Thursday, 20 June 2013
Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013; Second Reading
It is a great honour to stand here today and speak in favour of the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013. We have had many debates about removing the current discrimination against same-sex couples in the Marriage Act, discrimination which prevents same-sex couples from having their love recognised under federal law. Today's bill focuses on a very specific part of that discrimination—discrimination against couples who are legally married in other countries. It needs to be pointed out that this discrimination was only inserted into the Marriage Act as recently as 2004. Until then, this ban did not exist.
There are countries all around the world where it is now accepted that marriage equality is not a threat to the institution of marriage. Indeed, marriage equality is a way of building on the very strong foundation of the institution of marriage and of progressing as a fair and equitable society. It is worth pointing out that the debate in the United Kingdom has been led by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. Same-sex marriage has been legal on Canadian soil for many years now. There are various states in the US where same-sex marriage has been legalised. Most famously of those, New York legislated for marriage equality just under a year ago.
Our own closest neighbour, New Zealand, legalised same-sex marriage just a few months ago. New Zealand is only three hours away and, since the historic announcement by the New Zealand parliament of that exciting move to adopt marriage equality, we have seen thousands of Australian couples book their tickets, book their photographers and start organising their suits and wedding dresses in order to get married legally in New Zealand. When the legislation passed through the New Zealand parliament, it was such a joy to see the love, respect and celebration which filled the chamber. People were singing with joy about the fact that, finally, same-sex couples were to be treated equally under the law—that the law was going to recognise their love.
So Australian couples can fly three hours to New Zealand, land on New Zealand soil and have New Zealand give equal legal recognition to their relationship, only then—after the celebrations, getting back on the plane, flying home to Australia and disembarking at the Sydney international airport—to have to check in their marriage at the customs gate. It is almost as if it should be on that little piece of paper they give you telling you what you have to drop into the quarantine bin when you walk through the customs gate—'fruit, cash amounts over $10,000, gay marriage'. That is how ludicrous it is that here in Australia we do not legally recognise the laws of one of our closest allies.
Couples from Australia are organising to have their weddings in the City of Love, Paris, because France recently adopted marriage equality. There are few other places which evoke the same connotations of romantic love and there are few more romantic settings for a couple to have their loving relationship recognised than under the Eiffel Tower. Again, however, they arrive back home in Australia and find that we do not recognise the laws which France upholds. We do not recognise the legal institution that exists in that country.
Many thousands of couples here in Australia have already taken these steps and made their vows to each other, many in front of their friends and family. Some, however, have not been able to do it in front of their friends and family, because they have had to travel long distances—often to the other side of the world—just to have their relationships considered equal under law. The relationship status of these couples is not legally recognised in their home country, in the country that they love.
This legislation is a step towards marriage equality in Australia. We know the majority of the public support that. A large percentage of the population believe it is inevitable that marriage equality will become legal here in Australia—that finally, one day, same-sex couples will be able to have their love recognised like everybody else. Until then, even those couples who are already considered legally married in other countries are not considered to be married here. Dr Kerryn Phelps, who many people would know as the former AMA president, has been married to her wife for 15 years. Her and Jackie live happily with their family in Sydney—they live in every way as a married couple. And they are legally married in many places around the world, but not here in Australia. Kerryn and Jackie have been married for 15 years, yet in Australia they are not considered to have been married for even one day. We need to change that.
This is not just morally the right thing to do; it is the right thing to do to clear up a bureaucratic nightmare. They are marrying not just because they want to see their love for each other celebrated in a formal way through marriage but also for the security that comes from the recognition of their union—insurance, immigration rights, a variety of issues in relation to property. It is a symbolic act, yes, but it is a very important symbolic act. It is important within a community to be able to say that you are in a married relationship with your partner, but it is also about giving these couples certainty and security in putting their lives together, building their lives and wanting to spend the rest of their lives together. It is not just about progressing the rights of LGBTI Australians—although that is very important—it is also about the individual security and assurance of each of the people in a relationship.
As I have said, thousands of Australian couples are already in this predicament. It was not until 2004, when John Howard as Prime Minister effectively did a dirty deal to get the legislation changed to ban same-sex relationships, that legal same-sex marriages in other countries were no longer recognised here in Australia. It was a change of the law then and this bill is changing it back. It was the wrong thing to do in 2004 and it is the right thing to do now in 2013.
This issue has been debated in this place and in the other place consistently over the last three years and with that the public's support for equality in marriage has grown. We have seen a change of heart and a change of mind from many not just in the community but also within our chambers of parliament. Conservatives like Barry O'Farrell, the Liberal Premier of New South Wales, have come out in support of same-sex marriage. If a Liberal Premier can allow his view to evolve, and a former Prime Minister such as Kevin Rudd, who is a forthright Christian, can allow his position to evolve, if they can open their hearts and open their minds, then surely the bulk of our chamber here today can do that as well. Recently on a plane I was talking about this issue with Jeff Kennett, a former Premier of Victoria. Jeff and I, as you can imagine, do not agree on a lot of things—but on this issue I could not fault him. He said to me: 'I thought about this issue, I considered the facts, I listened to the experts and I thought, "What the heck, who am I to say that somebody else's happiness is not as important as my own? Who is the parliament to say that just because of somebody's sexuality, just because they happen to be in love with somebody of the same gender but are equal in all other ways, their love and their happiness should be denied?"' I have been reflecting on that conversation ever since, because it is an important illustration of how far our community has come in speaking up for this change in the law. They want it done and dusted.
This is, as I have said, a halfway house. It is a step towards marriage equality. It is not full equality, and I accept that. Many of the countries where marriage equality has finally become law took this step first—the step of recognising marriages that had taken place in foreign lands. Neither Israel nor Japan allow for same-sex marriages to be performed on their home soil, but as a gesture of goodwill and understanding of other countries' sovereignty they are good enough and big enough to recognise the laws of other countries that do believe that same-sex marriages are legal.
It strikes me as strange that people would not want to support correcting what is becoming a bureaucratic nightmare: couples getting married overseas, thinking that their relationships will now be recognised and understood, only to return home and finding that their marriages are null and void. Here in Australia, we have the power today to change that and we should be changing it. We should act today. We have debated this issue a long time in this chamber and I have enjoyed listening to the speeches from both sides. I accept that there are some people who feel very strongly about this on either side. But I am encouraged every day because every day I hear stories about somebody else supporting the idea that love is love and that equality matters. I am encouraged that our younger generations do not understand why we have this discrimination. If we can accept that women have equal rights and that people in interracial relationships can be legally married, they cannot believe that in 2013 Australia should be standing in the way of this type of equality, which is fundamentally important to the relationships of same-sex couples but also to strengthening the institution of marriage.
We will hear views in this place today from those who are strongly opposed to removing this discrimination. We will hear today that marriage is only between a man and a woman, that that is the way it has always been and that that is the way it should stay. That argument does not acknowledge that social institutions, and important institutions that as communities we take hold of and own and hold up with such pride, do change over time. The institution of marriage has always been changing. The fact that we allow Aboriginal women in Australia to marry white men has not always been the case. Yet to think that today we are standing against the type of discrimination of a couple in that circumstance seems ridiculous. No-one would argue that that is the right thing to do in 2013, just like in years to come when people wonder what took Australia so long to accept that love between two people regardless of their gender should be seen as equal. I reflect on the conversation I had on the plane.
Who are we to stand in the way of two other people's happiness, to make them feel as though their relationship is somehow less equal than other people's just because they happen to be gay or lesbian? There are thousands of Australians who are sitting in hope today that their friends, their family, their loved ones and their work colleagues will finally be able to have the relationship with the person they love recognised as equal.
This debate has come so far in the last few years and it is down to the hard, tireless work and very heartfelt stories of family members and friends of gays and lesbians right around this country who have advocated for the rights of their loved ones to be seen as equal. What about the parents who knock on our doors in this place?—we all know them. They knock on our doors and sit in our offices, and they say, 'Why is it that my gay son does not have the same rights as my straight son?' 'Why is it that my sister does not have the same rights as me?' Why is it that, despite bringing up our children to believe that they can be all and anything and make the world whatever they want, that they are equal in all ways, when it comes to one of the most fundamental unions as human beings that we make with another person, that is not equal and they are not given the same rights?'
When I have those meetings with family members in my office, all I can reflect on is that there is goodwill amongst the Australian community to rid our law books of this discrimination and that there is growing support for this change to happen, and it is finally being reflected here in this place. I urge all members today, regardless of what your leaders have told you, to think with your hearts, open your minds and vote the way you know is right. Do not let anyone say you do not have the right to speak up for what your constituents want, for what you know in your heart is the right thing to do just because your leader has told you to stay put. This is your chance to make a difference before the next election to show the Australian people that you do not have a tin ear on this issue, that you indeed will stand up for what is right and have the courage to do the right thing.
I rise today with somewhat mixed emotions to offer a few comments on the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013, because it does bring me a great deal of distress that this parliament has failed to make progress on this issue and that we are debating today a somewhat compromised version of what should be full marriage equality. My views that all couples, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, should have access to marriage are well known. I have repeatedly stated my strong support for full marriage equality both inside and outside parliament and have campaigned on this issue in the community. I have argued passionately for equality on this issue on the basis of both my personal experience and equal treatment and fairness for all Australians. That equal treatment and fairness for all Australians is the driving force behind my political engagement.
I was very, very pleased and proud when the government, under then Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, moved to ensure that certificates of no impediment would be issued to Australian same-sex couples wishing to marry overseas. It is clear that many couples who are, sadly, unable to access marriage here in their home country of Australia have availed themselves of those certificates and gone overseas to marry. Many thousands of couples have done so and, as more and more countries put Australia to shame by introducing marriage equality, those numbers are going to continue to grow, as we can see from the recent moves in New Zealand. I was speaking to a friend just this week who is planning to go to New Zealand to get married at the end of this year.
There is no doubt that Australia's ongoing nonrecognition of same-sex marriages legally entered into overseas by Australians imposes unnecessary hurt and hardship on these couples, and I have some good examples. My friends Judith and Angela recently emigrated to Australia. They are making a wonderful contribution to our nation. They found the process of demonstrating the existence of their relationship for immigration purposes was significantly more difficult, due to the fact that the one piece of paper that clearly and categorically recognised their relationship—namely, their marriage certificate—was not recognised by authorities here. Then there are my dear friends Daniel and Bryan, who got married in South Africa; Jo and Nova, who got married in Canada; and Stephen and Dennis, whose overseas wedding I missed due to parliamentary sittings and whose reflections on the importance of having their relationship recognised I would like to share with the Senate today. They say:
We both went overseas thinking the ceremony was all about us, but half way through the ceremony we looked around and realised that the public recognition of our love and commitment was as much, if not more, important to our family and friends, many of whom had travelled to the other side of the globe to be with us. It is absolutely important that the country we choose to call home also recognises our commitment as well.
So, to the extent that this bill succeeds in allowing couples like Judith and Angela, Stephen and Dennis, and many thousands of couples like them to have their relationships recognised, I welcome the bill and urge senators to vote in favour of it. I fear it will not be successful, because marriage equality will only succeed when all parties in this parliament work together to see it done. We require more consensus-building across parties and cooperation between members of the parliament to see this reform through—and we are a long way behind community expectations on this issue, a very long way behind, and it is time for people in this place to catch up.
I would hope that Mr Abbott would allow the coalition to have a conscience vote on this issue. That would give this bill a much better chance of success. As I said, in order to achieve marriage equality in this country, we will need to work across the parliament and move beyond treating this as an issue designed to score political points. LGBTI Australians are not your political playthings. Our relationships are not to be used as political footballs, and we expect better than this. So I implore the Greens, the Nationals and the Liberals, particularly those of you who have said to me that you are committed to achieving marriage equality: let us work together across the parliament and across parties to see this done.
I call on Mr Abbott to give the Australian people some confidence that the country can move forward on this issue. Mr Abbott, the man who earlier this year assured the Australian community that his faith would never dictate his politics, has stubbornly refused to allow members of his party the right to follow their conscience, whatever it might say on this issue. The party of individual freedoms seems to be entirely devoid of that conscience when it comes to this issue. What is the Leader of the Opposition afraid of? He has said his party would consider allowing a conscience vote after the election, but I have no faith that this represents any kind of commitment at all to allowing his colleagues to express their views on marriage equality on the floor of this parliament. This is no position to take to an election; it is not a position at all. I know that there are many members of the coalition who do support marriage equality, so the position of the Leader of the Opposition is simply a matter of weasel words designed to buy the coalition some space on an issue on which they are woefully out of step with and very, very far behind the Australian community. It is time you caught up, because this issue is not going to go away.
We see more and more members of parliament—of this and the other place—come forward to express their views in favour of marriage equality. Indeed, I am very pleased to see that the state of South Australia looks like it is going take further steps in support of marriage equality. LGBTI Australians and their families are not going to stop advocating for their full rights under Australian law until those rights are achieved. LGBTI Australians are going to keep getting married; they are going to keep getting married overseas and they are going to keep getting married at home here in Australia. They have the right to expect that those relationships will be recognised in just the same way as those of other Australians are. As an LGBTI Australian myself and as a member of this place, I am not going to stop fighting until our equal rights are achieved. To the extent that this bill moves us a step closer to marriage equality for all Australians, I commend it to the Senate, but I also look forward to the day when we can debate and have a genuinely free vote in this place on a bill for full marriage equality for our nation—one that is supported by members of all parties in this place—then it will have a fighting chance of success.
Senator Hanson-Young, in a characteristically highly emotive but essentially content-free speech, said that the issue before the chamber this morning is all about love, but for me the issue in fact before the chamber is something much more prosaic than that. The issue before the chamber this morning is the proper application of the rules of private international law when it comes to the domestic treatment of foreign marriages. That might seem to be a pedantic point to some, but it is an essential point, because we as legislators—particularly legislators sitting in a house of review—have an obligation when dealing with bills that come before us to be technically competent. So, all the fine effusions of sentiment that we have heard from Senator Hanson-Young do not answer the point that this bill is defective from a technical point of view. This is not a debate about gay marriage at all, although Senator Hanson-Young and others would like to characterise it as being so.
There is a large and complex body of legal principle which governs the way in which nations deal with marriages solemnised in other jurisdictions. It appears that Senator Hanson-Young is not acquainted with the relevant principles of private international law, but if she is going to essay into this area perhaps she should make herself acquainted with them. There are relevant legal rules, and they come from both the Marriage Act and a body of common-law principles. The relevant legal principles are that Australia will only recognise a foreign marriage if two criteria are met. First of all, the marriage must be formally valid according to the law of the foreign jurisdiction—what private international lawyers call the 'lex loci celebrationis'—and, secondly, it must be essentially valid according to principles of Australian law. Only if both of those legal criteria are met can a state recognise a marriage celebrated overseas.
Australian law does not recognise same-sex marriage. We have had a debate about same-sex marriage in this country for some years now and there are divided views on the subject, but the issue presented to the chamber today is not that debate, even though in a clumsy and intellectually careless way Senator Hanson-Young tries to characterise it as being that debate. The real question that is posed to the chamber by this bill concerns the circumstances in which Australian law should recognise foreign marriages that Australian law does not recognise. The bill as drafted—and I do not wish to reflect upon the draftsman—is not competent even to achieve the objective that Senator Hanson-Young prescribes, because although the bill would repeal from the Commonwealth Marriage Act section 88 EA—which provides that a union solemnised in a foreign country between a man and another man or a woman and another woman must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia—it does not repeal from the Marriage Act section 88E, which provides:
(1) Subject to subsection (2), a marriage solemnised in a foreign country that would be recognised as valid under the common law rules of private international law but is not required by the provisions of this Part apart from this subsection to be recognised as valid shall be recognised in Australia as valid, and the operation of this subsection shall not be limited by any implication arising from any other provision of this Part.
Senator Hanson-Young probably does not appreciate this, but section 88E, which her bill does not seek to repeal, invokes the common-law principles of private international law, to which I have referred, and about which many scholars have written at great length. This is a complex field. It is a complex and a technical field. This morning's debate is an object lesson in the principle that, if we are to deliberate intelligently in this chamber on legislation, we should know what we are talking about, and Senator Hanson-Young does not have a clue. Rather, she represents this as being, as it were, a proxy debate about whether there should be same-sex marriage.
Apart from the technical problem that I have indicated of the fact that her bill would leave section 88E of the Marriage Act unaffected, were it to be passed it would produce this bizarre result that Australian law would recognise marriages between same-sex couples solemnised overseas but would leave unaffected the prohibition of the solemnisation of such marriages in Australia, because Senator Hanson-Young's bill does not purport to legislate for or to legalise same-sex marriages solemnised in Australia. In fairness, on previous occasions she and her Greens colleagues have brought bills to that effect to the chamber, but this is not one. So we would have this preposterous result: leaving aside the technical arguments, which are beyond Senator Hanson-Young's comprehension, Australian law would recognise same-sex marriages solemnised overseas while continuing to prohibit same-sex marriages in Australia. That is a bizarre result.
As I said a moment ago, we have had for some years now a debate about whether Australia should legalise same-sex marriage, and the community has divided views on this matter. There are different views within different political parties. But the way to approach this issue for those who are proponents of same-sex marriage is to deal with it directly, not to deal with it in the anomalous and bizarre and, from a technical legal point of view, incompetent way that this bill would do.
Let me address for a moment the broader issue. There is something chillingly unpleasant about hearing Senator Hanson-Young give one of her emotional speeches and claim, as she does, that her point of view is the only morally legitimate point of view. How dare you. How dare you be so puffed up with moral vanity that you claim that your point of view is the only morally legitimate or decent point of view. Because, Senator Hanson-Young, there are millions and millions of Australians who vigorously dissent from your view, who have a commitment to the definition of marriage, as that has always been understood until very recent days across western civilisation, as a union between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others for life—the traditional definition of a marriage in English law now repeated in the Marriage Act. I am sure those people—the people who adopt a traditional view of marriage—would not be so bigoted, would not be so contemptuous, would not be so authoritarian as to say to you, Senator Hanson-Young, your view is illegitimate; you are not allowed to entertain your view. But that is what you say to them. With every plangent utterance that falls from your lips, Senator Hanson-Young, that is what you say to them, to the people who do not share your view. You seek to delegitimise their right to hold a different opinion, and that is disgusting. That is disgusting. There is no role in a liberal democracy for the moral authoritarianism that underlies the approach that Senator Hanson-Young and some, though not all, of her colleagues take on this issue—the posturing self-righteousness that says: 'There is only one side to this argument and it is mine.' If you want a decent and reasonable discussion of this issue, because there are people, Senator Hanson-Young, in all political parties who might agree with your ultimate conclusion, then have the courtesy and have the respect for your fellow citizens to acknowledge the other point of view, something I have never, in all the years I have served with you in the Senate, seen you do, whether it be on the issue of same-sex marriage, whether it be on the issue of refugees, whether it be on the issue of climate change, whether it be on any of the shibboleths with which the Greens like to garland themselves.
As I said before, there are two views in the community on this issue and they are strenuously contested. The Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, claims to believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, so does the Leader of the Liberal Party, Mr Abbott, so does the Leader of the National Party, Mr Truss, so does the Leader of Katter's Australian Party, Mr Bob Katter, and so, I believe, does the Leader of the DLP, Senator Madigan. With the exception of the Greens, the leader of every political party in this country at the moment adopts the traditional view of marriage. I see Senator Penny Wong has just walked into the chamber. I remember many an occasion on which Senator Penny Wong supported what was then the Labor Party's line that marriage is between a man and a woman only, because that was the Labor Party's position until a couple of years ago. It beggars belief that when the leaders of every political party in this country, bar yours, have one view and you have a different view that you can treat their views as being somehow morally illegitimate. So, by all means, put your opinion, Senator Hanson-Young, but have the decency to treat those who do not agree with you with the respect with which they treat you.
The coalition's position on this issue is perfectly clear. Our position is, and always has been, to support the traditional definition of marriage. That having been said, we all know that there are many people in the coalition parties who are of a different view. This is not a party political issue in that sense. Our colleague the member for Higgins, Ms O'Dwyer, has recently declared her support for gay marriage, as has my colleague from Queensland, Wyatt Roy, the member for Longman, and many others as well. As you and I know, Mr Acting Deputy President, one of the glories of the Liberal Party is that people are entitled to take a different view from the party's official position, and they do, and nobody is ever chastised or punished for doing so. This is one of the great differences between the Liberal approach to politics and the authoritarian approach to politics which we see among parties of the Left.
Senator Wong, who strongly believes in same-sex marriage, was for years forced to defend the traditional definition of marriage against her own beliefs because she is a member of a political party that is governed by authoritarian principles. Until the Labor Party decided to move its position to a conscience vote, had she dissented under the Labor Party's constitution she would have been expelled from the Labor Party in the twinkling of an eye. That has not happened to those in the Liberal Party who do believe in a change to the definition of marriage.
Let me conclude where I began. This is a difficult issue. There are two sides to that issue and nobody of either side should delegitimise the right of a person to an alternative view to their view. If it is to be dealt with, it should not be dealt with in this form because, as I said at the start, this is not a bill about gay marriage; it is a bill about private international law drawn by somebody who simply does not understand the relevant legal principles. Were it to be passed, it would leave unaffected entirely inconsistent provisions in the Marriage Act, particularly section 88E, and it would produce the ridiculous conclusion that Australia will recognise foreign marriages which would be unlawful if contracted in Australia under our existing laws. That is a preposterous, a ludicrous, piece of law reform. No doubt Senator Hanson-Young is using this bill merely as a vehicle to agitate the broader issue. I suppose she is entitled to do that. But those, particularly in the Labor Party, who might be inclined to vote for this bill should be smart enough to work out that this is not the way to achieve the objective to which many of them subscribe. What this bill would do, were it to be passed, would be to leave Australian law in an inconsistent, anomalous and plainly ridiculous state.
I will not take up too much time addressing this bill; I believe we have spent plenty of time on this issue already. It is just on nine months now since we discussed a bill very similar to this one. The first point I would like to make is that everybody is entitled to their view, and people should not be bludgeoned into any view on any matter. Everybody is entitled to make a decision on their conscience, and every person is entitled in this place, having been elected to express their views, to have respect for their views, whether we agree or disagree. When we debate this issue, we should leave people out of it. We should discuss the issue without playing people or individuals.
I believe this bill calling for us to recognise foreign same-sex marriages is basically a backdoor attempt to force same-sex marriage onto Australians. I have already said that I do not support same-sex marriage and I will not be changing my position. Like many of you, I have had numerous emails and phone calls on this bill—both for and against—and the issue of same-sex marriage. However, unlike the apparent flood of support the Greens seem to have received, I have found the flood to be coming from ordinary Australians who are sick of this issue being raised again and again in different forms and in different forums. They are also sick and tired of being told to feel guilt and shame for continuing to uphold their belief that marriage is a union between one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.
Guilt and shame, along with fear, are the arsenal of virtually every Greens campaign. The issue in this bill is not same-sex marriage or recognition of foreign same-sex marriage. The issue here is marriage itself, because we cannot agree to this bill without changing the very understanding of marriage itself. As I have said on many occasions, and as has been proven again and again, the will of parliamentarians does not necessarily reflect the will of the people. Quite frankly, the definition of marriage is something that cannot be left to the will of the parliament. It is for this reason that I have notified that I will be introducing a bill calling for a referendum to alter the Constitution and confirm that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
I am not bludgeoning the parliament and I am not bludgeoning the nation into accepting a position through guilt. I am saying, 'Let the people decide.' We can legislate all sorts of things in this parliament and we do, but we cannot legislate the conscience of the nation. Marriage is a cornerstone of human society, predating any religious or political system. If we can have a referendum on things like local government, we deserve to have a referendum on officially defining this institution in our Constitution. I believe that this is an issue that every Australian should have a vote on. That is why I am calling for a referendum.
Rather than having this issue raised again and again, with the intention of eventually wearing down some wavering parliamentarians until it eventually gets through, this issue must be decided by the Australian people. We can tell them how much tax to pay, where their schools should be, what they can grow and what they can build. We intrude into virtually every aspect of their lives, but if we tell them that we as a parliament can make a decision that will fundamentally alter the very basis on which our society is built on, and which civilisation has been built on for millennia, then we are clearly taking on the role of little tin gods. We are not here to tell the Australian people what their society will be. That is their choice and their choice alone. I will not be supporting this bill. But, having sat here this morning, I acknowledge the contributions of Senators Hanson-Young, Pratt and Brandis. They are all entitled to have their view, as are the people who are going to contribute to this debate after me. We are all people that respect that they have their opinions and they are entitled to their opinions.
I rise to make a brief contribution to this debate, an issue on which I have spoken previously. It is an issue of principle that is before us which I support. This bill is one aspect of a broader principle. Whilst I do support it, it is obviously not the central issue. The central issue that this parliament will not deal with but a future parliament must and will deal with is the principle of equality for all Australians. It is a principle that is as simple as it is enduring and a principle which I have supported all my life.
I do want to respond very briefly to some of the comments which have preceded me in that debate, in particular from Senator Madigan and Senator Brandis. I acknowledge that Senator Madigan, whilst I disagree with his views, at least contributed them in a respectful way. It is disappointing that Senator Brandis did not follow suit. Both Senators Madigan and Brandis talked about the importance of recognising that there are differences of opinion on this issue here in Australia—and, indeed, there are. Whilst I do not agree with those who have an opinion contrary to mine, they have a right to hold it.
What I do disagree with, however, is their right to impose that opinion upon me and upon others in my situation—that is, upon gay and lesbian Australians who wish to demonstrate, through ceremony, their love and commitment to their partner. The issue here has never been whether or not people have different opinions about the institution of marriage. The issue is whether a secular state should impose a particular set of opinions in order to exclude some Australians from the institution of marriage.
My view is that equality is a fundamental right. Whilst Australia has not always been an equal society, over the span of our social programs, it is ultimately the direction in which we have moved. Calls for equality in this nation have been persistent and, generally, they have ultimately been successful. Over the decades we have seen changes to ensure that Australians are not discriminated against, at least explicitly, on the basis of their gender, race, religion or age. To me, this demonstrates the resonating power of the principle of equality, of saying and affirming that all of us are equal and society should treat us as such, of believing that we should judge people on their principles, their ethics, their capacities and such characteristics rather than on the colour of their skin or the gender of their partner. Embracing diversity and inclusion and knowing that our community is diminished by marginalisation is a principle in which I believe.
So pursuing marriage equality is part of an ongoing struggle for a more equal Australia, because if you subscribe to the principle of equality, and I am sure that most in this chamber would say that they do, then simply substitute words such as 'interracial' or 'different age' in lieu of 'same sex' in this debate and see if it changes your view. Can you imagine if anyone in this parliament actually asserted that a couple in Australia could not get married because the person that they loved or one of them was of a different skin colour? Can you imagine if we as a parliament told Australians that they could not get married because the person they loved was of a different religion? These notions are not only anachronistic; they are in fact offensive. So, in 2013, it is sad that the freedom of an Australian to make a commitment to the person they love through marriage is not permitted.
I do not want to spend too much time on the argument that has been put in this place that marriage is unique, but I would say: it is unique, it is special, it is a bedrock institution and that is why those of us who are in same-sex relationships also want to be able to demonstrate our love and commitment through marriage. When the right of entry to such an institution is barred to some of us, it is nothing other than discrimination. It is a discrimination that will one day come to an end but it will not be this parliament, the 43rd Parliament, that rights this wrong. Let us not forget while we are debating the bill today before the Senate that we are debating this bill because the 43rd Parliament has already failed in its obligations to serve all Australians. Last year, we had an opportunity to right a wrong that had continued for far too long and, in failing to do so, we failed to live up to the expectations of millions of Australians. We failed to call discrimination what it is and remove a highly discriminatory law. We failed to deliver marriage equality.
In my speech on the marriage equality bill last year, I hoped for a better Australia—an Australia where division and hurt were no longer features of the public debate in this the most personal of debates. It is deeply regrettable that the debate on this issue has, if anything in that time, become more hurtful and more divisive. When members of the Australian parliament seek to do things such as link marriage equality with polygamy and bestiality, they are doing nothing other than promoting bigotry, and we should not shy away from calling it what it is. And when the political party of those who speak those words elevate them to the top of the Senate ticket, it speaks volumes for their leadership or lack thereof. We should never overlook the fact that words spoken by people in this place, people who have the privilege to be in this chamber, carry a special weight. We should not overlook the hurt and the distress these statements can cause. So I say to young gay and lesbian Australians and those in the LGBTI community who are still struggling with their identity who hear these words: these words do not reflect the views of the overwhelming majority of Australians. They do not speak to the Australia we want. They may hurt, but do not take them to heart.
The bill before us today seeks to recognise the marriages of same-sex couples in foreign countries here in Australia. As I said, I support this bill not as an end point but as another step on the road to equality. It would recognise the progress made in other countries and ensure that Australians who are married in other countries can be accepted and recognised in full here in Australia. But we should be clear on the chances of this bill passing the parliament. When those opposite denied a conscience vote on this issue—an act of deliberate obstruction from their leadership—this bill was always going to fail. We know ultimately that change on these issues can only come with a bipartisan approach, and we know that it is only when both the opposition allows a conscience vote and members on that side exercise their conscience in favour of equality that this issue will have a chance to succeed. Putting up legislation that is doomed to fail will never be enough. What we will need to do in the years to come is build cross-party support to work within our own parties and across the parliament. That is the approach I will take and that is the approach I have taken.
I am a proud member of the Australian Labor Party, and I understand that change is won by carrying the many. I am a member of a party that has done more to progress the interests of gay and lesbian Australians than any other, a party that in my own state first decriminalised homosexuality in 1975 and has consistently continued to reform legislation since that time. I am very glad to have been part of a government that: in 2008, amended so many Commonwealth acts to give equal rights to same-sex relationships and greater legal recognition to children of these couples; allowed the same-sex partners of those in Commonwealth superannuation schemes access to superannuation; allowed the issuing of certificates of nonimpediment to same-sex couples wishing to marry overseas; announced the development of the first LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Strategy; extended paid parental leave to same-sex couples; and, this week, in the South Australian parliament, with the support of the Premier and my friend Dr Susan Close, again argued for marriage equality legislatively.
I remember in 2004, inside the federal Labor caucus, arguing against the position that was then ultimately adopted by the federal Labor Party to support the amendments to the Marriage Act that Prime Minister Howard moved. Whilst that was a difficult time, one of the things that does give me hope is that, since that time, a number of people in our party who at that time opposed the position I was arguing have since changed their minds and opened their hearts to the principle of equality. This is the nature of political change and this is what reform demands.
I look forward to the day when the substantive issue that is before us, the recognition of equality, receives broad support across this parliament and across all political parties, because it is only then that we will see progress, it is only then when the Australian parliament will live up to the expectations of our community and it is only then that we will be able to deliver equality. In doing so, we would give expression to the best of who we are—a nation confident and proud in our diversity, as well as our unity, and a nation unafraid of equality.
I shared the joy of many people in Australia when New Zealand followed Britain and passed legislation enabling same-sex marriages in that country. I can imagine that if this legislation, the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013, were to be passed we would see a whole new tourism industry develop. I am not sure what New Zealand's residency requirements are for getting married in New Zealand, but I am sure that a lot of people would set out to try to meet those requirements should we get this legislation through.
I am not normally in favour of backdoor ways of doing things, which is what this bill is—it is a backdoor way to try to increase the pressure for same-sex marriage in Australia. As I said, I am not normally in favour of that, but I think that in this circumstance, and given what Senator Wong said earlier about attempts of this house on a number of occasions to enable same-sex marriage in Australia, there is a valid reason to support this legislation. I would also point out a rather long list, which I will read into Hansard, of countries and provinces that allow same-sex marriage and the date on which they first allowed same-sex marriages to be performed. It is a very long list and it starts in 2001 with the Netherlands. Then came Belgium in 2003 and Canada also in 2003 for some provinces and 2005 nationally. Massachusetts in 2004 was the first American state to allow same-sex marriage. Spain allowed same-sex marriage in 2005; South Africa in 2006; California in 2007; Norway and Sweden, and Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Washington and Oregon in 2009; Mexico City, Portugal, Iceland, Argentina, New Hampshire in 2010; New York state, Quintana Roo in Mexico and the Squamish Indian Nation in Washington all in 2011; and Maine, Maryland, Uruguay, New Zealand, Delaware, the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians in Michigan, Rhode Island, Minnesota and France in 2013. It is a very comprehensive list of countries and states that support same-sex marriage and allow same-sex marriage to occur.
Countries that recognise same-sex marriage, although it is not performed there, include Israel, which has recognised same-sex marriage since 2006, and Mexico, all states of which recognised same-sex marriage in 2010. As well, some states of Mexico perform same-sex marriage. The list of countries that are currently looking at the situation goes on. I note that South Australia may well be the first Australian state to legalise same-sex marriage. I think that would be a good move.
I am appalled to see that, at the same time, it is being suggested that our Constitution should be changed to enshrine the idea of marriage as being between a man and a woman. I would have thought that in 2013 enough people would have understood sexual orientation and sexual identity to know that it is no longer acceptable to talk about a binary state of man or woman. One in 200 people in Australia is born with both male and female attributes. Some of those people, who are now referred to as having intersex status, will know from birth that they have male and female attributes. Some may not discover it until they have an unusual puberty. Some may not discover it except inadvertently through a blood test or some other medical procedure they undertake. There is an example given of a South Australian man—he is a married man with children—who almost died of ovarian cancer because no-one thought to check his ovaries. That is not an unreasonable thing, of course, but it is something that we now know is a possibility in medical terms. It means that we know we should not be looking medically at people simply as a man or a woman. It is possible for people to have, unbeknownst to them or to anyone else, male or female characteristics. So even in terms of physical health and safety we need to get past the idea of a binary view of male and female. That is just on the medical-physical side.
Let us talk about the moral side. Surely in 2013 we are past the homophobic, scared-of-difference, scared-of-diversity view that would be implied by any sort of attempt to put into the Constitution the idea that marriage is between a man and a woman only. My only hope is that the appalling record of referenda in Australia—their complete lack of success—means that that would go down. But it would not go down just because we are not very good at passing referenda; it would go down because in 2013 it is a disgusting and immoral idea to want to take that point.
I know that my view on this topic differs somewhat from that of the coalition, which quite reasonably has made the point that the commitment of the coalition is to the idea of marriage as being a union between a man and a woman, although it is open to rediscussion and redefinition after the election. I look forward to that time, but in the interim I am pleased that I have the option within the Liberal Party to exercise a free vote, an option that, I would point out, is not available to those in the Labor Party or the Greens unless a conscience vote is agreed to by the party. Within the Liberal Party, one always has the option of exercising a free vote. If we are to vote on this legislation, I will be voting for this bill, because I think it advances the cause of same-sex marriage in Australia.
I do not know what we can do, other than something like this, to try to persuade others that same-sex marriage is not going to be the end of the world for anybody, especially not for children or couples in Australia. I concur with these thoughts of Dr Andrew Sullivan:
The truth is I'm not at all indifferent to the fate of marriage as a whole, but I cannot for the life of me see what terrible damage same-sex marriage would actually do to it. Would it accelerate divorce rates? I cannot see how. The only country with anything like comparable legal protections for gay couples, Denmark, has actually seen lower divorce rates among same-sex couples than among heterosexual ones. In many ways, I think, the inclusion of more people into the institution might actually have the opposite effect, sending a message about matrimonial responsibility and mutual caring to the entire society, rather than to merely 97 percent of it. Would it harm children? Why on earth should it? Are the kids of a heterosexual family going to be harmed by meeting other kids who are the legitimate children of a gay couple down the street?
… … …
These aren't appeals to sympathy; they're arguments that same-sex marriage would be good for all of us--and for conservative reasons to boot.
Those reasons are the same reasons that those who support marriage as the union between a man and a woman espouse for their marriages. A marriage is a special commitment. A marriage provides more security for those in it, including the children who would be in it. There is no reason not to allow same-sex marriage in Australia. I believe that this bill will assist us in moving towards that. If we are to vote on this bill, I will be supporting it.
I rise to support the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013, which my colleague Senator Hanson-Young has brought before the chamber as part of a long and somewhat arduous campaign in favour of something that we in the Australian Greens believe is completely obvious. I want to acknowledge and congratulate Senator Boyce for the contribution that she just made. Those sorts of contributions are all too rare in this place. When people are considering matters and voting on their conscience, the quality of the debate is measurably improved. So thank you, Senator Boyce, for having the courage to do what you have just done. The only qualification I will make is that, in the Australian Greens, we do have a conscience vote on all matters. You have to go back quite some time in the Hansard record to find that being exercised, but we do vote with our conscience on all of these matters. I think it is part of the reason for our success.
This in fact is a rights issue, and they should not have been hung up inside the Labor caucus on whether or not it was a conscience issue. This matter should really have been dealt with many years ago. What we are attempting to do here is undo a grave mistake that was legislated by the Howard government nearly a decade ago. So of course we support this amendment. As Senator Hanson-Young has so ably pointed out, this is not the whole picture; this is a piece of the puzzle. It is also something that we consider to be self-evidently a worthy amendment, because this is straightforward discrimination. We in this parliament need to respond to the fact that people are fired for who they fall in love with. People are unable to speak up at work. They can have their children turned away at school. There are all kinds of other forms of subtle and much less subtle discrimination, up to and including homophobic violence. We cannot build full equality in parliament alone. We know that we cannot do it by this simple amendment, or by a straightforward amendment to the Marriage Act, but we here are called to do our part and to do what we can to remove legislated black-letter discrimination on the Australian statute books. That is one thing that we can do. We should show that kind of leadership here on Capital Hill.
We know now that in all parties in this parliament there are strong undercurrents of support for this measure and the broader measure that it implies—the straightforward legal recognition of marriage no matter what your sexual orientation. This form of discrimination is still legal in Australia, under laws that senators from the other parties have chosen not to change—with the honourable exception perhaps of Senator Boyce, as she has just indicated. This is something that we can remedy. Homophobic violence is real. Being young and LGBTI in rural Australia remains a difficult way to start your life and something that, tragically, some people do not make it through. We parliamentarians cannot make every Australian understand the imperative for equality overnight, but we can make our laws equal. At the moment, they are not. Not only are our marriage laws unequal and discriminatory here; they are also unequal and discriminatory for couples married overseas who come here. That is what this straightforward bill seeks to address.
I want to acknowledge Senator Hanson-Young for her long and tireless advocacy for this cause. As a senator representing Western Australia, I also acknowledge the remarkable advocacy, persistence and straightforward bolshiness of the marriage equality movement and the equal love movement in Western Australia. My colleague Lynn MacLaren MLC has moved for legislative change in the Western Australian parliament in the event that this national parliament should fail in its obligation to remove discrimination from the statute books. We are all, in here, representatives of a much larger movement and undercurrent in society. It is not a simple breakdown by age. It is not simply a generation gap thing, although you can see the very large numbers of younger people coming out for whom this is quite simply self-evident. We know therefore that this is really only a matter of time. So my question to you, colleagues, through you, Acting Deputy President, is: if not now, then when? This is something we could remedy this morning should we choose to. I strongly commend this bill to the chamber.
I believe, as do the majority of Australians, that our laws should not be discriminatory; they should not discriminate against any of our citizens. I believe, as do the majority of Australians, that our marriage laws should be amended to allow Australians to marry partners of the same gender here in Australia. This bill addresses only one aspect of the discrimination against Australians in same-sex relationships but it is nonetheless an important one.
Historically, jurisdictions have recognised the public interest in accepting the legitimacy of both marriages and divorces performed in other places. Australia has long accepted that the decision of two adults to form a family should be recognised by our laws regardless of religion, of race or of the country in which that decision was made. It has long been understood that failing to do so leads to the unjust and discriminatory treatment of individuals who may migrate from one country, one jurisdiction, to another. It has also long been understood that failing to accept the legitimacy of marriages solemnised elsewhere leads to highly undesirable public policy outcomes.
Before 2004, Australia recognised as valid marriages between consenting adults who were not already married. However, in 2004 passage of the Howard government's Marriage Amendment Act changed the law to include a discrimination which had not previously existed, that marriages valid in the jurisdiction in which they were performed ceased to exist at our national border based purely on the gender of the individuals concerned. As a result, Australians who are legally married in another country and whose marriage is recognised in many other countries find themselves in legal limbo in their own country. Can they divorce if their relationship breaks down? Can they have their marriage annulled under our laws? Can they marry again in Australia? These are already concerns for a number of Australians who are legally married to a same-sex partner in another country. The number will only increase as more and more jurisdictions end discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.
If we believe that marriage is an important personal commitment and not merely a geographically specific convenience, we must recognise marriages as valid, as real, wherever they are performed. I believe that the best solution would be for our parliament to remove discrimination from the Marriage Act, allowing Australians to marry here regardless of the gender of their partner. But we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, and this bill removes at least one aspect of the discrimination against Australians in same-sex relationships. I support the bill.
I rise to oppose the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013 and want to put before the chamber my reasons for my opposition to it. It was only in September of 2012, some nine months ago, that the Senate dealt with a very similar matter to the one we are dealing with today. Whilst this one is a variation on a theme, that is all it is. It is yet another attempt to bring in through the back door a capacity that this parliament voted in September last year to not allow. I want to go back and revisit some of that, if I can. At that time it was the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012.
I wish to repeat and place on the record what the coalition supports as the definition of marriage. It is prescribed in the Marriage Act 1961 and it states that marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life. That is the position of the coalition. It is the position the coalition took to the last election as the definition of marriage, it is the definition and the platform we will take to the next election on 14 September this year and I believe it was the position the Labor Party took to the 2007 and 2010 elections.
The coalition made an undertaking to the Australian people in the 2010 election that we would support the existing definition of marriage. Having made that undertaking, we are not going to vary it. The people of Australia can be very clear about where the coalition stands. It is disappointing that the Labor Party appear to have changed their position for what they perceive to be some electoral advantage. Ms Gillard, the Prime Minister of Australia, gave a similar undertaking to the Australian people at the 2010 election but has subsequently facilitated a retreat from that position.
Why are we debating this bill? The Senate's bill list, prior to the commencement of this week, comprised some 236 bills, and we have seen the Greens join with the government in applying the gag and the guillotine. The carpet is not quite red enough yet, but based on previous experience—and we all know that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour—by the end of next week the blood on the carpet, as a result of the use of the guillotine, will necessitate it being replaced.
There is very important legislation to be addressed and it is not going to be. A matter which you and I, Acting Deputy President Marshall, have a great interest in is the Australian Education Bill, loosely referred to as 'Gonski'. It is a bill which involves billions and billions of dollars and will affect the education of children now and into the future. However, while it has been referred to the Senate committee of which you and I are both members, only three days are being allowed for interested parties to put in submissions, there will be no hearing and the secretariat will prepare their report over the weekend. Next Monday, without any inquiry and without any hearings, the Senate will be asked to accept the report of that committee.
That is what causes my anger. There is important legislation to be addressed, but instead today we are addressing a matter which was the subject of robust discussion in September last year. It is only a very minor change we are looking at.
It has been disappointing to hear previous speakers today—people for whom I have a high regard, having listened to them over the time I have been in this place—arguing that, somehow or other, this bill is removing discrimination. I will make the same points I made the last time we were caused to waste, from my point of view, the time of the Senate in debating a similar matter. I will distinguish between the terms 'discrimination', 'deprivation', 'disadvantage', 'difference' and 'equality'.
The principle of equality requires treating all similar cases alike, but the judgement that same-sex and opposite-sex unions are alike with respect to marriage and should therefore be treated alike by marriage laws is of itself a false proposition. The fact that they are not treated alike by marriage laws does not mean there is discrimination. In 2009, this parliament removed discrimination against same-sex couples. There were four bills, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill 2008, the Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 and the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Bill 2008. Those bills went through this parliament, as indeed they should have, with bipartisan support. They were designed to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from a raft of legislation. Matters associated with superannuation, trustees, same-sex couples and their children, and eligibility for superannuation revisionary benefits—these were addressed.
It is surprising and disappointing to me that here we are in this place on this day, with an absolute plethora of legislation important to this country to deal with—important for good governance as we move towards the end of this financial year and the commencement of the next—and this bill is being given precedence and priority. Hopefully on 14 September the people of Australia will have the common sense to replace this government with a government which will actually know how to manage the country, its economy and its people.
In my contribution last year, I reflected on the term 'propaganda' and how it relates to what we have seen in this debate. We have seen it again in the debate today and we saw it in the debate prior to the parliament last year voting down the previous incarnation of this legislation—as, I believe, the legislation before us today should also be voted down. What are the elements of propaganda to which I refer? The first is attacking one's opponents as opposed to attacking their arguments. Once again we have seen that in this chamber today. The second is the tireless repetition of an idea, a slogan or a variation of it.
I say again that this Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill is merely a reincarnation of the bill we debated and voted down last year, the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. This points straight at the issues which propagandists have used for so long. The third element of propaganda is appealing to fear, or seeking to build support by instilling anxieties and panic. The fourth is using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to the proposition. We hear again this morning reference to people buying their wedding dress, rushing off to New Zealand and coming home deeply disappointed because when they get back they have to leave their marriage certificate with customs. What is the logic of all that in this argument?
The fifth pillar of propaganda is inviting those who are not already on the bandwagon to join it so that those who are on the road to certain victory can be part of it and make a contribution. I find that offensive. In less than nine months since both houses of the parliament made a decision on these issues we have them back again. The sixth principle is presenting only two choices—with of course one idea being propagated as the better choice. It is not convincing to me that this legislation is the better choice. We have dealt with the question of discrimination—it has been dealt with by this parliament in the laws of this land. That argument is not one upon which this issue turns.
The seventh principle is making individuals with opposing viewpoints appear to be out of touch with the reality of today. We have heard statements about the comments that have been made in email traffic—that the majority of Australians support marriage equality, and that this majority includes Australian Christians. There is reference to a Premier of New South Wales who has changed his views and therefore so should we. I do not find this to be in any way relevant and I find it grossly objectionable that, because Mr Abbott is apparently required to change his position, I can change my position. I have to tell those in this chamber and people listening beyond that I am not in any way dictated to by that argument. I will hold my views, I will express my views and I will vote according to my own views on issues such as this.
The eighth principle of propaganda is using euphemisms, including suggestions of perceived quality or credibility or credence. In the time available I will go to some of the issues associated with other countries, because that is the invitation that has been given to us—because you can go to Paris and you can be married in your wedding dress to a person of the same gender under the Eiffel Tower, that in some way diminishes Australia. It does not diminish Australia in my view, or New Zealand or any other country. I find insulting the argument that Australia in some ways is deficient. The last of the principles of propaganda about which I will comment is using generalities which are deliberately vague with the intention of moving an audience by undefined phrases. I find this to be a circumstance which is unacceptable.
Let me look at some laws in other countries that are not laws in this country. There is no good reason to believe that because they are the law of the land in another country somehow we should bend or change or turn our laws in this country, especially on a matter that has been the subject of so much recent debate and decision. Let me speak about women's voting rights in other countries—Saudi Arabia, other Middle Eastern countries and other countries around the world. Is anyone suggesting that because they are the laws of those countries they should somehow or other be transmitted to Australia? Nobody would find that to be an acceptable argument.
Look at gun laws in the United States of America—a close friend and ally of this country. Following the horrific events in 1996 at Port Arthur in Tasmania, and after strong debate and bipartisan support, as I understand it, Australia brought in the gun laws that we have today. Yet we have seen in the United States of America a lamentable reluctance and inability to enact laws in any way similar to our laws, despite the horrific events that have taken place in recent times. Our former Prime Minister Mr Howard went to the United States earlier this year I understand not to lecture to the Americans but to put the Australian case for why we did what we did and to outline how successful our gun laws have been in reducing homicides due to weapons. There is no suggestion at all that because gun ownership is legal in America it should be here, or that if Americans came to this country and wanted to continue to have the legal rights that they enjoy or experience in their country, or in my view have the disadvantage of, they should be able to apply those rights here in Australia. There is no case for that. This is our country, this is our sovereign state and we will determine these issues.
Another example is speeding laws. They vary considerably. In Europe there is no speed limit on the autobahns. Are we suggesting for a minute that people who come from Europe, who are used to driving on roads without upper limits on their speed, should be able to do so in this country? Of course we are not. The proposition is a nonsense. The drinking age in other countries also varies significantly from the drinking age in Australia.
The Senate should be dealing with far more important legislation in the next five sitting days before we rise on Thursday or Friday of next week. There are 226 items on the Senate bills list, most of which are not going to see the light of day. There are critically important issues that require robust debate today and particularly next week. We know what is going to happen.
Let me just preface my remarks by saying that the Senate is also debating at this time, and on which I am in continuation, the proposal to conduct a referendum at the election on the recognition of local government. If, for any reason at all, the capacity of people to speak—their time and their voice—on that issue associated with the change to the Constitution of Australia were removed by that particular debate being gagged by the Labor Party, with the associated support of the Australian Greens, that would be the worst travesty that could be visited upon this place.
This is a proposed change to the Constitution. Whether people support it or oppose it, they have the right in this place for their voice to be heard. I note that we are going to see the gagging of other legislation that should have been brought on earlier and that should be allowed to have its full prosecution, but I say now: the Australian people will not accept the use of the guillotine in a debate affecting a possible change to the Constitution of Australia.
I oppose this amendment. It should not be here on the Dynamic Red. It should not have been given the aeration that it has been given today and I oppose it.