carefully and actually listening to each other as we make our community, particularly in north-east Victoria, one where that gospel message of 'thy kingdom come' actually exists in our community and where we do love each other as the call of Christ is for us. We have some work to do there, I think.
I'd briefly like to talk about my personal experience in this campaign. Like many others in the House, this is a lovely opportunity to be able to talk about what I have learnt. In referencing my personal experience, I want to talk about the journey I have been on from when Georgina first asked me if, as a politician, I would vote for marriage equality, to the personal growth that's happened to me as I've had to change many of my fundamental precepts. This is because it's not just about marriage equality; it's actually about gender and how we express gender in our community. I have always been a feminist and I have always—since I was 12, I think—discovered that my brothers and my sisters perhaps got treated differently and that the men in my family behaved differently to the women. I have always struggled with what it was about me being a woman that made me different. Why couldn't I be accepted without a gender attached? And it was a huge fight in my growing up not to be seen as a girl or a lady. I wanted to be seen as myself and to be able to make my way in the world.
As I got older, and with the wisdom of other people in my life, I have come to understand that being a woman is my competitive advantage and I work with it. But the idea of defining someone by their gender still irks me. I don't like it when people say 'boys and girls' or 'men and women'. I really want to be accepted for myself. Here I want to say how much I appreciate my young nieces and nephews—and just let me point out the sexism of that phrase, 'nieces and nephews'. Where's the non-gendered description for children of your sisters and brothers? There isn't one, but there's 'cousins', which is non-gendered. Anyhow, to the nieces and nephews of my family: thank you for your patience and tolerance as you've taught this old aunt a great deal.
Here's what I want to say to the House: one of the big things that young people have taught me as this debate has gone on is that there's such a thing as gender fluidity. It's a spectrum. There are some people who are clearly male-female attached. There are other people in our community who are clearly female-female or male-male attached and there are other groups of people who are much more fluid. As I have gone on this journey with young people not only in my family but also the gender identity group in Wodonga and the other young people who have taken me into confidence, I have come to understand how complex it is to manage gender fluidity. I want to put on the record that I have learnt a lot, and I'd like to share a few of those learnings with the House today because it's not only about marriage equality; it's about how we in our lives move to accept people whose gender definition is different from ours.
The little bit of learning I'd like to share with my colleagues today is about pronouns. As this program was going on, some of the young people in Wodonga and some of my nieces and nephews said, 'Cathy, you really need to understand about pronouns.' I said, 'What is it about pronouns?' They said, 'You know how you talk about "he" or "she"?' I said, 'Yes.' They said, 'He is a man and she is a woman, but some of us don't fit those categories.' My poor old mind went into overspin: how could you not be he or she? And they took me on a journey so that today I can stand in this place and say that I get pronouns. Now I'm much more tactful, I hope, and say to people who are gender non-defined: 'Tell me your preferred pronoun. How would you like me to refer to you?' as opposed to making the assumption that they are male or female. When they share with me their preferred pronoun, letting me know that they might be transgender, genderqueer or gender fluid, they are giving me an opportunity of trust. Some people use a gender pronoun that identifies them as he or she. Some people use gender neutral pronouns that don't identify them as male or female: ze or ey. Some people change their pronouns. It's a bit like how you change your name when you get married. Some people change the use of their pronouns. This can cause enormous resistance. People like myself say, 'But you're either/or.' But in fact they're saying, 'No, we're not polarised.'
Why is this important and why do I bother to bring it to the House when we're talking about marriage equality? Because, for me, this legislation is not only about same-sex couples; it's about two people, however they define themselves. I've learnt, as I've moved through this, is that it's not up to me to do the definitions but to respectfully ask the people I'm talking to. At the end of this discussion, having been taken on this really important education program, I got to be super conscious of formal documents. Now, when it says 'male' or 'female', I look for 'other' because I understand there are a significant number of people—not necessarily young people—in my community for whom 'other' is the appropriate box to tick.
In bringing my comments to a close, I want to say how important this discussion has been for me as a discussion of listening and understanding. Also, how grateful I am that I have had the opportunity to go to most of the churches and the elder groups in my community to listen to them and to their objections to this legislation. I am with you. I will work with you to create in our communities love, understanding and tolerance. But I also will stand in this parliament and argue as long as I can for equality and for people to be accepted and treated as they need to be. I think we've taken a really good stance today on marriage equality and I'm looking forward to the rest of the debate, when all the LGBTIQ community know that they are accepted, that they can choose the pronouns that they want and that they will be welcomed into our community not as they, not as other, but as us.
So to Ivy, to Flick, to Maggie, to Leah, to Eliza, to Ben, to Franny, to Fergus, to Max, to Mia, to Anika, to Sarah and to all my nieces and nephews: thank you for bringing me on this journey, and I commit to stay with you for the distance.
The plebiscite on marriage is a coalition initiative, and it has allowed the whole nation to have its say on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. As we all now know, the answer to that question—79.5 per cent of the nation made the choice to have a say—was a resounding yes. Because 61.6 per cent of voters said yes, the private member's bill we have before us now, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, is being debated. A resounding majority said yes—7.8 million people—and 4.8 million said no.
I was among those who said no. In my state, New South Wales, almost 58 per cent said yes and 42 per cent said no. In my electorate of Lyne, 55.3 per cent said yes and 44.7 per cent said no. As I've already announced in my local media, I respect the view of the whole electorate and will not obstruct the view and sentiment of the majority of the electorate. I will respect their decision because it marries with the majority of the state and the nation. But I must also respect the views of the roughly 45 per cent of voters in my electorate who said no.
I have gone through my public, political and representative life holding the view that marriage is a foundational institution of all societies, defined by biology and heterosexual reality, and that it reflects the need for the human race to reproduce itself for our species to exist. Protecting the family unit, the weak and children is the basis of the family unit and it has stood the human race well. That never changes. But society has had a different view on what marriage is, and I will respect that.
The campaign has been mostly very civil and respectful; but, for some, respect has been a one-way phenomenon. Unfortunately, there were very aggressive responses to anyone who held the minority view in this case. There were threats of litigation or loss of employment. There were choruses of public shaming, which was meant to intimidate the minority who held, and still hold, traditional views on what marriage is. Respect and tolerance for opposing views are what I have always espoused. Unfortunately, what we saw in some sectors during this campaign was gross intolerance from those who were espousing tolerance. As a nation, we need to sort this problem out. We should use this as a unifying and uplifting moment rather than a source of continuing inimical discourse and frustration. To get unity across the whole nation is a really important issue that I will pursue.
Like I said, I will not obstruct the majority view of my electorate, but we do need to respect the views of individuals, parents, churches, schools and charitable organisations so that they know that they can continue to hold and have the freedom to hold their views and express their beliefs and values and not be sued or defunded on the basis of them manifesting their longstanding practices and beliefs.
The central tenets of Western liberal democracies are freedom of expression, thought, association and religion. Parental rights are amongst those, but they are not just a tenet of Western civilisation and Western liberal democracies; it's a feature of human life and the human race that parents have always guided their children and controlled their education. Once they're adults that's a different matter, but we need to make sure that those phenomena and those rights are respected.
So there will be amendments brought forward in this debate later, and I will be speaking in favour of them. On my discussions around the parliament, it appears that they won't get the support numerically. As many people have said, politics and what happens in place are manifestations of basic arithmetic. But we should not allow people to use this bill to suppress those rights that I have spoken about or to use it as a subsequent wedge to justify implementation of other practices and other agendas besides purely allowing same-sex couples to have a marriage ceremony and to have it called marriage. We don't want it to be a subsequent wedge to justify implementation of radical agendas such as the agenda to de-gender society. We have to have the clear understanding and the regulations and laws in place for the concerns of everyone and so we do generally have genuine tolerance for these opposing views. They're not mutually exclusive. We can have both. It's not one or the other. But we are now by this bill going to make it possible that people of the same sex can marry.
I would also like to remind people that we are not the only people who have advanced the cause of same-sex couples. Before we met in this place, in the period when John Howard was the Prime Minister, in federal legislation and state legislation there were 84 pieces of legislation changed to remove blatantly discriminatory practices, to clarify rights to inheritance, for legal recognition of civil unions of same-sex couples achieving de facto status and protections under the law and for matters of intestacy and inheritance. So many of the things that needed to be done have already been done, but this will complete the circle of what the majority of the nation, the state and my electorate want to happen.
I have to respect the views of my whole electorate. The 'no' vote was not small; it was 45 per cent of the electorate. I can't ignore their concerns and I can't become a hypocrite and then go against the things that I have always espoused and believed, but I won't obstruct the passage of this bill. It is a historic period in the time of this nation, and I'm very happy for all those people who advocated for 'yes'. It has lifted a cloud over a lot of their lives, and so in that regard I'm very pleased that it is where it is. But I am who I am and my beliefs remain what they are. Thank you.
I have spoken half a dozen times in this parliament in support of marriage equality. As an economist, we're often faced with public-policy decisions that involve trade-offs: one group made better off while another group is made worse off. This Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 debate, to my great delight, not one of those debates. This is a moment where a group of Australians will be made better off. Australians in same-sex relationships will have the opportunity to wed, and no-one will be made worse off. Heterosexual marriages, like my own, will not be weakened. Indeed, some may be strengthened, given that, as we know, some heterosexual couples have held off tying the knot until marriage equality becomes reality.
At the heart of what we're debating today are the stories—stories like Greg's and Lanny's, who wrote to me and showed me a picture from their wedding day on Lake Okanagan in Canada. They wrote to say that, after 23 years of partnership, they'd tied the knot in a ceremony that Greg said was everything they'd ever hoped for. Ian and Roger told me of getting married in the UK after being together for 40 years, and Ian recounted to me that he'll never forget his late mother crying tears of joy on him and Roger finally being married after so many decades of engagement. These couples should have the right to marry here in Australia and not have to travel across the world to the other advanced English-speaking countries which, almost without exception, have now made same-sex marriage a reality.
Another constituent, Alan, has been with his partner for 15 years. While he doesn't wish to marry, he feels his partnership has been devalued by being excluded from that choice. As he says: 'Legislation has an educative effect. As long as the Marriage Act excludes same-sex couples, I feel that it says that these relationships aren't as real or valid as heterosexual relationships.' Exclusion, in his words, 'isn't a victimless crime'. Having laws that tell people that they are worth less than others is one of the factors that leads to mental ill health and higher rates of suicide in the LGBTIQ community. We've seen, through this needless survey, an increase in calls to mental health support groups such as ReachOut.
Then there are the couples for whom marriage equality comes too late. Janis, a retired reverend of the Uniting Church who was never afforded the joy and rights that come with marriage, told me that her life partner passed away three years ago, and, in dealing with her partner's will, she was forced to declare herself 'never married', rather than the way she feels—widowed.
Marriage equality isn't just about rights for LGBTIQ people; it's about all Australians living in a society they celebrate. Upon becoming engaged to her fiance, Miranda, from Lyneham, expressed her deep frustration and disgust that her mother-in-law-to-be and her partner, and her uncle and his partner, wouldn't be able to express their love in the same way she that could, simply because they were gay.
As we look into the future, we can celebrate being a country that not only accepts but celebrates our diversity. Eight years ago, Pierre Roux arrived in what he rightly calls 'this incredibly amazing country', and last year he became an Australian citizen. He tells me he has had the most amazing journey to date and made beautiful friends, and he has found that one and only person he loves and wants to spend time with. He proposed in April. Now they're waiting to marry in the country they both call home.
Marriage equality is a necessity for the wellbeing of Australians and for their families. Anne-Marie dearly loves her grandchildren and her family. To her granddaughter Lily, there is no distinction between each of her grandmothers. She can't wait to be the flower girl at her grandmother's wedding.
For my own part, I served for a year as associate to Justice Michael Kirby, who has been with his partner Johan van Vloten for many decades. I learned from Michael Kirby more than anybody else, apart from my parents, and I hope that he and Johan will soon have the opportunity, if so they choose, to tie the knot. In my own family, I think of my uncle and his partner, who will be directly affected by this. There are so many friends, including people here in the ACT, who will be directly affected by the decision. I think of our Chief Minister, Andrew Barr, and his partner, Anthony Toms. I think, too, of couples such as the 31 same-sex couples who actually tied the knot four years ago next week under the ACT's short-lived marriage equality laws, which were then struck down when the Attorney-General, George Brandis, challenged those laws in the High Court.
A constituent of mine from a local Catholic college wrote to me in the following terms. She said:
My name is Hannah Mason, I am currently attending Merici College, Braddon.
… I have decided to write you to strongly express my support for same sex marriage. Love is love.
We should equally recognize the relationships of two people who love each other and choose to marry regardless of their gender.
That is what a modern Australia looks like to some of my fellow—
And she co-signed it with other Merici College students.
I have spoken at other schools in my electorate. Often I will get asked about marriage equality. Indeed, it's probably the most common question to come up in school forums. Often, before answering the question, I will ask them to put up their hands for those who support or don't support marriage equality. I see in ACT schools, including the local Catholic schools, overwhelming support for marriage equality. For generation Y and generation Z, this is a no-brainer. This is simply an extension of equality. My eldest son, Sebastian, 10 years old, said to me the other day that he just couldn't understand why we hadn't gotten marriage equality done. I have to say that I didn't have a very good answer for him.
In conclusion, I want to acknowledge those who've worked so hard to make this a reality—long-time campaigners such as Rodney Croome, Australian Marriage Equality's Tim Gartrell, Patrick Batchelor, Ashley Hogan, Joseph Scales, Georgia Kriz, Audrey Marsh, the extraordinary Jacob White, Nita Green, Wil Stracke, Emmanuel Cusack, Pat Honan, Donald Rhodes, Adam Knobel and Anda Mednis.
Here in Canberra I want to acknowledge UnionsACT, particularly Moira Cully; the CPSU, particularly Amy Knox; and the CFMEU and many other unions, including United Voice. Within our Labor family, I want to acknowledge Rainbow Labor and those within ACT Labor, particularly Pat Connell, James Koval, Matt Byrne and others in the party office. Of course, I want to acknowledge the unsurpassable Andrew Barr and the ACT government; Travis Jordan; at the Australian National University, the ANU Queer* Department, particularly Matthew Mottola; and ANU and University of Canberra students, particularly Hamish McLennan, Robert Baillieu and Hugo Ottesen.
I want to acknowledge the local businesses that have hosted parties, donated venues, goods and services and put placards of support in their windows. I want to acknowledge local organisations A Gender Agenda; the AIDS Action Council of the ACT; ACT Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, especially Dianne Hinton; Diversity ACT; and the P&Cs of schools in Fenner, and the local school students who have petitioned and met with me over recent years.
It's been a national campaign. I recognise the Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Wear it Purple, Rainbow Families and individuals such as Ivan Hinton-Teoh and Tiernan Brady, who jumped on a plane shortly after making marriage equality a reality in Ireland and has helped to achieve the same outcome here. Tiernan, you should be pretty damn proud of yourself.
I want to acknowledge the ACT citizen volunteers who stepped up to this campaign and, of course, the parliamentarians who have been there campaigning for equality for LGBTIQ rights for years—people such as Tanya Plibersek; Anthony Albanese; Senator Penny Wong; Senator Louise Pratt; our leader, Bill Shorten; and Stephen Jones, who in 2012 moved the first marriage equality motion in this House. I spoke in favour of it but unfortunately missed the vote because my third son, Zachary, was born on that very day of the vote, 19 September 2012. I assure marriage equality advocates that I did check beforehand whether it was going to come down to one vote. Having been assured it would not, I was at my wife's side for our child's birth. I acknowledge too Senators Janet Rice and Dean Smith for their hard work in the other place.
Finally, I want to address the concern about religious protections. I want to point out proposed section 47(3) in the bill. As the shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, has noted, there are clear protections in place. Proposed section 47(3) reads:
(3) To avoid doubt, a minister of religion may refuse to solemnise a marriage, despite anything in this Part or any law of a State or Territory, if any of the following applies:
(a) the refusal is consistent with the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of the religion of the minister's religious body or religious organisation;
(b) the refusal is made because of the religious susceptibilities of adherents of that religion;
(c) the minister's genuine religious or conscientious beliefs do not allow the minister to solemnise the marriage.
The bill does not need to be amended. It needs to be passed. We need to make marriage equality a reality at long last.
It is quite a significant occasion today to get up to speak on this Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. Clearly, the public vote endorsed a change to the definition of 'marriage', and there's no doubt that this parliament—there was no doubt in the Senate and certainly there is no doubt in the House of Representatives—will endorse the will of the people. It's no secret that I haven't been a supporter of same-sex marriage. Nevertheless, I won't be opposing this bill, notwithstanding its very deep flaws, because I respect the verdict of the Australian people as expressed in the postal plebiscite. And wasn't the plebiscite a great success? With nearly 80 per cent of eligible Australians voting, we have been absolutely vindicated in wanting to give them a say. It's quite shameful that so many individuals fought tooth and nail to deny Australians a direct say on this very significant social change. I suspect that, like so many of the elites on the left, they didn't believe that the Australian people could be entrusted with a decision such as this. We now hear the flowery words of everyone around the chamber about the quite resounding 'yes' result being a good thing. They are the same people who used every tactic and did everything in their power—indeed, they even took the postal plebiscite to the High Court, where they were unceremoniously turfed out—to try and deny the Australian people a say in the postal plebiscite.
I give particular credit, firstly, to former Prime Minister Abbott, who was the Prime Minister at the time when a determination of the coalition party room said that the Australian people, for a significant social change such as this, should get a say and should be the final arbiters of that decision. I also give great credit to Prime Minister Turnbull, who, in the face of a very unprincipled Leader of the Opposition, stood firm, took a commitment to the election, was endorsed by the Australian people, stared the opposition leader down and got it done. So I give great credit to Prime Minister Turnbull for everything he did to empower the Australian people to have their say. And they did, and they overwhelmingly endorsed a change to the Marriage Act to include same-sex couples.
Having said that, almost five million Australians voted no, and their voices also need to be heard in this chamber. We cannot have a political culture, in any way, shape or form, of winner takes all. Their views must also be respected. Whilst, on one hand, there's absolutely no question that the Marriage Act should be amended to allow same-sex couples to marry, the wishes and the views of those five million Australians, to the extent that they can simultaneously be respected, must be respected. In that sense, this chamber is here to represent 100 per cent of Australians, not the 60 per cent who voted yes and certainly not the minority of 40 per cent who voted no. To the extent that it's possible, we have to respect and represent all of those people.
The Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill, which we are speaking about today, acquits, quite rightly, our responsibility and obligation to change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry. Sadly, it falls hopelessly short of providing religious freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and parental rights—the sorts of freedoms, quite frankly, that were promised to the Australian people throughout the postal plebiscite process.
I take my hat off to and congratulate those in the 'yes' campaign who successfully argued, and convinced many millions of Australians who voted yes, that 'of course' religious freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, parental rights and thoughts would be protected. I think there are many millions of Australians who took them at their word when they said, 'No, this is just about allowing same-sex marriage couples to be married. There are no other consequences.' For that reason, I foreshadow that once the second reading stage concludes and we move into consideration stage I will be moving an amendment to further strengthen the religious freedoms in the bill. I will also be supporting a range of other amendments that I'm aware will be moved by my colleagues to acquit our obligation to represent all Australians where it doesn't conflict with what we're fundamentally doing in this bill, changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry.
Some have argued that no further amendments are necessary, because doing so seeks to address problems that don't exist. Sadly, these are the same people who, when arguing against the postal plebiscite in February last year, said that we shouldn't do it, because it would unleash a torrent of harassment and abuse towards gay and lesbian Australians. I suspect some of them sincerely felt that, but I suspect others used that as an excuse not to support the pathway to where we have arrived today.
Sadly, as many members have noted in this House, it turned out that most of that harassment and abuse came from some very extreme elements of the 'yes' case. I had no doubt during the campaign that decent, honest, well-meaning 'yes' voters would have cringed at half of those events where 'no' voters in particular were treated extraordinarily badly, but that does show there is a sizeable group that don't have tolerance for any other views and certainly don't have tolerance for the five million Australians who voted no. Some of these events included white powder being sent to the 'no' campaign offices; an attempted car bombing; death threats; activists harassing almost every 'vote no' event; threatening behaviour, in a couple of cases jumping on the stage at 'no' campaign events; calling for the death of 'no' voters; and, of course, the high-profile case of a 'no' voting teenager being sacked when she expressed her view on social media.
These are the examples that found their way into the media. I suspect there were countless others where an absolute intolerance was shown by, I think, a minority of those who were purporting to be 'yes' voters. They were a small minority, but a very damaging minority nonetheless. That's why this bill must do everything it can to acquit the promises that so many people in this chamber made that there would be no further consequences for religious freedoms, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of thought and parental rights.
In coming to this debate—a really significant debate in the time that I've been in this parliament—I had a look at my maiden speech and reflected on it. In that speech I spoke about the two greatest influences on my life—my family and my faith. It is clear to me that these two influences, for me personally, have also been the two influences that have had the most profound impact on our society. I think few can deny that. As an Australian of Lebanese descent, and a Maronite Catholic, I think I have greater insights into the hesitance of so many ethnic communities in supporting a change to the definition of marriage. As we saw from the results throughout the country—and I don't think it is controversial to say this—areas with a high proportion of people either born overseas themselves or with a parent or two parents born overseas overwhelmingly had a much lower 'yes' vote. A range of electorates, particularly throughout Western Sydney, had a very significant 'no' vote. The electorate of Blaxland, for example, had a 'no' vote in the 70s.
In reflecting on my faith and reflecting on my heritage as a first-generation Australian, I came across a very important quote from the Maronite bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay, who is the leader of my church. He said it more eloquently than me when he said the following: 'For us Maronites, our faith is more than just a set of beliefs. It is a way of life and a constant reminder of the persecution and hardships that our forefathers had to endure to preserve this faith and to pass it on to us. We hope and pray that Australia, this generous nation that has welcomed millions and millions of migrants, will continue to respect and protect the religious freedoms of all people.' That absolutely summed up, I think, the feelings of so many Australians in this debate, and I think it sums it up for them regardless of their faith, whether that be a Christian faith, Hindu, Sikh, Islamic, Buddhist or other. But so many of those communities have witnessed, seen firsthand, experienced and, in many cases, suffered the bitter consequences of religious intolerance and persecution. That is why so many of them today are absolutely begging that this House absolutely acquits our responsibility to conform to the overwhelming wishes of the Australian people and change the Marriage Act to allow same-sex couples to marry, but that, importantly, we live up to the commitments of so many and provide absolutely stringent religious freedoms—freedom of speech; freedom of thought; freedom of conscience—and protections for those who subscribe to a traditional view of marriage.
We've seen in so many jurisdictions around the world who draw on the same bodies of law that we do—the same international obligations on discrimination, antidiscrimination laws and human rights laws—that those who hold a traditional view of marriage suffer disadvantage in their society in a post-same-sex-marriage world. I don't think anyone in this chamber wants to see that. So, even if you think it's unnecessary, for the avoidance of doubt, I would be urging everyone in this chamber to support the amendment that I will move, and the amendments that I know many of my colleagues will move, to strengthen the freedoms in this bill. None of them are to provide any ability for discrimination against gay and lesbian Australians; they are just protections that provide those who hold a traditional view of marriage the comfort that they will not be harangued, harassed, or in some other way suffer a financial or legal disadvantage by holding on to their traditional views of marriage, because, as Bishop Tarabay said, for so many Australians, including me, these are deep-seated values. These are values and freedoms that brought so many communities to our country to start with. And, as Liberals and Nationals particularly, if we don't protect those freedoms, who will?
I am so relieved that, hopefully, by the end of this week we will have marriage equality in this country. It's with pride that I stand to make a contribution to the debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I'm proud that almost 68 per cent of Shortland electors who participated in the survey voted for marriage equality. The people of Shortland have overwhelmingly endorsed marriage equality. In fact, 62,455 Australians in Shortland voted yes. Our community participated and voted in favour of marriage equality well above the New South Wales and Australian averages.
This was a fabulous result, but it was an unnecessary result. Let us be clear: this non-binding postal survey was unnecessary, damaging and a waste of taxpayers' money. The government wasted $100 million outsourcing parliament's job. This policy of the survey was driven by the majority of the coalition party room's desire to oppose marriage equality—to delay, to obfuscate and to avoid doing their moral duty of debating an important issue. We just heard the contribution from the member for Deakin, which I won't reflect on other than to say that we didn't have a plebiscite when the Marriage Act was changed 20 times previously to this. We didn't have a plebiscite when no-fault divorce was introduced into this country. We did haven't a plebiscite when IVF was debated, when RU 486 was debated or when the state parliaments debated decriminalising homosexuality. Not a single one of those required a plebiscite or a non-binding postal survey, yet they were undeniably issues of fundamental morality equal to what we're debating now. That proves that this entire thing was a sham to paper over the cracks in the coalition party room, and the Prime Minister now claiming that this process was a triumph is disappointing and quite pathetic.
I don't seek to be overly partisan in my contribution. I want to acknowledge and praise the courage and principle of the members for Leichhardt, Brisbane, North Sydney and Goldstein and Senator Dean Smith, who have been courageous, brave and principled in their approach. However, the Prime Minister's speech demonstrated a complete unawareness of the hurt that this survey has caused. The National LGBTI Health Alliance report presented a sobering reminder of the negative impact the postal survey had on already vulnerable groups of Australians. The report revealed that almost 80 per cent of LGBTI Australians and almost 60 per cent of supporters said they'd found the marriage equality debate considerably or extremely stressful. LGBTI Australian respondents' depression, anxiety and stress increased by more than one-third after the announcement of the vote, compared to the six months before the announcement. In addition, LGBTIQ phone counselling service QLife recorded a more than 20 per cent increase in the number of calls during the survey period. This is the legacy of the non-binding postal survey.
But we are where we are now. This debate fundamentally is about discrimination. Anytime we fight and eradicate discrimination for one group, we enrich everyone. We make society a better place. I'm principally descended from Irish Catholics. As such, I'm acutely aware of entrenched discrimination. I'm acutely aware of the use of the state through both legal and informal means to entrench discrimination. The current definition of 'marriage' is discriminatory. It prohibits an entire group of our fellow Australians from making a decision to marry their partner that, currently, heterosexual Australians are free to make. In the case of the institution of marriage, LGBTI Australians do not enjoy access to the same rights and privileges that heterosexual Australians do. It is a fundamental right. Surely, people who want to commit to spending their life together, to loving and looking after each other and maybe having a family as well, will greatly strengthen the fabric of our society? The proudest day of my life, besides the birth of my two kids, was when I got married to my wife. This feeling is probably one of the most common amongst human beings, and it's a feeling that should not be denied to LGBTI Australians. That's why I was a consistent advocate for marriage equality prior to being elected in 2013. I've always been very open with constituents and anyone who's inquired that, if this issue gets debated in parliament, I will be voting yes.
Regarding the foreshadowed amendments to protect so-called religious freedoms, I say this to those who want to move those amendments: this bill is not about Safe Schools, this bill is not about telling parents what they can teach their children and this bill does not compel churches to change their views or the way they preach their views. This bill is an instrument to simply remove discriminatory clauses in the Marriage Act. It does nothing more than that. It contains adequate protections for religious organisations. It creates a new class of religious celebrants, which I must state I am uncomfortable with. If I were writing the legislation, I wouldn't include that, but I understand the importance of that to people and, as such, I will support it.
But I will not support any measure that weakens our discrimination laws. I will not support any attempt to allow commercial vendors to discriminate against one group of Australians. This push is no different to bars banning Indigenous customers. This push is no different from employers refusing to employ Catholics, and that is why I am opposed to the amendments. I am opposed to anything that weakens the discrimination laws in this country.
In the time remaining, I want to reflect on how Labor has arrived at our position. It is a history that is very mixed. I am not seeking to be triumphant or to claim that Labor is the only political organisation to fight discrimination. However, I do want to point out the following: it was a Labor government that first decriminalised homosexuality. Of the seven states and territories that decriminalised homosexuality through legislation, five were Labor governments. The Keating government took significant steps around LGBTI rights, and I am proud that the Rudd government removed discrimination against same-sex couples from 85 federal laws. In 2012, the Labor member for Whitlam, Stephen Jones, introduced a marriage equality bill, and Labor allowed a conscience vote for its members. However, it failed due to the coalition binding its members. So I will not be lectured to by the coalition, that somehow they are the reason we are having marriage equality in this country. This is a history I'm proud of. However, we should not skate over the bigotry and the prioritisation of political self-interest that was the approach of some in the Labor Party. It is a disgrace that it took until 2011 for Labor's official platform to support marriage equality.
I want to acknowledge and thank the many Labor activists who fought for marriage equality both within and without the party for decades. These include, but are not limited to: Senator Penny Wong, the member for Grayndler, the member for Griffith, the member for Whitlam, the member for Sydney, Senator Louise Pratt, Penny Sharpe MLC and former senator John Faulkner. I apologise to anyone who I missed on that list. I want to thank and applaud all members of Rainbow Labor, including founding convener, Ryan Heath, who I had the privilege of working with in a past life. In particular, I want to say to Penny and Albo: thank you for your courage, dedication and determination. I can say without any fear of contradiction that we would not be here without your valiant effort over decades. It was a valiant effort aimed at ending discrimination on the simple premise that discrimination against one group of Australians—one group of humans, in fact—hurts and diminishes all humans. That's why this legislation is so important. By removing this discrimination, not only do we enrich the lives of LGBTI Australians, we enrich the lives of all Australians and enhance our society.
Finally, I want to say to the LGBTI community: congratulations, but also thank you. Thank you for the determination, respect and positivity you have shown in campaigning for this issue. Thank you for beating down the barriers of oppression with your love for each other and for Australians everywhere. There is no doubt in my mind that through this fight you have made Australia a better place now and into the future. I commend the bill to the House.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. In the Riverina electorate, 47,333—54.6 per cent—returned a 'yes' response to the Australian marriage law postal survey. For the 'no' response, 39,308—or 45.4 per cent of people—indicated they wanted the law to remain unchanged. There were 86,641—77 per cent—eligible people in the Riverina electorate who participated in the survey. There was a strong participation rate across age demographics, the strongest being the 70 to 79 years range, with 90.4 per cent; then 65 to 69 years, with 88 per cent; and 80 to 84 years, with 87.7 per cent of eligible voters. I have received hundreds of letters from my constituents across the Riverina and central west expressing strong views on both sides of the debate. It is encouraging to see such a strong participation rate from the Riverina, with people clearly taking the opportunity to make their voice heard.
The result is clear, and I will respect the majority view of the Riverina electorate and vote in support of this bill. Right from the time that we agreed as a joint party room of Liberals and Nationals, and the then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, declared that we would be going down the plebiscite path, I said that I would uphold the will of the Australian people. This caused some consternation in my electorate, particularly with my local newspaper, when it became obvious that electorate-by-electorate results would be determined, and that I was going to support the will of the Australian people. It was enunciated that I had backflipped. I had not. I think if the parliament were to go to the trouble, the time, the effort and, indeed, the expense of asking the Australian people what they want, and then if I were to turn around and reject that view if the Australian people wanted a change on a particular matter, then that would not be democracy at work. Despite what the Riverina decided or did not decide, I was always going to uphold the will of the people. I made that quite clear. I made it clear in a national press conference well before my local print media asked me, despite the fact that I had given some television interviews on it locally. To not uphold the will of the people would not be democracy at work. I've made that point quite clear. The Australian people have spoken, and they actually appreciated the fact that they were asked for their view. I would have been quite happy to vote on it on the floor of the House. I said so in the joint party room. I made it publicly clear that I would have been happy to have a vote in the parliament.
I will just take a couple of moments—though I don't want to get into a partisan argument—to note that the previous speaker, the member for Shortland, said that he didn't want to overpoliticise this, and then went on to say that this postal marriage survey was papering over the cracks in the coalition party room and that we were pathetic. I just want to point out: had Labor taken a party view on this and had some members of the Labor Party been opposed to it, they would have been expelled from their party. They are the Labor rules. If you go against or vote against the Labor view or a position taken by the party, you are expelled from the party. That position is not held by the coalition; I have voted against my party and voted against the coalition on water legislation. That is why this bill did not come before the parliament for six years.
It is the coalition that has brought this bill and brought about this result for the Australian people and for those people who wanted a change to the Marriage Act. It has been brought about by the Australian people, by the Liberals and Nationals giving the Australian people a say in it. Australians have clearly embraced the opportunity to have their say as part of the process, with 79½ per cent—or 12,727,920—of eligible Australians participating and having their vote counted. Of those, 61.6 per cent—or 7,817,247—responded yes, and 4,873,987—or 38.4 per cent—responded no.
As the minister responsible for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, I'd like to acknowledge the role that that august organisation played in this marriage law postal survey. It has been a significant past year for the ABS. The 2016 census delivered the high-quality data that Australia needs to make informed decisions on important policy matters. The Australian public showed strong support for the census, with a response rate of 95.1 per cent. Just like the census, we've seen strong participation and response to the marriage law survey. This is not just because Australians wanted to have their say but because Australians believe in and respect the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I say that despite the fact that the census was much maligned; it is now used by a lot of demographers, not least of whom is Bernard Salt, and others at newspapers for a lot of their material and copy because it was a good census.
The marriage law survey has been a significant logistical undertaking, exceptionally well delivered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I'm glad that the member for Canberra is in the parliament to hear me say this, because I know that many of her constituents work for that very well-respected organisation, the ABS. An exercise of this scale—giving every eligible Australian on the electoral roll the opportunity to have their say and to implement the process to enable this within just a few months—is huge. It's a massive undertaking.
To the Australian Statistician, David Kalisch; his deputy, Johnathan Palmer; and all of the staff of the ABS: I commend their professionalism in the conduct and delivery of the marriage law survey. The ABS was also strongly supported, principally by the Australian Electoral Commission, Australia Post, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Finance. Thank you to all of those public service teams involved in the process. I'm sure the member for Canberra acknowledges that as well.
Ms Brodtmann interjecting—
She's nodding, so thank you, member for Canberra. They've done a great job.
I'd also urge some caution in this debate. We do not need to de-gender society. We do not need to defund charities and organisations which have long held traditional views.
I also want to make some remarks about some newspaper editorials that I wrote nearly a quarter of a century ago which I should not have. This was against the backdrop of a society and a federal government fraught with fear about the spread of AIDS. There were Grim Reaper media advertisements which really had an impact. They took their toll. That said, my words were unwise. Words hurt, and hurt lasts. I said sorry then. I've apologised many times since. I do so in the federal parliament again today.
Many constituents have also sent me emails prior to and since the survey, and I'll just read few of them. They show the difference of opinion, but they also show passionate people wanting to have their view heard. 'Your electorate has spoken. It is time for you to do your job and for Australia to have marriage equality,' wrote a constituent via email on 15 November, the day the decision was announced. 'I urge you and your colleagues to expedite and support the legislation that will effect this change and to pursue the social change that has clearly been endorsed by Australia.' Another one: 'I do sincerely ask you to consider the rights of all Australians to the fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and belief, expression of opinion, assembly and association when considering the terms of any draft bill to ensure it protects these freedoms of those with a genuine belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.' I voted no—I want to make that point clear—but respect those who did not have the same view and voted yes.
This is a final one I'll put on Hansard: 'If same-sex marriage is going to come to pass, please do what you can to ensure that the appropriation protections are in place. While I understand that parliamentarians will feel morally bound to pass legislation to change the definition of marriage, the legislation should have attached to it strong protections for freedom of speech and conscience and parental rights to raise their children with the understanding that marriage is only between a man and a woman.'
Whilst acknowledging the provisions are already in place, I encourage amendments with genuine protections for religious freedoms, freedom of speech and parental choice. I recognise and say that discrimination cannot and will not be tolerated in any way, shape or form.
To the LGBTIQ community and those of the same gender who wish to get married: good luck to you, may you enjoy all the freedoms that have been enjoyed in the past by heterosexual couples, and may your futures together be loving ones.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
As I did in 2012, today I proudly rise in support of marriage equality. But today I do so for different reasons. Five years ago I was convinced the argument was all about justice, that all should be equal before the law. But in those five years I've had hundreds of conversations with the LGBTIQ community, their families and their friends, and what has become apparent to me is that, yes, this is about equality and, yes, this is about justice, but, most importantly, it is about love: the right of all Australians to love who they want.
At the time of former President Obama's birth, in 1962, his parents could not have been legally married in 16 states of the country he governed, because his father was black and his mother was white. Three years before he was born, a trial judge in Virginia sentenced an interracial husband and wife to one year's jail, with the words:
Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, Malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages.
In 1967, the US Supreme Court would unanimously overturn that ruling in a famous civil rights case. There was a deep irony in the surname of the couple that brought the case: Mildred and Richard Loving. In Loving v Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled:
Marriage is one of the "basic civil rights of man," …
In an interview, the famous conservative US lawyer Ted Olson recalled this case. He said that in preparation for it, a lawyer asked Richard Loving, 'What shall I tell the justices of the Supreme Court?' And he said, 'Tell them I love my wife.' That's what this is all about: love.
The Australian people have delivered a strong statement about equality, about justice and about love by voting in favour of legalising same-sex marriage in Australia. I'm delighted and proud that the ACT recorded the highest percentage of 'yes' votes of any state or territory in Australia, with 74 per cent. I'm particularly delighted and very proud that my own electorate had the highest percentage of 'yes' voters in the ACT, with 74.1 per cent, and also the highest turnout in the ACT, at 83.2 per cent.
That said, I do acknowledge that there are members of my community who did not vote yes, and I respect that. During this survey and over the course of my time as member for Canberra, I have always underscored the need for respect and tolerance. Deputy Speaker, in October 2013, the ACT Legislative Assembly legalised marriage equality, becoming the first jurisdiction in Australia to allow same-sex couples to marry under law. A few weeks later, the decision made in the assembly was overturned. Couples silently sobbed as the High Court ruled that the ACT law was inconsistent with federal marriage legislation. The Canberra Times reported that as couples left the courtroom that day they were heard saying to each other, 'It's not over.' They were right, and nearly four years later we are here, hopefully, ensuring that it is actually and finally over.
I congratulate the LGBTIQ community and their families and friends for their commitment and persistence over many years and decades and through the course of this survey, which has been deeply confronting. Imagine that an entire nation has stood in judgement of your relationships, of your character, of your morality, of your worth and of your love. LGBTIQ parents have been scared witless about the toll that this was going to take on their children, as the nation stood in judgement of them as parents—of their right to be parents and of their ability as parents. I bitterly resent this and I take deep offence at it, because I was raised by a single mother. I bitterly resent and take deep offence at the 'fact' that after being raised by a single mother I am somehow damaged or dysfunctional.
We know that families come in many forms. Over the ages, children have been raised by aunts, uncles, grandparents, siblings, cousins, friends, benefactors, the church, the court, nannies and boarding schools. What is critical is that children in all circumstances are loved, respected, nurtured and safe. This is the case for children raised by single mothers—as I was—and children raised by LGBTIQ mothers and fathers.
On the day of the results of the marriage equality survey, there was a lot of nervous energy here in Canberra as people gathered in workplaces and around the city to hear and watch the outcome. A week earlier, we had the race that stopped the nation, and this was a survey, as we know, that stopped the nation. Across the ACT, you could hear a collective intake of breath as the results were read out. The images of before and after the result showed the amazing weight lifting off the shoulders of, particularly, the LGBTIQ community, their families, their friends, and supporters of marriage equality. It was a weight that had been bearing down on some of them for decades. In Lonsdale Street, in my electorate, there was a block party where Canberrans came together to celebrate the result. It was a celebration that was spontaneous and exuberant. Thousands flocked to the party. Couples embraced each other. Children armed with chalk created a rainbow that went right across the street. They were so proud and so happy that long-awaited change had finally come—in the form of a survey, anyway. It was in the form of the affirmation of the nation. They were so proud and so happy that our nation had affirmed its commitment to those qualities that are part of our social fabric and DNA here in Australia: fairness and equality.
Next week, I celebrate my 20th wedding anniversary on 13 December. My marriage is the most important thing in my life. I'm very much looking forward to celebrating that significant date with my husband even though, unfortunately, he's not going to be with me on the night. My husband is my best friend. He's my greatest supporter. He is the love of my life. I cannot imagine what my life would be without him. Our marriage has enriched my life, and I'd like to think that it has enriched his life. It has enriched my life in untold ways. I want every Australian to experience the enrichment that you can get from a successful marriage—and I do classify mine as a successful marriage. Here we are, nearly 20 years on—20 years; who would have thought?—from that day that we first struck our union.
Mr Buchholz interjecting—
Thank you. In closing, I want to commend and thank ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Canberrans Tom Snow, Stephen Byron, Terry Snow, the Snow family, the Byron family and Claire Dawson for their leadership on this issue. No-one arriving at Canberra Airport or driving across Kings Avenue or Commonwealth Avenue bridges could be left in any doubt about Canberra's views on marriage equality. I also want to commend and thank the thousands and thousands of Labor members and Rainbow Labor who've campaigned on this issue over the course of this year, over the course of the last decade and over the course of decades. I want to commend and thank the hundreds of Canberrans who came up to me in the streets, at mobile offices and at coffee catch-ups to express their support. Here, I want to particularly acknowledge those Canberrans who are over 70, because a lot of attention has been rightly focused on the fact that we had such a huge response to this survey from so many young Australians but what has really struck me is the fact that there have been so many older Canberrans—particularly over 70—who have been strong advocates and strong campaigners on this issue. They've approached me for 'yes' badges, stickers and posters in bulk for their children and grandchildren.
I want to commend and thank Senator Dean Smith for his courage in drafting and putting forward this bill. It has required considerable resilience and bravery—the sort of resilience and bravery that so many have shown over decades—and, for that, he needs to be acknowledged. Thousands and thousands of Australians also need to be acknowledged. They are those thousands and thousands of Australians who've been victims of hate crimes, vilification, discrimination and ridicule. They are those thousands and thousands of Australians who've been shunned, shamed and estranged from family and friends in country towns and metropolitan cities. Those thousands and thousands of Australians who've led secret lives or entered into marriages or relationships that did not reflect who they were, who they are. Those thousands and thousands of Australians who've been denied the most basic of human rights—the most basic of human rights—to be themselves.
I also want to acknowledge my friends who've tirelessly fought the good fight for equality—friends who are now in their 50s and their 60s who have suffered unspeakable discrimination since their teens. I want to acknowledge my friends who are no longer with us, who died in their 20s, in the dreadful, dark, frightening early days of AIDS in Australia in the eighties. And I want to acknowledge one friend, who we discovered last week may not be with us at Christmas thanks to spinal cancer. His name is Chris Grady. Chris and I first met at the ACT Assembly in the very early days, when he was working with Terry Connolly. I really want to take this opportunity, Chris, to say how deeply moved we were to speak to you last week, and to say thanks for your friendship, thanks for your contribution to Canberra and thanks so much for the good times.
Now is the time to give Australia's LGBTIQ community the best present ever for Christmas: the opportunity to love and to celebrate that love in union before their families and before their friends. Because as Ted Olson said about half a century ago when he was challenging California's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, 'This fight shouldn't be considered a liberal issue or a conservative issue; it should be considered a matter of equal rights and equal dignity to individuals.' He said:
People are not, do not choose to be gay. They are born with characteristics that cause their sexual orientation to be what it is. They deserve happiness and equality and dignity and respect and absence of discrimination in their lives the same as the rest of us do.
In 2012, 42 of us voted in this chamber for LGBTIQ Australians to live the same as the rest of us do. Only 23 of us are still here today. This week, I look forward to the majority of this chamber joining with we 23 from 2012 to realise the sentiments of Ted Olson more than 50 years ago, and make marriage equality a reality.
An incident having occurred in the gallery—
I support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This parliament passes legislation on almost every day that it sits. Some bills are forged into laws in the fiery furnace of partisan politics. Most legislation passes without much debate, controversy or fanfare. But this bill is neither of those; nevertheless, it will be long remembered.
It comes to this place after consultation with the Australian public by way of a national postal survey. The ability to settle matters of national significance peacefully at the ballot box is a feature of our nation that we should all be justly proud of. The survey process that led to this bill being introduced to the House of Representatives this week saw a national participation rate of 79.5 per cent. Australians were keen to be heard on this issue. In Calare, 78.1 per cent of voters returned their forms. This high participation rate is important for two reasons. Firstly, it can't be argued that there isn't a national mandate for this change to how our society defines marriage. Secondly, no Australian of voting age can say that their voice wasn't heard. Nobody can say that their opinion wasn't counted. Every Australian got their say. That's democracy.
As you would expect from a country electorate in the heartland of the nation, the debate in our part of the world was, for the most part, very respectful. In central-western New South Wales and around the nation, the result was clear and conclusive. In Calare, 54,091 people, or 60.2 per cent, voted in favour of changing the definition of marriage, and 35,779 people, or 39.8 per cent, voted against. These figures were very close to the national result. As those figures also highlight, there are significant numbers of people on either side of this issue.
With the nation having delivered its verdict, the will of the Australian people now needs to be passed into law, and that responsibility falls to us. This is the moment for the Australian people to see their parliament at its best. I followed the passage of this legislation through the Senate and I was impressed with the respectful and constructive manner in which the debate was conducted. I'm confident that the remainder of this debate will also be conducted in the best traditions of the communities we all represent.
Some in our region may find this change in how marriage is defined difficult to accept and reconcile. It is a significant change, but I ask those people to try to accept it because now is the time for the nation to come together. We should unite across city communities and country communities. Everyone, no matter how they voted, across Calare and across Australia, should now unify. There are same-sex couples currently waiting to get married in the Calare electorate. They should now have that opportunity, without delay or bitterness, and they should be treated with respect and dignity by all—and I know that, in Calare, they will be.
Before the last general election, I undertook to respect the will of the Calare electorate on this issue. I said it and I meant it. I honour that commitment today. To those same-sex couples in Calare waiting to be married, to their families and friends and to those same-sex couples in Calare who may marry in the future: you have my congratulations and best wishes and those of the electorate. Above all, we wish you happiness in the years ahead. I cast my vote in favour of this legislation for you.
It is a great honour to speak in a debate—the debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017—that will make such a big difference in the lives of many. Parliaments are sometimes confronted by serious decisions that need to be made on behalf of the nation—decisions made ahead of time or far from a position that some in the general public are comfortable to hold. What is clear to many of us is that many in the Australian public have been well ahead of their parliamentarians. This has become blazingly evident in the last few weeks, where the nation, with a strong voice, indicated it wants the parliament to remove discriminatory legal barriers set within the Marriage Act.
I'm a parliamentarian who will lend my support to this push. I have been up-front about this since I announced in May 2015 that I would support marriage equality. But that statement itself admits that I was not always a supporter of that effort—and I wasn't. When the matter was considered in 2012, I voted against it. I argued then that, in the electorate that I represent, I could not detect the will to change the Marriage Act. The outcome of the recent marriage postal survey for the Chifley electorate demonstrates that my reading of the local mood was right, with a majority of residents opposed to altering the Marriage Act. While my reading of the mood of my fellow residents was right, my actions in opposing this reform were not. I would like to explain that reasoning in a moment, particularly as it applies to the way I intend to vote on this bill.
But let me first reflect on my position back in 2012. Back then, I maintained a position that I didn't detect a mood for change. However, people from my electorate wanting to see that change and disappointed in my position would say that, while others may not have a sense of urgency for change, change meant a great deal to them. Constituents would ask me, as their representative, 'Why can't you support us in the things we want to do in our lives?' These situations made me think deeply about this issue. If there is no logical reason to prevent this change, why stand in the way of it?
I also reflect on this: as a country, we have welcomed people from nearly every corner of the globe to become Australian citizens. Seven million people have made their home here since the Second World War. They looked different, spoke differently, ate different foods, thought differently, acted differently and might have come from countries where they couldn't do that and paid a high price for difference. Many Australians take great pride in the fact that our nation has become one of the most successful multicultural nations on the planet. This did not happen by accident. There were no magic ingredients. It was a typically Australian low-key straightforward commitment to the important principle of fairness—fairness that included.
It is that commitment to inclusion that I reflect upon now. It was our understanding that if people committed to the nation and its laws, there was a place for them. We did not use our laws to divide; we used them to bind and unite. I approached the survey and this vote in the very same way, recognising that this is our generation's opportunity to make its down payment on that inclusive approach for the benefit of those that follow by including, not by using the law to exclude.
As I've reflected earlier, I represent an area that voted against change. I want to express my profound respect for the views expressed by my fellow residents, some of whom have approached me to ask how I could support change when the electorate I proudly represent has a different view. My decision is not taken in defiance or without regard to those views. But I submit this for the consideration of those that questioned the decision I intend to make: I believe strongly that parliamentarians should think carefully when they propose to legislate to discriminate, where we might use our special position as parliamentarians with our ability to cast laws in a way where we might impose the will of majorities on the way others live their lives.
Remember, this act will not change the way others who have married live their lives. Nothing changes for them. There will also be no change in the way religious bodies express their beliefs about marriage and how it is formed. Again, nothing changes. But not voting for change stops others in the way they wish to live their lives. This comes to the heart of the view I have of my role in this place. In a place where we dedicate much of our energy to highlighting differences, I would hope that we can find strength in the common purpose of bringing people together and giving people the space to live their lives unburdened by stigma, free of the sting that comes from being excluded. That's not just how I live my life as a parliamentarian but is what I believe in deeply as a citizen—as an average person—as someone who has benefitted from the nation's generosity in allowing my family to settle and participate in its daily life. This nation has provided me with a humbling honour—the ability to stand in this very spot, where I now say I will play my part to ensure that y fellow Australians are included and that they can savour the feeling, just in the way that I have benefitted from it.
I could make a whole lot of points expressing views about the postal survey process. I prefer that we focus on the positive important change we are about to make in peoples' lives. I would ask those within government who make much of the postal survey process to remember this point: it is probably unlikely that their ears would have felt the sting or hurt felt or triggered by hearing comments made during the survey process. But that hurt was felt and it may well linger for some time. What we owed to those who relied upon positive change to the law was courage, that as parliamentarians we could make those legislative changes free of the process forced upon the nation.
In speaking of courage, I would like to reflect on the courage of others who have walked this path well before me, people like Senator Penny Wong and Senator Louise Pratt, and other colleagues of mine, like the member for Griffith, Terri Butler. Also, on the other side of the political fence, Senator Dean Smith, had to have the courage not just to admit he was wrong but to make a difference as a result of that.
I also want to express my gratitude for the courage of another colleague of mine, the member for Whitlam. In days when it was hard to express that view and to translate that view into legislation brought to this place, he not only argued that process within this place but also outside, where he had to confront views which, if expressed today, would be staggering to consider, and the way in which they translated potentially as a threat to his position as a parliamentarian. He displayed exemplary courage, and I want to commend him for what he has done, as I said, in walking a path—treading that path—well before I did.
At any rate, we are here now. We should make the change that must be made. And we should ensure that our nation can earn its place as one of the world's most inclusive places.
I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017.
The Australian people were asked a simple question in the postal ballot:
Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?
The Australian people have voted yes. The people of Gippsland have voted yes. And I also will be voting yes. The people have spoken in what was quite a remarkable celebration of our magnificent democracy and there is no need for me to delay the parliament any further. It is time to get this done.
I want to thank the people of Gippsland for the respectful manner in which the vast majority of people participated in this debate. I'm proud to be their member in this place. I will be working respectfully to ensure that this is a moment that unites our region and unites our nation, rather than divides it. I conclude with a quote from Nelson Mandela:
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
I thank the House.
This Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 is very simple. It is about two things. It is about love and equality, and I'm a champion of both. I have the great joy of being a happily married woman, and that is a right, a joy and a comfort that I do not believe should be denied to any adult. I know there have been some quite prescriptive views detailed in this chamber on what defines marriage. What I know about marriage is that it's about two people forsaking all others. It's about good times; it's about hard times and it's about forgiveness. It is intensely personal and it's about finding a person who loves you for your faults as much as your merits. And I know what it is not: it is not purely about the creation of children. To say that marriage is for the purpose of bearing children, that that's the primary focus of marriage, I believe diminishes marriage. I, and many other married couples, do not have biological children with my spouse. Our marriage is no less because of this fact. Marriage is entirely about the deep commitment two people have for each other and for that commitment to be recognised in law. It is about love, for love is love.
I want to read out in the chamber one of the most poignant love stories shared with me during this debate. I received, as all of us did, so many letters about long-lasting commitment during this process. But this one more than any other has drifted into my mind over and over again. Dawn Cohen, from New South Wales, has given me her permission to tell her and Robin's love story:
We have been engaged for 34 years. Robin's parents have died while we have been waiting for the wedding. My father is now 90.
Please please do all you can to give us marriage equality by Christmas. Our love has been my deepest teacher and my greatest joy. We have been there for each other in sickness and health. We have been attacked for being gay, but not for one second has our love wavered. Nothing will separate us until death do us part.
This woman who has loved me so deeply and for so long, that eyes closed she knows what I am feeling from the sound of my tread on the stairs. And cares. Who else could she possibly be, this sun around whom I revolve, this moon that revolves around me: my deepest beloved, my wife.
After 35 years, we have surely earned the certificate that heterosexual couples can get before they even start the course.
Dawn and Robin, I am so sorry we have taken so long in this place to legislate, recognise and value your marriage. I am also sorry for the deeply hurtful comments that the LGBTIQ community had to hear and billboards that you had to see. It was unkind, it was untrue and it was unnecessary. I do hope, this week, we can in this place go some way to right those wrongs.
While I believe the parliament should have legislated in relation to marriage equality without a plebiscite or a postal survey, I was heartened by the turnout and vote in Mayo. In my electorate, 88,608 people—that is, 83.8 per cent of my constituents—returned their postal surveys. This was significantly above the average Australian response rate of 79.5 per cent. I'm pleased to say that 64.7 per cent responded in favour of marriage equality, above the national average of 61.6 per cent. The participation in the postal survey mobilised many in my community to enrol to vote, and particularly young people to engage. The electorate of Mayo recorded a 573 per cent increase in voter enrolments in August, including a 1,258 per cent boost in the number of people enrolling for the first time. In total, we received 2,827 enrolments, of which 910 were first-timers, and, of those enrolling for the first time, the average age was 20 years. According to the Australian Electoral Commission, more than 98,000 people were added to the roll in August, of which 65,000 were electors aged 18 to 24 years. More than any other issue in the last decade or two, this issue has engaged young people to participate and, I believe, will ensure young people have a greater role in determining the issues that matter, the issues that are campaigned on at election time and who is elected to this place in the future.
I, along with the significant majority of my constituents, supported this bill to amend the Marriage Act to allow all couples to marry. This bill will remove a major remaining impediment to antidiscrimination from Australian law, treating Australians the same regardless of their gender or their sexuality. I want to reassure religious Australians that this bill will not take away the religious freedoms enjoyed by Australians. The bill will allow religious ministers and current civil celebrants who register as religious celebrants the right to refuse to marry couples if it runs contrary to their religious beliefs. Separate to this legislation, parents will continue to have the right to opt out of any sex education provided in schools, should they so choose, and religious schools will continue to be able to teach views on marriage and sexual relations that accord with their religious beliefs. I believe the campaign by some opponents of marriage equality was false and misleading in relation to the Safe Schools program. Let me be clear: in order for the Safe Schools program to operate in a school, the parent body of the school must agree to the program and, further, each parent of a student in that school has the right to decide if their child participates in the program.
Few human rights are enshrined within the Australian Constitution, but I take heart from the fact that religious freedom is one of those. Section 116 of the Constitution requires that the Commonwealth not legislate in respect of religion. I quote section 116:
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
I reassure all Australians that religious freedoms are and will continue to be safe in Australia. That is what the bill in its current form, as transmitted from the Senate, provides for, and I do not believe that any amendments to this bill should be made in this chamber.
It is important to remember that, while we enshrine freedom of religion, we also need freedom from religion. We live in a secular society, and so it is important that those who do not follow a religion do not have their rights impinged by others either. I would also like to allay the fear of the 'no' voters with the words of New Zealand's former Prime Minister Bill English. Marriage equality has been legal in New Zealand since 2012, but the Hon. Bill English originally voted against marriage equality in the New Zealand parliament. In December last year he said:
I'd probably vote differently now on the gay marriage issue. I don't think that gay marriage is a threat to anyone else's marriage.
Asked why he'd changed his view, he stated:
Just seeing the impact it has had for couples and the fact that it doesn't erode marriage.
So, this week, Australia will finally join Argentina, Belgium, Bermuda, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United States, Uruguay, parts of Mexico, and the United Kingdom. We will have marriage equality, as we should.
I'd like to finish with a quote from Maya Angelou:
Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.
I wish every couple taking their vows following the passing of this legislation a long and happy marriage. Thank you.
Mr Deputy Speaker, 50.9 per cent of the constituents in my electorate voted no to the question the government put in the postal survey on marriage. I want to say to the constituents of Mitchell that I'll be voting to respect the national outcome but also the majority of the people in Mitchell who voted no. I will not be opposing the passage of this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, but instead will be seeking amendments—moving an amendment myself, and joining with colleagues to support other amendments—to secure what I regard as vital freedoms for religion, conscience and thought in Australia. It's true that Australia voted yes. But the views of the people of the electorate of Mitchell should not be ignored, and the views of people in Western Sydney also should not be ignored. As someone who was raised in Western Sydney and lived most of my life there, it's sad to me that the views of significant parts of Western Sydney are being completely unrepresented by their Labor Party representatives.
I want to step the House through some of the statistics that highlight and underscore this, because Western Sydney emphatically voted no in the postal marriage survey. You can start in my electorate, with just 51 per cent voting no, but if you go to Greenway, 53.6 per cent voted no, and to Parramatta, 61 per cent voted no. You can go to Fowler, where 63.7 per cent voted no, and 63.7 per cent in Werriwa, 64 per cent in McMahon and 69 per cent in Watson, getting to 73 per cent of people in Blaxland voting no. I was always a 'no' campaigner and advocate. I believe in a traditional view of marriage, and not because I think the state should deny same-sex couples the ability to form unions that are equivalent to marriage. Absolutely we should allow and provide for that, and now we will in this bill. But I was a 'no' advocate because I believe in the traditional view of marriage. It's a view obviously held by almost three-quarters of people in Western Sydney. Yet there is not one 'no' advocate or campaigner among the Labor members of parliament coming from Western Sydney, and they're unrepresented in—
Well, I've said it several times. I've said it voted no as well—51 per cent, if you were listening. So, in Western Sydney we had a 'no' vote. Again, it's disappointing that here today the Labor Party think that the views of five million Australians—five million people who voted no—should go unrepresented. I want to address that briefly today, because it is vital in a democracy that the rights of minorities are protected as much as the rights of the majority, and five million people voting no is a substantial minority. And look at what has happened over the past few years. I draw the attention of the House to the rank hypocrisy we've seen in this debate. I've been here for the last 10 years. Some of you opposite who are here right now have not. We have voted to deny same-sex marriage seven times in this House since I've been here—seven times in this chamber. When John Howard inserted the traditional definition of marriage, as being between a man and a woman, it was unanimously supported by every person in this chamber at that time. It was unanimously supported by every member of the Labor Party, every member of the Liberal Party and every member of the National Party. It wasn't that long ago.
Since then, the House has voted to deny a vote on this more than seven times. Since then, we've had the Labor Party change its position so that it would not be possible to be a Labor member of parliament and hold a 'no' position on same-sex marriage—and, in a few years, you will not be allowed to be preselected in the Labor Party. The biggest and most shameful part of the debate is that we are not genuinely having a conscience vote in this parliament—not in the Senate and not in the House of Representatives. The Labor Party is not free to vote on religious freedom amendments. Members of the Labor Party are not free to exercise their conscience. I want to record for this House, without naming any individuals, that there are members of the Labor Party in this House and in the Senate today who do oppose same-sex marriage, who do have a different view, and who are concerned for religious freedom. They hold those concerns, yet they are not free to exercise their conscience. They exist, they are there—out of respect for them, I will not name them—but they are not free. That is not leadership from the Leader of the Opposition.
I want to praise Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the decision he's taken. It takes courage to allow your members a free vote when you know they disagree with you. There is courage in the Liberal and National parties because our leaders, the former Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister, allow us the freedom to exercise our conscience on these issues. The Labor Party, under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition, denies a free vote, so we will not actually have a conscience vote in this parliament. It is to the shame and discredit of this parliament that a genuine conscience vote on an important question like this will not be conducted. It hasn't been conducted in the Senate. We know members of the Labor Party will be bound on these amendments that we are proposing—and I will speak to the amendments that may be foreshadowed shortly.
I believe it is a failure of parliamentary process when we can't have a conscience vote. I thank the Prime Minister for bringing forward also an additional process that will take stock of religious legislation in Australia, led by a former member of this place, Philip Ruddock, and an eminent persons panel. It will give us another layer of protection, given that the Labor Party will not allow their members to consider religious freedom amendments. The consideration of those amendments is vital to the construction of this bill. Rather than being so concerned with emotion—we have let our reason give way to our emotion in this debate—we should be concerned with the construction of the law. We should be concerned with the rights of individuals. We should be concerned with the rights of the minority. That is the role of legislators in this place. We should not allow reason to give way to emotion in this debate. We must apply reason to ensure that the rights of the five million who voted no are respected as much as the rights of the eight million who voted yes.
It is as Alexis de Tocqueville said in Democracy in America: if you have unchecked political power, it leads to the tyranny of the majority. The greatest danger that de Tocqueville saw was that public opinion would be become an all-powerful force and the majority could tyrannise unpopular minorities and marginalised individuals. It's one of the most powerful discussions of democracy that has ever been had. The concept of the tyranny of the majority is one that we must resist in this parliament. It is why members of the Liberal and National parties will bring forward amendments in this House, as they did in the Senate, to ensure that we have protections for religious freedom at the same time that we provide for same-sex marriage. It's what our reason must consider as we pass a law of this nature. To not allow a free vote, to not allow an exercise of conscience when we are having a conscience debate on religious freedoms, allows the Labor Party to be ruled by the tyranny of the majority.
The coalition respects religious freedoms. Liberal and National senators, along with some independent senators, voted to protect religious freedoms. I suspect that, when this vote comes to a head and the amendments are considered, it will be the Liberal and National members of the parliament who are on the side of protecting religious freedom and ensuring that we have those important protections by way of amendments to this bill. There is no doubt that this bill has not sufficiently addressed the matters of protection of religious freedom, freedom of conscience and freedom of thought. There is need for vital amendments to this bill. There is nothing wrong with considering those amendments in a free and open debate. I say to the Labor Party again: why won't you allow your members the freedom to consider, in good conscience, amendments to protect religious freedom in Australia? There are five million people who voted no. Most of those 'no' voters come from Labor electorates in Western Sydney. Why wouldn't we respect them and allow for a free debate on this important topic?
The coalition respects religious freedom. Individual coalition members will be moving amendments to respect religious freedoms. It's a triumph of politics over the whole process, which will not allow a genuine conscience debate on those amendments. I would say again to members that, when we pass laws, we take into account all of the things that the Australian people are telling us. In this postal survey, they very clearly told us that they have no problem with same-sex marriage in Australia. But in many surveys since then and before then, with the same rate of support for same-sex marriage, they have also said they are concerned with protecting religious freedom in Australia. It ought to be a fundamental concern for Australians and for members of this parliament. We hear so much from the Labor Party about the results of opinion polls—that people have supported same-sex marriage constantly for a long time—but they've also supported respect for religious freedoms at that rate for the same amount of time. It would be good to see Labor coming forward and genuinely entering into negotiation to ensure that those freedoms are protected while we legislate for this historic change in our society.
I have been a consistent supporter of traditional marriage and, in this respect, I intend to join with colleagues and move an amendment. I foreshadow that amendment, which I will speak to later in this debate. I believe these amendments will support and help preserve the vital freedoms of thought, speech, conscience and religion that we have in Australia. Whenever we pass laws of this nature, we must have these as primary concerns. Our reason must not give way to our emotion. Our role as a parliament is to find in this debate the balance of freedoms to ensure that one right does not override another right, and we must seek to prevent any abuse of rights as we change our society. We do not want to come back here in the years ahead and attempt to repair matters that we could prevent by the way of substantive amendments to this bill.
We can now have same-sex marriage and we can also have important protections for religious freedom in Australia. The rights and the concerns of the five million Australians who voted no are just as important as the eight million people who voted yes. We can, and we should, engage our reason in this debate, not our emotion. We should not allow groupthink or collectivism in the Labor Party to prevent us from having a genuine conscience vote on important protections for freedom of thought, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. We need to amend this bill. I'll make the case for the amendments when I speak to those amendments. But I say to the House that we should get this right now. We should legislate religious freedom and protections now, and we should not let reason give way to emotion.
Australia is known around the world as the land of the fair go; we're pretty famous for that. The responsibility of each parliamentarian and government is to extend that fair go to people and communities that were not offered it when we began our time in this place. I realise that I'm one of many in a very long line of speakers to lend their voice to this debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and I must say I'm very proud to do so. For some of us it's been personal and for some of us it's been political. But, for all of us, it's significant. I feel honoured to be in this place at this point in history.
Though the process was shrouded by the politics of those opposite and the survey was unnecessary and hurtful and divisive—it was an utter failure of leadership by the Prime Minister, who put aside his duty of care over LGBTIQ citizens in Australia—the final vote for marriage equality was a significant victory for the fair go. The 'yes' vote is a victory for LGBTI Australians who have fought so long for their love and their commitment to be recognised as equal to any other. It's a victory for their children and families, who have shown incredible strength in the face of a divisive and often bitter battle. It's a victory for the allies, friends and supporters who spent months, years and decades fighting for this change to come. This 'yes' vote is a victory for Australia. It confirms what millions of Australians already knew: LGBTI Australians are equal, their love is equal, and recognising their love under law is fair. I now speak directly to the LGBTI community in my seat of Cowan: know that I stand here with you and for you. Your Cowan community overwhelmingly voted yes, and I'm proud to reflect that vote in our federal parliament. And if you are planning a wedding, I do like to dance and eat cake—sometimes at the same time!
I was not elected to represent people of colour across Australia. Though many—especially some who write into my office—think otherwise, I am not a representative of the ethnic communities or of different religious groups. But when these survey results are being used as yet another in a long list of issues painting ethnic and migrant communities as 'the other', or somehow un-Australian, I won't stay silent. I won't stay silent while the hypocrisy of those like Andrew Bolt and Mark Latham is given a platform. The 'no' campaign spent a great deal of time and resources campaigning to areas of high migrant communities, only to use those results to say that ethnic and migrant communities are at odds with Australian values and the Australian way of life. It is hypocrisy of the highest order and does a great disservice to the diversity and complexity of Australia's ethnic and migrant communities. We are not homogeneous.
I'd like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to LGBTI people of colour across Australia—those who have had to suffer double discrimination in a society that is stacked against them. For those LGBTI people of colour, this journey has often been twice as long, with twice as many obstacles. But we stand here today with you and for you. I would also like to pay tribute to Democracy in Colour, an organisation devoted to mobilising ethnic and migrant communities for progressive causes. These campaigners have been on the front lines of the marriage equality debate, and I thank them for their work.
I said in my first speech in this place:
… we should not allow important discussions about our future to degenerate into a competitive agenda of rights, for all rights are worth pursuing and worth pursuing with vigour.
I stand by those words today. I firmly believe in the freedom of religion and belief. I firmly believe that the freedom of religion and belief is no less and no more important than the freedom to live without discrimination. But I do not accept that the freedom of religion and belief extends to the manifestation of that religion or belief when it infringes on the rights of others to live free from discrimination. We cannot, and must not, accept the winding back of antidiscrimination laws that have served our society so well for decades. We cannot remove one layer of discrimination and simply add, or replace it with, another. We cannot allow our LGBTI friends, family members, colleagues and comrades to be turned away at the bakery, the florist or the supermarket just because of who they love. That's not the Australia I know.
The fact that we are having this discussion at all underscores that, though we rightly celebrate an overwhelming victory for the LGBTI community, we know this is not the final frontier to fairness for LGBTI Australians. Whether we look at health and mental health services, bullying in schools, discrimination in our laws, harassment on the street or the stacked disadvantage facing the trans community and LGBTI people of colour, we know that there is a very long road to fairness ahead of us. But with the passing of marriage equality we take a giant leap forward. With that, I hope that LGBTI Australians can walk a little bit taller, a little bit prouder and a little bit louder in the steps to come, because I'll be walking with you.
The week before last, I marched in Perth's Pride parade alongside Rainbow Labor and the Premier, Mark McGowan. As I was leaving, I was stopped by a group of school students who had also been marching in the parade. They came from different electorates in Western Australia. We smiled at each other and we hugged, and they told me just how much it meant to them for me to be marching on that day. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose marching in a parade is a small gesture of solidarity, but to these young people it meant more than I could ever fathom. It served as a gentle reminder to me that the fight for equality is timeless and that it is carried forward not by my generation, but by generations to come. It reminded me that what we are doing in this House matters. It matters today and it will matter for the tomorrows to come. So, on behalf of those students and on behalf of the LGBTI community in my electorate, I thank the 'yes' campaign, and I thank those in this House and in the Senate for what they have done in sending a clear message that we care: we care today and we will care tomorrow.
I rise today to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This bill is being debated in this House as a result of the Australian people having their say on marriage in the Australian marriage postal survey. This is not a matter where members have a free vote, where they can vote according to their own conscience on this issue. Members gave up their right to vote according to their own conscience when they supported dealing with this issue by plebiscite, when they decided to give the Australian people their say on whether two people of the same sex should be permitted to marry. Even if members didn't support the survey, they are duty-bound to honour it.
I have made it very clear to my constituents that, if I'd been a member of parliament in 2015, when my party, under Prime Minister Abbott, decided to adopt the position of a plebiscite, I would have argued against it. Parliamentarians are rightly elected in our representative democracy to determine these issues and, in my view, same-sex marriage should have been decided by a free vote according to conscience. That being said, the plebiscite policy was adopted. I accepted it and I was elected with that commitment, as was the government.
I've always said that the process to deliver a social change is an important part of the social change itself. Any good process where a decision is made to make a significant social change must result in the broad acceptance of that change, especially from those people who did not support the change itself. The government was elected with a policy of giving Australians their say on the issue of same-sex marriage. The government was, rightly, duty-bound to deliver on that commitment. However, when the government tried to give people their say, the Labor Party frustrated our ability to do so. I strongly believe that the government could not be elected with the policy of giving the Australian people their say, only for that to then be taken away from them. Moreover, you cannot remove the Australian people from the process and then expect those who have opposing views to accept the outcome. This is why I strongly supported the continuation of our plebiscite policy. Sadly, the Labor Party and the Greens killed off legislation to establish the plebiscite in the Senate. Labor and the Greens wanted this issue determined in the corridors of Canberra, without the mandate of the people. I hope, on reflection, they consider the error of their position.
The government, true to their word—and despite opposition from the same-sex marriage lobby, Labor and the Greens—progressed with giving the Australian people their say in a marriage postal survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The government overcame a High Court challenge; we were determined that Australians should be part of this decision. Personally, I actually preferred the postal nature of this ballot, as opposed to having Australians required to attend a polling booth. A real credit to this process is that I've had many 'no' voters contact me in the weeks after the survey results were announced. They were saying that they've accepted the result; they generously accept the will of their fellow Australians. They were not saying that same-sex marriage shouldn't be legislated, and this broad acceptance validates the importance of not taking from people their say, and ensuring that even those people who don't agree with the change can accept it.
My vote on the question, 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?' counted no more than anyone else's in my electorate. But I had made it no secret that, if there'd been a free vote in the parliament, I would have voted to maintain the traditional definition of marriage, according to my conscience. The institution and meaning of marriage predate parliament, and I would have had difficulty in parliament taking the role of redefining the term 'marriage'. That said, I would have actively supported the legal recognition of same-sex relationships without using the term 'marriage'. Same-sex couples should be equal before the law, and I'm pleased that past parliaments have removed from federal law discrimination based on someone's sexuality. Same-sex relationships should be recognised under the law.
I could not advocate for a plebiscite and then not respond to the will of the Australian people. In defence of the plebiscite and then the survey, I committed to respecting the will of the Australian people and to making sure that their will was implemented, and that's why I'll be voting yes to the final legislation. The marriage postal survey returned a vote of 61.6 per cent in favour of same-sex marriage. My electorate of Tangney was the only electorate to record, to the decimal point, the exact same result as the national result—quite an interesting fact. Seventy-eight thousand, four hundred and twenty-eight, or 84 per cent, of the people in Tangney participated in the survey, one of the top 20 response rates in the nation.
I respect the opinion and the views of others, and I want to congratulate the 'yes' campaign on their success and the 'no' campaign on their efforts. In the lead-up to the plebiscite there were screams about the impact that the campaign would have on our society, but I always held great respect for the ability of the Australian people to maturely engage in our democracy. On the whole, we should be very proud of the campaign and how we handled it as a society.
There were unfortunate instances that disappointed me. In my own electorate, because of my support for letting the Australian people have their say, my office was vandalised. Signage in my community that includes my image and my contact details as a local member, which was completely unrelated to same-sex marriage, was vandalised. My image was transformed into Hitler's and the word 'Fascist' was added with the words 'marriage equality now'. Also added was that I'm a 'gutless Liberal prick' and I wanted to 'waste $122 million of taxpayers' money on a postal vote'.
Criminal damage has no place in our democracy and should be denounced at every opportunity. The damaged property was cleaned, repaired or replaced. I didn't seek media attention; we just moved on. However, the adult, a prominent lead campaigner on the issue who should know better, who gloated publicly about doing some of it and who was caught on CCTV, has been dealt with by the police and in the coming weeks will be dealt with by the courts, as they should be.
As a parliamentarian, I now have to give careful consideration to how to implement the will of the Australian people, how to make sure this process continues in a way that brings Australians together, how we can pass the best possible legislation that delivers same-sex marriage whilst maintaining the freedoms that are so vitally important in Australian society. The Australian people have told us they want same-sex marriage, but they didn't tell us how to do it. It's our job to work that out.
Freedom of religion is essential in Australian society, and I'll be considering each amendment very closely to ensure that we maintain freedom of religion and protect the rights of parents to teach their children their religious beliefs. As Menzies said in his Forgotten People address:
When we claim freedom of worship we claim room and respect for all.
The amendments to this bill deserve special and careful consideration, and that's what I'll give them. I will be voting for a number of them. There were some amendments proposed and detailed in the media over previous weeks that, in my view, went too far. I could not have supported them. However, the amendments that I was concerned about are not proposed before the House.
Other speakers have talked about how this should be a unifying moment for Australia, and it should be. Millions of voters voted yes; millions of voters voted no; more yes than no. We will deliver and I will vote for same-sex marriage this week, but we can deliver same-sex marriage in a way that unifies our nation, respects the will of the Australian people and maintains our freedoms. Let's not lose this unifying opportunity, when we have 'no' voters who, as I've said previously, have accepted the result, who generously accept the will of their fellow Australians and who ask, quite reasonably, that the legislation be passed, with some amendment, to make this historic change and to keep what's good and free about our nation. Conservative governments are best placed to manage significant social change. I'm far happier that this change is happening on our watch rather than under Labor and the Greens, but we need to do it properly.
In conclusion, the Australian people have spoken. Same-sex marriage will be legislated, hopefully with amendment, this week. In the same way the member for Warringah so warmly and graciously advised the House that he was looking forward to attending the marriage of his sister, Christine, and her partner, I too look forward to attending the weddings of my gay friends and family members to celebrate the legal recognition of their relationships despite the form of that legal recognition of their relationship not being as I would personally prefer. The Australian people, in partnership with the parliament, have delivered same-sex marriage in the most cohesive way.