Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Days and Hours of Meeting
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the routine of business for Thursday, 20 September 2012.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice of motion in the name of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Evans, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely, a motion to give precedence to a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for Thursday 20 September 2012.
I will speak briefly to the motion. This afternoon, I am seeking to move a motion that facilitates debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) tomorrow. As will be demonstrated when the chamber votes on this suspension motion, and on the actual motion to organise business tomorrow, the majority of senators want the debate on this bill to continue tomorrow. Debating the bill tomorrow will allow the Senate to express its position on the same bill that was voted on and defeated in the other place earlier today. The motion should be supported without further debate.
The Greens do not think that this is a matter of sufficient urgency to suspend standing orders in order to bring on what is effectively a shutdown of the debate on marriage equality, to change the sitting hours tomorrow and to provide for us sitting until very late tomorrow night, presumably—that is, to change the whole sitting arrangements in the Senate in order to bring to a vote the issue of marriage equality.
We have already seen this in a most unprecedented manner in the House of Representatives, where the House procedures were completely changed and disrupted—in an unprecedented manner in there too, I might add—and the reason given by Mr Albanese at the time was that it would allow the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to make statements on this issue. That is why all the procedures had to be changed in the House of Representatives—to facilitate the Prime Minister making a statement and the Leader of the Opposition making a statement on their positions on marriage equality, and it did not happen. Extraordinary—isn't it?—that you would change the whole of the procedures in the House of Representatives to facilitate statements being made and the statements never happened! What an extraordinary thing that neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition actually spoke on the issue which was so important to bring on for a vote and which required them to actually change those standing orders and procedures in order that that occur.
We are not going to agree to the same thing here; there is no rush for this to be brought on and put to a vote tomorrow. There is certainly no rush and no reason to change the way we do business on Thursdays and keep us all here on the basis of getting a vote on this bill. This whole strategy is very clearly a strategy to coordinate the vote in the House of Representatives and in the Senate so that an attempt to shut down the debate can be made by both the government and the coalition, who have got together to agree to change the way we do business on Thursdays to facilitate this occurring. The Greens do not intend to facilitate that happening. We recognise that a deal has been done between the government and the coalition to change the business of tomorrow so that the consideration of general business and the private senators' time will be altered such that after the marriage equality bill we will then have to sit here for the time it takes to get through whatever the coalition wants to debate up until whatever time they choose to debate it.
You would argue that that you would only do something like that if it was a genuine matter of urgency to bring this matter to a debate and to a vote. There is no genuine matter of urgency on this particular piece of legislation for it getting to a vote tomorrow, Thursday. On a Thursday we normally do not have votes and divisions after 4.30 pm. We would not normally do this, so why? What is the urgency? I think it is up to the government and the coalition to explain why we have to stay here tomorrow night, why we have to have votes and divisions after 4.30, why we have to change our procedures and why the coalition is giving up its private members' time in the morning to facilitate debate after that time in the evening. It is simply to allow the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, who have failed to get to their feet and make statements in relation to marriage equality at all—which I think is really offensive to the people around Australia who have been campaigning so long and hard for marriage equality, people who thought they might get a statement from the Prime Minister or from the Leader of the Opposition, on the record and in the parliament, of what their actual views are.
As I said before, Mr Albanese put forward in the House of Representatives the view that the reason for the change was to allow those statements to be made, and they were not made.
All of the families around Australia who are listening and following this debate will be horrified to know that there has been this attempt to change the way the parliament works in order to bring to a vote something for which there is no urgency at all. We should be able to debate this in the normal hours of the parliament sitting, and that is what the Greens believe ought to occur.
I will just speak briefly to this motion, because I think Senator Milne's contribution is just not right. The parliament debated Senator Hanson-Young's bill on 23 August, I think. So the Greens brought this matter on for debate in the parliament. The Senate first debated the question of marriage equality legislation at the initiative of the Greens some three weeks ago. We indicated that we thought the most appropriate way to deal with this bill was to allow a proper debate in the parliament and to allow all senators to contribute.
Senator, if you want to speak, join the debate, and you can be as aggressive as you like then. But it will not change the facts: you brought on the debate on this bill. The government recognised the desire by the parliament and the community for us to have a debate on the question of marriage equality. We facilitated that debate by giving up government business time to allow the parliament and the Senate to debate the bill. We made that time available and we have been proceeding through that.
Contrary to the impression given by Senator Milne in her contribution, we have allowed all senators who wanted to speak the opportunity to speak. As I understand it, all bar one of the Greens has already spoken and the other is on the list and will have the opportunity to speak. All senators who put their names on the list have been afforded the opportunity to make a contribution. That is another point that I wanted to make very clearly.
The question of the arrangement of the business is designed to facilitate us concluding that debate—that is absolutely right. We thought it best to allow a proper debate, as we have on other matters of conscience before this parliament—and the Greens have cooperated on such matters. When we debated issues such as euthanasia, RU486 and other matters, we facilitated everyone making a contribution, we facilitated a debate which allowed those views to be aired and then we brought it to a vote. We are following the same process.
The Liberal and National parties are not allowing their senators a conscience vote—that is a decision for them—but the Labor Party is and we facilitated the debate in the same way we have other debates. We allocated extra sitting time last night to facilitate the debate. We sought the agreement of the Senate to do that because we wanted to allow that debate to occur and we wanted to allow all senators the opportunity to contribute. We made it very clear that we were bringing this bill on this week to get it debated. We think it best that it is done in its totality in the one sitting week, and we are looking to bring it to a vote. That is what the community has been asking of us, that is what parliamentarians have been asking of us, and we have sought to facilitate that in the parliament.
This sudden interest and concern about whether or not the procedure on Thursday is altered, quite frankly, does not wash. That is a decision taken by the parliament. The time we are using tomorrow morning is the government's allocation of private members' time. We have taken our turn and we have allowed that time to be used in that way for this bill to be considered. The opposition have facilitated time in the afternoon. They have given up some of their rights, if you like, in the afternoon to facilitate the debate being concluded. We make no apology for saying that we have facilitated the debate and we are looking to bring it to a conclusion by dealing with it properly on one occasion and allowing all senators to contribute. I think we should allow that debate to continue.
We do not want to delay the Senate on these procedural motions for any great length of time, but I do want to correct the record in terms of the suggestions Senator Milne made. This has been handled in the same way we have sought to deal with other sensitive issues that are matters of conscience for senators. We changed the sitting hours on all those occasions, I am sure, and we changed them last night. What this is really about is that Greens do not want to come to a vote. That is fine, but be honest about it. Be honest and say that, for whatever reasons, you do not want it to come to a vote and that, despite all the people who are supporting wanting it to come to a vote, the Greens have decided that they have a political strategy. That is fine, but just be honest about that. Do not pretend it is about procedures—because it is not. You do not want the vote, and you are entitled to that view, but we are looking to conclude the debate.
I just want to correct one thing for the record, and that is that today is the first we have heard that all of a sudden this is such an urgent matter that we need to change the hours and start changing what was previously allocated as coalition time. This was not raised in the whips and leaders meeting earlier this week. As far as we knew until this morning, this was coalition time that we are talking about being used tomorrow. The coalition have given their time over to the Labor Party to allow the Labor Party to tick and flick their marriage equality bill so that the party do not have to worry about it anymore.
Senator Evans's argument may have been stronger and may have had an ounce more truth in it if indeed we did not see what occurred in the House today occur, where procedures were totally changed and where the Prime Minister could not even get to her feet to explain to the Australian people or the rest of her parliamentary colleagues why it is that she was voting no to marriage equality.
Despite the fact that she is the Prime Minister, we are hearing the government say, 'This is such an important issue—urgency, urgency—we need to rush it through,' and yet the Prime Minister did not even have the guts to stand up in the parliament today and explain to the Australian people why she believes discrimination should continue.
The Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are as one on this. They believe that same-sex couples and their families deserve to have their relationships kept out of sight, out of mind, and that they do not deserve equality. The Prime Minister voted for that today and so did the Leader of the Opposition.
We in this place know that there is more support for this bill in this chamber than there is in the other. Of course we know that. But we also know that when this bill comes to a vote tomorrow—as is being forced by the government—it is not going to pass. That is exactly what the Prime Minister wants. It is exactly what the Labor factions want. It is exactly what the ACL want. The Australian Christian Lobby have put out a press release congratulating the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition because they voted down marriage equality today. So I guess they are looking for a second press release to be issued late in the night tomorrow, in which Jim Wallace is going to say: 'You get a gold star, because you did it twice in one week! You killed off the issue twice in one week!' The ACL want this issue killed; the Prime Minister has agreed, and the Leader of the Opposition has facilitated it. What we see in this motion is the opposition in this place handing their own private members' time to the government to vote down marriage equality, despite the fact—let's not forget—that it actually is part of the Labor Party platform.
Government senators interjecting—
I cannot believe that, despite all the fanfare, the big urgency to rush this through, the Prime Minister could not even get to her feet today and explain to people why it was such an important issue to her that she voted no. Julia Gillard is on the wrong side of history on this—
The Prime Minister. Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is on the wrong side of history. She is lining up with Tony Abbott and they are stuck in the 1950s, just like Senator Boswell. Rather than actually having a properly facilitated discussion, in this place or the other, the Labor Party wants to rush this bill through, just like they did today in the House, to get it off the agenda, because it is inconvenient for them.
It is staggering to see the coalition in this place handing over their time tomorrow to allow the Labor Party to dump this issue, to get it off the agenda, and to see Tony Abbott—
I want to contribute to this debate and point out a few things. I pick up on the point about the ALP taking the opposition's private members' time. I hear some of the interjections from the government saying, 'It was our time'. At no point during our whips meetings did the government indicate that they wanted this particular private members' time, and there was a motion passed that said it was in fact the coalition's time and the coalition wanted to debate their bill on how to kill off marine protected areas. At this point, the coalition, by agreeing to this motion, is saying, 'We want to kill off marriage equality more than we want to kill off marine parks.' Good on you, folks!
The other issue is that Minister Evans made out as if we were talking about the Greens bill. He pointed out that Senator Hanson-Young has brought in a Greens bill for marriage equality. Quite correct, and we debated that in general business time and private members' time last session. We did not want to rush that. We did not seek to take over any other time or to move motions to take over any other time. But the government senators have brought in their own bill to discuss, and that is what we are discussing now. So let us be very clear on that. Our bill is still on the Notice Paper.
The Greens have never denied that we did not want to vote on this, because we see the tactics that are being carried out here by the government and the opposition, and that is to try—because they will not actually succeed—to kill the debate on marriage equality. The community is not going to let that happen, because the community, as I articulated yesterday—64 per cent—are in favour of marriage equality. So the community is not going to let this happen, in terms of it going off the agenda, and we do not want it to go off the agenda. We were really clear on that. We saw all along what the government and the coalition were up to: they were trying to stop this debate in the run-up to the election, because they think that the community will then stop this discussion. Well, they will not. We will be keeping our bill here—it is still on the Notice Paperand we will still be discussing that.
But this is what this issue is about. It is about rushing it through so that there will be a vote at, what, two or three o'clock tomorrow morning, when they think it is not going to get any media attention. That is what this is about. It is not about allowing everybody to have their say; it is allowing everybody to have their say at midnight tomorrow night. Great.
Honourable senators interjecting—No, it's not!
It is so. This is about trying to get it off the agenda and saying, 'Been there, done that, voted no, close of debate.' It should not be and it will not be the close of that debate. But that is what this is about. There was never any discussion about them taking over private members' time tomorrow or general business time tomorrow night. It was clear when this was first brought up that there would be discussion on Monday, then there would be discussion on Tuesday and extended hours on Tuesday night. There was not any discussion that there would be take-over of Thursday night, or Thursday morning.
You are telling me that the government thought that they could get it through in that short time. Of course they could not because people were going to go on and talk about it. Why rush it? It is not an emergency decision that has to be made. The only reason to rush this is to get it off the agenda, which is a flawed approach. It will not go off the agenda. They want to bow to the Christian Lobby and to the hysterics who think this is going to undermine the institution of marriage but they do not get it. If we do not have marriage equality, that in itself undermines the institution of marriage.
Make no mistake: for those listening out there, this is the government and the coalition's attempt to try and get this issue off the agenda because they are not in tune with what the community wants. The community wants to see marriage equality. They do not want to see this buried at midnight on a Thursday night when they think no-one is watching.
We have just got to call this what it is. We have both the coalition and the Labor Party running away from a debate that they do not like. That is what this is: trying to kill off a debate, running scared—running scared because we have already seen the bile from Senator Bernardi who has now lost his job over the hate that came forward from him last night. But he was not on his own.
I had the pleasure of listening to some of the other coalition speakers: Senator Joyce, whose views belong more to the 1950s than modern Australia, insulted anyone without children by indicating that the only reason someone would get married is to pass on their genetic material. That means that should you adopt or be unfortunate enough not to be able to have kids, then your marriage does not count, is not important, does not mean anything.
We had Senator Boswell whose view of the world is that a woman's place is in the kitchen making sure dinner is ready for hubby for when he gets home. Good old Senator Boswell wants to return to a time when Aboriginal people could not vote and when we could not talk about the issue of equality and how we should be able to live in a society where all people are treated equally. The coalition are running away from this debate, because they have already lost Senator Bernardi over his spiteful, hateful and divisive comments. If it goes on for a bit longer, who knows what might happen? The genie would be out of the bottle. We would hear all of these folks with their prejudiced views not being able to help themselves. People at the moment are just holding back because they think: 'Give this a bit of time and it'll be off the political agenda.' It is not going anywhere.
If this debate is killed tomorrow, it will be back because we will make sure it comes back. We know the Australian community wants it to come back. There is overwhelming popular support for this. Imagine a time when the party of liberalism, the party of the individual, does not allow their individual members a conscience vote on this issue. It is denying each and every one of these members of the party of individualism, the party of small government, a conscience vote. Who would have thought it?
The government deserves criticism as well. We know that there are many members within the government who support our position on this who wanted a debate, and yet we have people like Joe de Bruyn making it very, very clear that this is a debate that must be killed—not because it does not have popular support but precisely because it does. We have to kill it because it has got popular support. That is the logic of Joe de Bruyn's speech to the Australian Christian Lobby. We cannot win this argument on its merits because people want this change. No, we have got to frighten you into submission. What a terrific piece of logic that was. Good on you, Joe.
Coalition and conservative prime ministers right across the globe are getting behind marriage equality: New Zealand, eight other countries and states across the US—Barack Obama has changed his position but not Julia: 'No, no, no. We cannot change our position, because it has got popular support.'
The Prime Minister; I am sorry—Prime Minister Gillard. We cannot have a debate on this because guess what? We will lose it, because the Australian public want it. This is what it has come to: cowards on one side and cowards on the other who want to kill the debate. Who would have thought it? It does not matter: this is round 1. We know—it might not be tomorrow, next week or next month—this debate is going to come back and we are going to win it.
No, we are not because the Australian public is not wrong, Senator Bushby. The Australian public want this reform. This is a reform whose time has come. It is only a matter of time. Rather than being running scared and worrying about one of the loose cannons in the coalition, why not stand up, take a stand and show the leadership that the Australian community so desperately wants this parliament to show?
I indicate that I will be supporting the motion that is being proposed by the government and supported by the opposition. I do take issue with my colleagues in the Australian Greens. I think this motion should be put into perspective. It does not actually kill off the debate. What this motion will do is allow every member in this place who wants to speak on it to actually give a speech in relation to this very important bill. That is the first thing it will do.
I agree with Senator Di Natale that this debate will not be killed off whether the vote is tomorrow or some other time, because the Australian Greens have got their bill. There is a considerable degree of community concern and support for this bill as well, so this issue will not go away. To characterise this motion as killing off the debate is, I think, with respect to those who think otherwise, not really a fair characterisation of what this motion is trying to do. There are other pieces of legislation that are also important and that need to be dealt with. I have wanted to speak on the issue of anti-dumping and the cost of manufacturing jobs. It is an issue that I am very concerned about, and it is a bill that also needs to be dealt with, as well as other pieces of legislation.
So I think what is being proposed is fair. It is not perfect. It never is in circumstances such as this. As long as the Australian Greens can bring on their bill for further debate next year, I am sure that it will be an issue, if this bill does not pass, which seems likely, that will continue to be a very significant issue of community concern and debate, as it should be. I look forward to further debates in relation to the same issue next year in the lead-up to the election campaign, and I think that is a fair approach.
Senator Xenophon is really wide of the mark. My colleagues have set out clearly why this motion is designed to kill off the debate. We know how this will be taken out to the public. The left of Labor can get out there and say: 'We fought the good fight. We tried to deliver on this but, look, we went down.' And the right can say that they have also had a victory: they stopped it. In terms of the debate continuing in this place, for the moment it has been killed off.
Yes, this issue will come back but the way that it has been played out over these last few days has really been quite shameful. As Senator Sarah Hanson-Young pointed out, the failure of the opposition leader and the Prime Minister to come into the House of Representatives and provide an explanation is quite extraordinary when there has been so much build-up about this issue. We know that the majority of Australians are behind it. The least that they could have done was to afford it the dignity of the parliamentary process itself, as well as respecting the public and giving them their viewpoint. The failure to do that does reflect on them enormously.
This motion is apparently designed to allow everybody to speak—and, yes, obviously we support that—but at the end of the day the intent here is to have the vote, and then it is all over. It is exactly what happened in the House of Representatives. It is a repeat performance of the disgraceful way in which it was played out last night. It is also worth putting on the record: when have we ever seen the same piece of legislation introduced into the House of Representatives and into the Senate at the same time? Again, that was orchestrated effectively to be on the same day in order to minimise the whole thing, to shut it down and then both sides could say: 'Yes, we went in there. We fought the good fight on this issue, but no result.'
The Greens are in this for the long term. We will be working with the community. This issue will be back here before too long, and then we can all enjoy the same-sex marriages of our colleagues.
That a motion to vary the hours of meeting and routine of business for Thursday, 20 September 2012 may be moved immediately and have precedence over all other business today until determined.
That, on Thursday, 20 September 2012:
(a) the hours of meeting shall be 9.30 am to adjournment;
(b) consideration of general business private senators’ bills under temporary order 57(1)(d)(ia) shall not be proceeded with;
(c) any proposal pursuant to standing order 75 shall not be proceeded with;
(d) subject to paragraph (g), consideration of general business under standing order 57(1)(d)(x) shall not be proceeded with;
(e) the government business order of the day relating to the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 shall have precedence over all other business, as follows:
(i) from 9.30 am for 2 hour and 20 minutes,
(ii) after consideration of non-controversial government business till not later than 2 pm, and
(iii) from not later than 4 pm;
(f) divisions may take place after 4.30 pm;
(g) the routine of business after completion of the consideration of the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 shall be:
(i) tabling of documents,
(ii) consideration of the general business notice of motion relating to Australia’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries, for up to one and half hours, and
(iii) consideration of government documents under standing order 57(1)(d)(xi) and the consideration of committee reports, government responses and Auditor-General’s reports under standing order 62(1), for up to one hour; and
(h) the question for the adjournment of the Senate shall not be proposed until a motion for the adjournment is moved by a minister.
This motion reorganises Senate business tomorrow to facilitate debate on the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012. With the cooperation of the opposition, the government is effectively using its one allocated time spot to debate a private senator's bill to allow the Senate to continue and finalise debate on the marriage amendment bill. This will mean that the Senate can express its position on the same bill that was voted on and defeated in the other place earlier today.
I should indicate at this stage not only the point in relation to time being utilised by the Senate but also the point in relation to the estimate of time taken by senators, given some of the comments made previously by Senator Milne and Senator Siewert. At the extreme, if all senators who have indicated a desire to speak in this debate were to take their full 20 minutes, there is an estimated nine hours involved. This will take us nowhere near midnight or 3 am, as some of my colleagues have raised with me as they have listened to the debate. Many of the senators on the list have indicated that they seek to make a contribution but not in the order of a full 20 minutes. We foresee that the debate should be managed in an appropriate way and within reasonable time. This motion on timing should be supported without further debate.
As I have indicated, the Greens will not be supporting this alteration to the hours of meeting and routine of business. The issue, apart from anything else, is that normally you would not change the hours on a Thursday, given members of parliament will have made decisions about where else they might be intending to be on Friday, without giving notice of that or indicating why it is urgent. It is absolutely applicable that there should be a request to change the hours of meeting and routine of business if a matter has come before the parliament which requires urgent consideration. If it is urgent then it is reasonable that the parliament be asked to change its normal way of business—which is, of course, that on Thursday we would rise at the end of a sitting week.
Now the government, with the coalition, has changed that and have done so by arguing that there is some urgency. But we have not heard a single argument from anyone as to what is urgent about bringing this matter to a decision and vote tomorrow; nor have we had any explanation for this extraordinarily unprecedented business of bringing a bill on in both houses at the same time, in the same week, to get it off the agenda. That is clearly a political strategy. Without any notice that this was going to occur, we are told today that the sitting hours have changed and we will sit here as long as it takes tomorrow night; there will be divisions and votes until whatever time it takes. There is not the courtesy from the government or the coalition to tell us why it is so urgent, other than that it is urgent to satisfy the political agenda of both the government and the coalition. They will try to get this vote in both houses of parliament in the same week so as to get it off the political agenda, as I indicated before.
It is rude to the parliament and the people campaigning on this issue around the country that there has been no explanation as to why this is in the Prime Minister's interests—other than that, as we have heard, it is in the interests of the Australian Christian Lobby and Jim Wallace in particular to have this matter dealt with and voted on. As I indicated when I spoke on this matter, it was in fact that particular individual who invited Joe de Bruyn from the executive of the ALP to speak to him last year in order to outline a strategy to derail the majority opinion in the Labor Party. It is an extraordinary thing that someone who is on the executive of the Labor Party would work with someone outside the Labor Party to derail 80 per cent of the people in the Labor Party—which is the estimate that was made at the time—by using the Prime Minister in the way that he outlined seven weeks before the national ALP conference. That is exactly what has occurred.
Interestingly, on the vote in the lower house: you have, for example, Kevin Rudd, who was going out of his way to woo the Rainbow Labor group before the 2007 election—he went out of his way to woo them with support of marriage equality—but who now turns around and votes against it in the House of Representatives. We have had a similar outcome from Malcolm Turnbull, the member for Wentworth, who at least had the courage to come out and say that he supports marriage equality but will vote against it because he is not allowed a conscience vote. The decision of the Leader of the Opposition not to permit a conscience vote goes to the heart of cowardice as well because essentially it means that he wants to give members of his party political cover behind a suggestion that they not change the position they went to the last election with and will not be allowed to say what they think. So we have those four contenders for the leadership—Prime Minister Gillard and Kevin Rudd, Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, and Malcolm Turnbull—all voting against marriage equality when two, if not three, of those people support marriage equality. Is it any wonder that the community is so cynical about the political process when members of parliament tell the electorate they believe in one thing and then vote in another way because they want to get political outcomes?
Regarding an interjection which suggests I should not make this a partisan issue, the decision by backbenchers in the Labor Party to work with the government to bring their own bills to a vote in both houses is as cynical and party-political as it can possibly get. There was an opportunity here to work with the bills that were in both houses of parliament already—to continue to support the campaign for marriage equality and not work to undermine it. The decision by those backbenchers of both houses of this parliament was a decision to facilitate the stalling of the debate nationally, because what it meant was bringing it to a vote to stall the momentum of the campaign. People might not like to have that pointed out to them but that is the reality of what has gone on in this particular debate. That is what is so appalling about it. As many members of the Senate understand, there are families, and young gay and lesbian people, around Australia today who had hoped this parliament's members would speak with the courage of their convictions. In relation to this issue, one half of the parliament is not allowed to speak with the courage of their convictions for a political outcome to satisfy the Leader of the Opposition. The other half is not speaking on their convictions, even with a conscience vote, because they do not want to embarrass the Prime Minister, in a strategy that was worked out by one member of the executive of the federal ALP with the Australian Christian Lobby to use the Prime Minister's view to forestall people actually voting as their conscience would have dictated in other circumstances. What an appalling outcome.
But as my colleagues have indicated, we in the Greens will not allow this to be anything other than a hiccup in the debate for marriage equality in Australia. We will continue to work with the campaigners around the country on this because the majority of the Australian people are with us. The majority of the Australian people would be absolutely disgusted by remarks being made not only by Senator Bernardi but also by Senator Boswell. I found it particularly offensive that he should stand up and say that it is bad enough that we have normalised being gay over the last couple of decades, let alone suggest that we might go to marriage equality. Well, I have got news for Senator Boswell, and that is that gay and lesbian people are perfectly normal thank you, Senator Boswell. Your offensive remarks are in the same category as those of some of the rest of your colleagues in relation to this.
For families, for people in Australia who want to end discrimination of all kinds, who have managed to get this parliament to recognise an end to discrimination on the basis of race, we are doing everything we can to end discrimination on the basis of gender, and now we are trying to end discrimination on the basis of sexuality.
We are seeing a whole lot of political games being played here in order to change the normal sitting practices in both houses of parliament. There can be no explanation for that change other than to try to secure an outcome in a vote in both houses in the same week for a political purpose. There is no other explanation. If Senator Pratt has another explanation as to why Mr Albanese stood up and said that the reason that all the procedures in the House of Representatives had to be changed was to facilitate the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition making statements, which they failed to do, then perhaps she could explain to the Senate why all those changes in the House of Representatives took place. Further, she might explain why it is necessary to change the hours of meeting and routine of business in the Senate to bring this matter to a vote when there is no urgency for it to be brought for a vote. There is none. We know full well what the outcome is going to be. What is happening here is the backbench of the Labor Party are facilitating the Labor Party bringing it to a vote when there is no urgency for it to do so and when we all know it is going to be defeated. If that is not an attempt to burst the bubble of the momentum that has been building around this issue then I do not know what is. It might feel bad to actually recognise that that is the way the pawns in this game are being played, but that is precisely what has gone on and that is why the Greens are not going to facilitate that occurring.
We understand that the coalition has agreed with the government to change the hours of meeting and the routine of business to facilitate this because it suits Mr Abbott that it be so. It suits the coalition that they do not have a conscience vote. As my colleague Senator di Natale said, the party of the individual is very happy not to have a conscience vote on this issue so they can hide behind Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, on this matter. But, of course, the campaign will go on, and in their electorates they will be asked very much so for their views on this matter. Then, when it does come back into the Senate again—as it will continue to come back, right through to the next election—they too will be put in exactly the same position that Mr Rudd has been put into today, and Mr Turnbull as well: standing up and voting against what they truly believe in in order to facilitate political outcomes. That is why the Australian people get so cynical about the political process.
For the member for Wentworth, it is particularly cynical when he makes a speech on honesty in politics, saying we need a much more honest process whereby people can say what they really think. Well, he can say what he really thinks, but he is not voting according to what he really thinks because, as he says, the leadership team in the coalition requires him to toe the party line. If he did not, he would be required to leave the leadership team in the coalition and he clearly puts being in that leadership team ahead of actually voting according to his conscience on this particular issue. So be it. That is exactly where the situation has ended up.
I think it is a shocking thing for Australians to not actually know why the Prime Minister in particular opposes marriage equality. We know from Mr Abbott where he is getting his advice on this and where he has always got his advice on this. He has a particular point of view that he has always maintained. However, it interests me that the Prime Minister has never really articulated to the Australian people what is the basis for her opposition to marriage equality, when she has always said that we should end discrimination. Yet she is moving here to facilitate ongoing discrimination against gay and lesbian people in Australia. It is a fact that that is the case and that she has not stood up to say so. That is why I make it very clear that I believe it has got a lot more to do with the backroom numbers in the Labor Party, with the Labor Party executive and with the role of Joe de Bruyn, the union he represents and the numbers that they can deliver in the leadership of the Labor Party, that the position is being taken to oppose marriage equality, not only from the Prime Minister but from Mr Rudd as well. For all the talk about getting beyond the back rooms, getting beyond the factions and getting beyond the backroom deals, what we have seen here is a backroom deal which is actually going against the future of the nation, going against what we all know is right—an end to discrimination in Australia. I cannot for the life of me understand, as Prime Minister of this country, why you would not want to lead the nation into an era that ends discrimination rather than do the numbers and work out that in fact you will abandon a leadership position on an issue of discrimination, about the sort of country we want to live in, in favour of maintaining the power bases across the various factions in the Labor Party and what they can deliver. However, having said that, so be it. That is exactly what we are dealing with and that is why we are not going to facilitate a change in the hours of meeting and routine of business.
There is no urgency to bring this to a vote. Not only is there no urgency; it is incredibly offensive and generating a good deal of hurt across the gay and lesbian community in Australia that this is being forced to a vote in this way. I have spoken to parents of gay and lesbian people and of course with young gay and lesbian people and this is just another affront to them. This is another assault to their wellbeing, to their dignity and to their self-esteem. Once again, the Australian parliament has failed them. The Australian parliament has been able to work up the courage to get over and get beyond discrimination on the basis of race and get beyond discrimination on the basis of gender but the Australian parliament cannot get beyond discrimination on the basis of sexuality.
It seems that even conservative parliaments like that led by Mr Key in New Zealand can do it. Conservative parliaments led by Mr Cameron in the United Kingdom can do it. Even President Obama, in the face of the religious Right campaign in the US, has been prepared to come out and say his position has evolved. Even the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, who stood up before the 2004 election and got a standing ovation for opposing marriage equality and became the pin-up at that time of those opposing marriage equality has now changed her view, and is prepared to say, 'This discrimination in Australia must end.'
We had hoped we would see the same from the Prime Minister and we have not. I think we had an expectation, I think the Australian community had an expectation, Mr Albanese had an expectation and everyone who agreed to the changed procedures in the House of Representatives had an expectation that we would have had on the record in parliament from the Prime Minister the statement that the changed hours of business and procedures was meant to facilitate, and it did not happen.
Exactly the same can be said of the Leader of the Opposition. I do not think there is another issue, a matter of conscience, that has ever come before this parliament where you have had neither the Prime Minister nor the Leader of the Opposition having the courage to put on the record in the parliament their view. I think that is an appalling state of affairs that shows that there has been a lack of leadership on both sides when it comes to standing and fronting the parliament and the Australian people on the positions that are held.
I think the Leader of the Opposition needed to tell the parliament why he refused his members a conscience vote on the matter. The Prime Minister owes the Australian people and the parliament an explanation as to why she wants to maintain discrimination in Australia and why she wants to put gay and lesbian people through more years of agony and discrimination, and fails to explain where the justification for that comes from. The Greens are not going to facilitate it.
We will continue to campaign to end discrimination in Australia on the basis of sexuality. We will campaign to say that people who love each other should be able to marry in this country and that we celebrate the love that they share and want to see the community recognition of that love that marriage equality would bring about. We will continue to argue that. This will not be put off the parliamentary agenda as far as the Greens are concerned. We will work with the community groups and the majority of the Australian people and we will encourage the Australian people to continue to invite the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition to have the courage to stand up in the parliament and put on the record in detail the views that they hold.