Senate debates

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Bills

Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017; Second Reading

3:51 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to continue my contribution to the debate on this very important Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. As I was referring to earlier, yesterday was a historic day for Australia. People will always remember where they were when they heard the result on that day. I feel honoured to be part of the debate and of ushering this bill into law. I do feel our former senators very closely here in the room with us—if they're listening. Senators Brown, Milne, Wright, Nettle, Simms, Ludlam and Waters have all, time after time, been supporting and campaigning for marriage equality when we Greens have been voting—every vote, every time—on marriage equality.

I feel inspired by yesterday's result. I don't think it's too extreme to say that there was literally joy in the streets. There certainly was down in Braddon last night, where people were celebrating very long into the night. The Australian community has demonstrated that we are compassionate and caring and that we support an inclusive community. I've heard of so many examples of people being proud to vote, and I'm so excited about how many young people engaged. Some families voted together. In my own household, my stepson wanted to vote so strongly and so passionately, but he wanted to vote with his dad, and he wanted to do it right away. So they voted as soon as they could and then walked up together to post their envelopes, to say yes.

We need to remember, however, the toll this survey has taken on many people. From the moment the survey was announced, there was a warning that it would lead to negative campaigning that would be hurtful to many. This has been a challenging time for many, many people. As I articulated in my earlier contribution when I shared a text from a friend of mine, the negative campaigning has had a big effect on many people. Our mental health services were not prepared for the influx of calls seeking help and relief from the divisive commentary that was made during the period of the survey.

But, despite all this, love is winning. Despite the divisiveness and the mistruths, love is winning, and I'm inspired and I congratulate my fellow Australians on this amazing result. We are a step closer to equality—in fact, many steps closer to equality. We are a step closer, through the results yesterday, to ensuring that same-sex couples have the right to marry. Sixty-one point six per cent of Australians voted yes in the postal survey and, in fact, 63.7 per cent of my fellow Western Australians supported marriage equality. In 30 short years, Tasmania has gone from outlawing homosexuality to a 63.6 per cent vote in favour of marriage equality. In the lower house, 133 of 150 electorates voted in support of marriage equality. Australia saw what the debate was truly about: equality. What is truly exciting about the result is the turnout as well. It is very encouraging that an overwhelming majority of Australians took part in the survey, which had a participation rate of 79.5 per cent. That is truly exciting, and it is certainly a high participation rate for a voluntary vote.

While this is a fantastic result that we are extremely pleased with, we still question the need for the survey. Polling showed us there was strong support in Australia for marriage equality. People wanted the parliament to get on with the job and to ensure marriage equality. Yesterday's result reinforces the results of that polling over the last 10 years, and that demonstrates that Australians want marriage equality. They resoundingly said yes. Unfortunately, many LGBTIQ Australians have had to endure the divisive debate and, at times, hurtful commentary over the last couple of months. The survey cost millions, and the money could have been spent on other issues. But Australians have come through that divisive debate and shown that they are a kind, caring, compassionate group of people, and they want equality for all.

As I touched on earlier, these have been difficult times for many LGBTIQ Australians who have endured these months of their lives being scrutinised and have often been criticised. You just need to look at the increased calls various support lines received and the extra demand for frontline mental health services during the survey period to know that it has taken a toll on LGBTIQ Australians and their families. ReachOut Australia saw a 40 per cent increase in demand for services since the survey was first announced. However, we've heard that the postal survey reportedly is coming in $20 million under budget. I'd like to make a suggestion to the government that that money should be given to mental health and counselling services, which have been so stretched and have done so much to support our LGBTIQ community in recent months. As ReachOut chief executive Jono Nicholas has said:

We need answers from the government now more than ever on how they plan to support frontline mental health organisations like ReachOut to heal the mental scars that will remain long beyond the result

So I encourage the government to invest that $20 million very wisely in supporting people with an extension of mental health services.

This is not the first time marriage equality has been before this parliament. As I articulated earlier, I've been on my feet many times in this chamber campaigning for marriage equality and supporting bills—the 23 that were quoted earlier in the day—that sought to introduce marriage equality. There have been many motions. There have been many urgency debates. In fact, I think it would run into the hundreds when you look over the years that this debate has been underway and there's been the campaign in this place to achieve marriage equality.

I'm looking forward to this bill passing and finally putting an end to the years of divisive, hurtful debate over same-sex couples' relationships. We can no longer delay this action, and it's exciting and it is a privilege to be part of this debate. We can no longer deny all Australians the right to marry. We need to pass this bill because it's the right thing to do. It is well beyond time that same-sex couples are treated equally in this country. Now that Australians have had their say, it's time for parliament to step up and be the leaders that Australia deserves. We have been elected by the people who now trust us to pass this legislation as a reflection of their vote. The people have spoken. They have chosen equality, love and fairness. It is time for all Australians to be able to marry the person they love. Love does not discriminate, it does not judge and it does not show prejudice—this is about loving the person you want to spend your life with and being able to marry that person. Let's allow marriage to do the same thing. The changes Mr Howard made to the Marriage Act undermined the institution of marriage. This bill strengthens marriage, ensuring that marriage is equally available to all Australians, and I feel that my marriage will be strengthened by ensuring that all Australians are able and have the right to marry.

There are going to be lots of weddings in this country very soon. I certainly will be getting out my glad rags, let me tell you! I was fortunate enough to be in Canberra on the one day that LGBTIQ Canberrans had the right to marry and, I tell you what, you could not move here without seeing people in ball gowns, in wedding gowns and in very high-heeled shoes. If that's anything to go by, there are going to be lots of weddings. There's going to be, I'd say, a mini economic boost in this country when this bill goes through. People keep talking about how some people won't want to bake cakes, for example, for a same-sex couple who wants to marry. I'm wondering how economically successful they will be if they don't participate in the trade that will ensue from everybody having the right to marry.

I'm looking forward to going to many of the weddings of my friends. When my husband and I got married, we were very conscious that we were doing it at a time when many of our friends and loved ones could not marry. We made a very heartfelt commitment to our LGBTI community, friends and loved ones. We committed and promised that we would not stop campaigning until marriage equality was achieved so that we could stand with them when they got married. So I'm really looking forward to that time when we can stand there and celebrate their love the same way that they stood with my husband and me to celebrate our love and commitment before our friends and families.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the hard work of one of my staff members, Nadine Walker, who over the years has campaigned relentlessly for marriage equality to become a reality. She can't be here with us today due to personal circumstances, but I know yesterday's results mean so much to her and in fact were an early birthday present—so, Nadine, happy birthday today. I'm hoping this is making your day. We are thinking of you with love in our hearts. I also send a message to her partner, Hannah, to say thank you so much for supporting Nadine through this time. Love will win. The Greens have had a lot of stickers with, 'LOVE. WILL. WIN.' I don't know that we're going to have time to make stickers that say 'Love is winning,' but we'll certainly have plenty of time to have stickers saying 'Love has won.' Love is going to win.

I can't tell you how many rallies I've stood up at, supporting marriage equality and promising people that we will get there and we will never stop campaigning to ensure that love will win. We made a promise that we would support marriage equality at every vote, every time—every MP, every vote, every time. Around this country, we can proudly say: every Green MP, every vote, every time. We want to see this bill passed. This bill is supported across parties. People came to the table with compassion and love, wanting to ensure that there was a bill that could be passed by this parliament. This bill is capable of being passed by this parliament. That too will be a historic moment. People will say, 'I remember where I was when that bill passed.' There will be greater joy, literally, in the streets when it passes, way beyond what was seen in Braddon last night and way beyond what I've seen reported in other states, including my home state. It will be a day of joy for so many people when we finally have marriage equality in Australia and people have the right to marry the person they love.

I look forward to continuing to participate in this debate. I look forward to seeing the smiles of joy and the tears that I know will flow very freely when the bill finally passes. Then I look forward to going to lots and lots of weddings and sharing the joy of my loved ones and my friends in their ability to say 'I do', slip rings on each other's fingers, kiss, hug and share their love with their families and friends, because that's what this is about. It is about love and people's commitment to each other. Every human being has the right to do that with the person they love and to enjoy and celebrate that with their family, their loved ones and their friends. So, once again: every Green, every vote, every time. And we'll certainly be voting for this bill. Please, I urge people in this chamber to support this bill.

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