Senate debates

Monday, 17 September 2012


Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012; Second Reading

10:21 am

Photo of George BrandisGeorge Brandis (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Attorney-General) Share this | Hansard source

I want to turn to the arguments that Senator Hanson-Young has put forward in a moment but, before I do, I want to remind the chamber why it is that we have before us not merely a bill from Senator Sarah Hanson-Young but also a bill in the names of Senator Crossin, Senator Brown, Senator Pratt and Senator Marshall, four Labor Party senators, to substantially the same effect. The reason that is so, the reason that four Labor Party senators are jointly sponsoring a bill to change the definition of marriage, is that, once again, this Prime Minister and this Labor government shamelessly are in breach of an election promise.

At the 2010 election, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, made a clear and unambiguous commitment that, if the Labor Party were re-elected, there would be no move from the Labor Party to change the definition of marriage in this parliament. It was a commitment made by Julia Gillard on behalf of the Labor Party. It was a commitment made by Mr Tony Abbott on behalf of the coalition. And, as in so many things we have seen in the life of this parliament, Julia Gillard promised one thing and then manoeuvred to do the opposite. Infamously, Julia Gillard said in the week before the 2010 election, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government that I lead.' Then, a matter of mere months later, she introduced the world's biggest carbon tax into the parliament.

Labor members of the House of Representatives were cheering and slapping each other on the back and kissing each other when that legislation went through the House of Representatives because they were so pleased with themselves that they had so flagrantly broken a solemn undertaking to the public. That will never be forgotten.

It is the same story with the private health insurance rebate and so it is with the definition of marriage. A solemn promise not to interfere with the definition of marriage has been violated by the Prime Minister in this instance facilitating, through the Labor Party's conference, a conscience vote. So this is a very important issue. Some say it is an issue about discrimination. It is certainly a question about the meaning of marriage. But let us not forget the context here. It is also a debate about dishonesty. It is a debate about whether or not it is acceptable or moral for a political leader to seek re-election by promising one thing and then, having secured re-election, doing the very opposite. As on so many otherwise unrelated issues, that is the difference between our side—my side—and the Labor Party. We made a promise at the 2010 election that the definition of marriage would not be revisited or altered in the life of this parliament. We intend to stick to that promise and that is why the coalition is opposing these bills.

Let me turn to the substance and merits of the argument. I listened to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young carefully. Senator Hanson-Young says her bill, the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill, is about marriage equality as indeed the title says. Well, Senator Hanson-Young, your bill may be about marriage—no doubt about that—but in my view it is not a bill about equality. Equality, equal rights for same-sex people, insofar as the legislative reach of the Commonwealth parliament is concerned, was secured four years ago when the parliament passed the same-sex relationships, equal treatment in commonwealth laws, bill, which removed discriminatory provisions affecting same-sex couples. That bill was passed with the support of all parties in this Senate: your party, my party and the government. So, Senator Hanson-Young, I believe that was the point at which the proposition that people should not be discriminated against in their relationships because of their sexual preference was embraced by this Senate. You now seek, as others in the Labor Party seek, to take the position further and apply that principle to marriage and you commit, as it seems to me, a very elementary error. You think that by applying a word to an established institution you thereby change its character. Well, Senator Hanson-Young, through you, Mr Deputy President, it is true that marriage is defined by law but, equally and importantly, marriage is defined by custom. In the whole history of our civilisation there has never been a time at which marriage was understood to be other than a relationship between a man and a woman. I simply cannot grasp how you say that, with an institution which has always through the whole course of human history been understood to have a particular meaning, it is discriminatory not to alter that meaning.

I must say that I approach your argument, Senator Hanson-Young, with some cynicism, because people like you—people on the self-styled progressive Left—have for as long as I can remember, at least since the 1960s, mocked and derided the institution of marriage as being patriarchal, obsolete and illiberal. All of a sudden, within the last few years, this institution so derided by you has been rediscovered by you as the test of whether or not one cares about the issue of sexuality discrimination. Senator Hanson-Young, with all due respect, I have very, very great difficulty accepting your sincerity.

Equally, I refuse to accept the conceit that underlines your argument, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, that only your view of what a marriage ought to be—a view which would set aside the entire history of our civilisation up to this point, by the way—should be listened to in this debate, because while I freely acknowledge that there are many people in the Australian community who agree with you—


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