Monday, 7 November 2016
Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016; Second Reading
The Nick Xenophon Team will be opposing the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. We are elected to this place to act in the best interest of our respective communities, and this bill does not do that. It is both a waste of taxpayer money and a mechanism that will provide intolerant people and organisations with a government-funded opportunity for hate speech. When the Prime Minister stood in the other place and said he would be spending $170 million of Australian taxpayer money on this plebiscite, I was incredibly dismayed—not just by the sheer amount of money the government was prepared to spend but the fact that they were willing to spend it at all when an alternative, far less costly and far less harmful option exists: a free vote in the form of a marriage equality bill.
Australians live in a representative democracy, and it is our job as parliamentarians to debate and deliberate legislation. We were elected to make decisions and not to outsource them. We did not need a plebiscite when Indigenous Australians were recognised as equal in the eyes of the law, or when we dismantled the White Australia policy, or when we advanced women's equality or even when we advanced disability equality. We certainly do not need it now. A quick look at the Australian plebiscite history shows that from the early 1900s there have only been three plebiscites held in Australia, the last of which was in 1977 on the choice of Australia's national anthem. It made me think, 'Surely we're not placing the question of equal rights on the same footing as the choice of Australia's national anthem?'
We have voted on legislation that begs moral questions in this place before. When John Howard amended the federal Marriage Act to explicitly state that marriage be between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others he did not insist on a plebiscite; he took it to parliament. Our current Prime Minister could and should have put forward legislation, just like John Howard did in 2004, and allowed parliament to vote on the issue of marriage equality. This would have been the least expensive and least harmful way of ensuring all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are equal under the law, but the reality is the Prime Minister does not want to alienate his far Right supporters.
Representative democracy exists because the model state is too complex to be run by a direct democracy. Important issues are not decided by a mass 'yes' or 'no' vote, because if they were we would spend all of our time voting on plebiscites and referendums. It is our job as community leaders to make decisions in line with community needs, aspirations and, indeed, expectations. It is completely unnecessary to go down the path that the Prime Minister has chosen, particularly when we know that two-thirds of Australians support legalising same-sex marriage.
The recent Irish marriage equality referendum is but one example of just how divisive and pointless a public vote can be. The end result was that a majority supported marriage equality in almost identical terms to opinion polls undertaken prior to the referendum. This further demonstrated that it was not at all necessary to waste taxpayer money and bring about the severe distress and prejudice LGBTI people experienced throughout the campaign. It affected people in all aspects of their lives: in their workplaces, in their local communities, in their schools and in their churches. People were even afraid to travel on public transport or walk to their local shops. We should not be putting Australians through such a divisive, hurtful process. It will hurt individuals, parents and children—all who want to do no more than love those they cherish. No child deserves to see their parents' relationship devalued on the national stage. No child deserves to be told that their parents' love for one another is not recognised or that their family is second-class. No family member or friend should have to see their loved ones subjected to hate and discrimination.
I worry about the impact this plebiscite will have on our young people—teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality and making the decision as to whether to come out or not. We know that young LGBTI people experience twice as much abuse and violence than their heterosexual peers. We know that more than four in 10 young LGBTI Australians have thought about self-harm or suicide. Why would we want to subject our young to more hurtful, derogatory and discriminative discourse? I fear that this plebiscite and the millions of taxpayer dollars that would be put towards any campaign will divide our great nation and give a licence to hate speech. We should not give air to those who already have the lungs to yell the loudest. Let's have a civilised debate here in this chamber, as has been done on many thousands of equally important pieces of legislation since our parliament was formed.
People are people, and LGBTI people are no different; they are just like everybody else. They live and work in the same community as all of us; they contribute to our diverse society. They are not a danger to society, as some would suggest; they enrich our society and have done so since the beginning of time. There would not be a field or community where LGBTI people have not made a significant contribution, and this will be the case until the end of time. Their desire to commit to their partners, like I have to my wife Kristin, is no different. They are equally good fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and friends. They do not deserve to be vilified; they do not deserve to be treated differently. It is not my role nor the role of any other person in this place to tell a person that their relationship does not warrant equality before the law. The government should be there for the people—all people, regardless of gender, race or sexuality—and allow a free vote for marriage equality. This is what the majority of Australians want, and it is incumbent on us to deliver this in this parliament. This bill needs to well and truly be relegated to the history books and replaced by a bill that allows a free vote.
I rise to speak on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. In some ways, we are in the most amazing position in Australia in relation to marriage equality. I have had some involvement in this issue over some years, and it comes as a real surprise to me—a pleasant surprise; a joyful surprise—that the majority of Australians are ready to take this next step. The majority of Australians are ready to recognise that marriage equality is about removing discrimination and affirming love—that love between two people of the same gender is of equal meaning and of equal value and is entitled to equal respect.
As many speakers before me today and at other times have said, people in same-sex relationships should not be made to feel like second-class citizens. Members of the LGBT community should not be made to feel that theirs is a second-class love. On this question the community have fought so hard. They have had the courage to present their voices and their stories. They have endured the public judgement that comes with exposing your own personal relationships and families to scrutiny and the unkind comments of people who would oppose them for personal values and for political reasons, ignoring the deep personal hurt that is delivered when an individual's family and an individual's love are rejected and diminished.
The community have been amazing on this issue. They have fought so hard. It has been my pleasure and, I think, Labor's pleasure to be able to stand alongside and support that community over that long journey. I am proud of the role that we have played, while acknowledging that in fact this is something that is being delivered by a very big social movement right across our country. Labor have stood for marriage equality. It was a policy that we took to the election. We promised that we would introduce marriage equality within the first 100 days of the parliament if we were elected to government. Sadly, that was not to be. It built on a long history of advocacy, from decriminalising homosexuality through Labor state governments through to the attempts to introduce marriage equality when in government in the ACT.
On a smaller but I think symbolically important thing, for many years now in my home town of Sydney Labor have been honoured to be welcomed into the Mardi Gras parade. I am proud to have been part of that, proudly marching with my Labor comrades. It is a story that in my own small way I feel very honoured to have been allowed to contribute to. I was very pleased to see our leader, Mr Shorten, participate in the march earlier this year.
But this speech today in the parliament is not in fact the speech I would like to give about marriage equality. The speech I would like to give is the speech that we will give on the day that a bill for marriage equality is introduced into this parliament and when all members have a free vote on the question and the Liberal Party are allowed to vote with their conscience to deliver marriage equality as the majority of the parliament demands and as the community expects.
Sadly, that is not the speech for today because today we are presented with something very different—a proposition for a plebiscite. I want to be able to vote in favour of equality for those across the country in same-sex relationships. I do not want to vote for a plebiscite. The problem, of course, is that the Prime Minister wants a plebiscite because he fears the social conservatives in his party more than he wants change. This plebiscite was a ploy. It is recognised by everybody that this is so. It was dreamt up by the former—and perhaps future—Prime Minister, Mr Abbott, to delay marriage equality. It is a fig leaf. It is an attempt to look like you are doing something when in fact you are very deliberately doing nothing at all. If the Prime Minister wanted marriage equality, we could legislate for it tomorrow. Why has he changed his mind? He has changed his mind because a plebiscite was part of the price that he paid for the job.
The parliament has a responsibility to decide on issues. That is our system of government. That is why we are here. Labor take that responsibility very seriously. In 115 years of our democracy, 44 parliaments before us have declared war, negotiated peace, signed trade deals, opened our economy, floated our dollar and legislated several changes to the Marriage Act without recourse to a plebiscite. It is unnecessary. It is wasteful. It would be ineffective because it would be nonbinding. And it asks something of the gay and lesbian community that we do not ask of other citizens when we are considering issues relevant to them.
This is not a bill I can support. We stand on the cusp of a great opportunity for Australians to recognise the real love that exists between same-sex couples and the families they have built, including their parents, their children and their friends all around them. It is a very great shame that instead of acting on that today we are simply being asked to consider this unnecessary, wasteful plebiscite. I cannot support it.
I rise to support the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. I would have preferred if the question about gay marriage were put at the last election. The nation would have been saved a lot of time and money. However, I still believe that a national plebiscite is justified and needed in order to test the will or conscience of the Australian people on gay marriage. I also believe that this plebiscite will take away any doubt about how the Australian people feel towards gay marriage and will therefore lead to a quicker healing and acceptance of the outcome for those on the losing side of the debate. When it comes to gay marriage, even though I indicated before both previous elections that I am opposed to it for sacred religious reasons, I will vote according to the will of the Tasmanian people as indicated in any plebiscite of the Australian people.
I strongly oppose any discrimination against the LGBTI community. LGBTI Australians are very important and valued members of our community. My understanding is that in 2008 many pieces of legislation—nearly 80—were passed in federal parliament to stop any discrimination of people based on their sexuality. I support that legislation and would also support any strengthening of federal laws if gaps were found in anti-discrimination legislation.
However, when it comes to marriage, I consider it a sacred Christian tradition between a man and a woman, and as a Christian I would feel discriminated against if my sacred religious tradition were interfered with and changed by politicians. I understand that many people have strong views on this issue, and I may be on the losing side of the community debate; however, should a bill be placed before parliament on this matter without first testing the conscience of the Australian people with a plebiscite or a referendum, I would vote according to my conscience on this matter. I am sorry if my religious views have offended the LGBTI community but, just as non-Christian religious traditions are expected to be respected by all Australians, I would like my sacred Christian traditions respected as well.
Tasmanian Catholic Archbishop Doyle wrote a letter which is relevant to this important debate. It reads, in part:
However, in addition to ‘human rights’ there are also ‘human responsibilities’. We are all blessed by God with the gift of our sexuality. The design itself comes from the Creator of Life and we all have a responsibility to follow that design.
The Church firmly believes that marriage is founded on the wonderful fact of sexual difference and its potential for new life. Without this there would be no human beings and no future. Bringing new human life into the world is founded on the loving union of male and female. Children are best nurtured by a mother and father.
Opposing this legislation in no way implies that the Church accepts discrimination against the human rights of another. Nor does it mean the Church fails to understand the complex nature of human sexual identity and desire.
It implies no lack of respect for people who identify as 'gay' and 'lesbian'. Many in our community have friends or family members who are gay and lesbian, who are people we know and love, and are part of our family and friendship groups.
However my concern is for the future of our whole society and I ask you to reflect seriously and to pray about the ramifications for current and future generations, of legislation which completely redefines marriage.
A grave mistake will be made if such legislation is enacted in Tasmania. The state government, and indeed even the federal government, cannot redefine the natural institution of marriage, a union between a man and a woman. The government can regulate marriage, but this natural institution existed long before there were any governments and cannot be changed at will.
I acknowledge the points made from different senators regarding the cost to the taxpayer of this non-binding vote. I am also concerned about obtaining best value for taxpayers' money when organising and funding this important national vote.
However, there are two other time-sensitive issues which are equally important social issues to gay marriage and have been put in the too-hard basket for too long. They have been put on the backburner. The will and conscience of the Australian people should also be tested on these, firstly, the issue of Indigenous recognition and, secondly, euthanasia of terminally Australians. For the critics who may say that I am muddying the waters on gay marriage I would say, 'Don't treat the Australian people like bloody fools,' because they are clearly not. Most people have either already made up their minds on these three social issues, and want a vote as soon as possible or can manage a public debate on multiple matters of great public importance. In other words, Australians can walk and chew gum at the same time.
There may be some who think that euthanasia for the terminally ill is a new issue. To those people I would simply ask: when was the last time you spent time with a terminally ill person, the relative of a terminally ill person or thought about whether terminally ill Australians should have the right to a merciful death?
Today we have an opportunity to once and for all put into place a quick chain of events which will finally answer, in the next few months, the question about gay marriage in Australia. I urge all members to take advantage of this important opportunity. If we do not take this opportunity now then this issue will not be resolved for years. That situation may politically benefit some in this chamber. To those who oppose a quick national vote on gay marriage, which would be enabled by this plebiscite, I ask: are you really doing it for the benefit of gay people or are you using the pretext of care for gay people's health and mental wellbeing to ensure that you lock in what you think will be a political advantage at the next election?
It is my strong view that an unnecessary wait will do more harm to the gay people than a short public debate over the next few months, followed by a national vote and subsequent legislation which reflects the will of the majority of Australians. An unnecessary wait on the issue of gay marriage will also prolong public debate and distract attention from other important life-and-death social issues—for example, involuntary treatment of drug addicted children, serious lack of jobs, out-of-control living costs, cuts to aged care and an overstretched public health system. The list is large and it goes on and on.
I have made this point before in this place; however, it is worth making it again: many elected representatives have argued against this plebiscite by essentially saying that the debate would cause young gay people to take their own lives and open the floodgates of hate. I am forced to remind those people of a famous quote by Pericles of Athens, which was made about 400 years before Christ was born. That quote is written on a wall not far from this chamber, and it says:
We Athenians make decisions for ourselves, or at least participate in the full discussion of them: for we do not regard debate as a barrier to effective action, but a necessary condition for acting wisely.
My advice to those politicians who are trying to blackmail the Australian public, in a very juvenile and dangerous manner, into not having a national debate and not supporting this plebiscite on gay marriage is this: the question of gay marriage must be put before the people of Australia, and no barrier must be placed in the way of this debate by the Australian people. Australia is a mature democracy, which should not shy away from this debate.
After the people have had their say, no matter what the result, there will be people who, for very good and legitimate reasons, will have very hurt feelings—whichever side they are on. If a plebiscite of the people is used to test Australia's conscience on this matter then whoever is on the losing side of the debate will be in no doubt about the will of the Australian people and will be able to heal, unite and move on a lot more quickly.
In many ways some of the arguments against supporting this legislation are arguments against free speech in our democracy. In AC Grayling's book Towards the Light on page 62, when the discussion is about Milton's views on marriage and divorce, Grayling writes:
The people can be trusted to arrive at truth and flush out error better than a few appointed officials whose timidity or arrogance might make them silence truth to the detriment of all.
Grayling then draws our attention to Milton, who wrote:
Let truth and falsehood grapple ... truth is strong.
Grayling points out that:
The grappling is important, for truth emerges from contests with error, needing exercise just as virtue does.
Just as we senators are able to put our points of view and test what we believe is true and sacred about marriage in this great chamber of debate, so too must we give all Australians the opportunity to put their points of view and test what they believe is true and sacred about marriage in an even greater chamber of debate: the Australia beyond this parliament and the local ballot boxes where people of this great democracy can have their say. I fully support this legislation.
I rise today to speak very firmly against the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. I cannot fathom why those in the coalition in favour of marriage equality have accepted this as a path forward to equality, because it is not. It is simply untenable that those in favour of equality should put forward such an unequal process. The very idea that the civil rights of Australians should be subject to a popular vote, when other Australians who hold those rights were not subject to such a process, is complete anathema to those who believe in the rights and privileges of this place and our parliament. Indeed, no set of rights other than those required by the Constitution has ever been subject to a test such as this: the status of one's relationship and family life being subject to what amounts to a popular vote, which is not binding on the parliament in any case.
Make no mistake; this is a deal done to secure the leadership of the current Prime Minister, a condition put forward by those who are anti marriage equality. It is, I feel, an utterly demeaning act to determine by popular vote whether my relationship or those of other LGBTI people are of a status or value equal to those of already married couples. It is a ridiculous and upsetting notion. I do believe that the people of Australia would vote yes, but I also truly believe that a plebiscite is very much the wrong way to get there, and the means does not justify the end.
I would like to highlight a University of Queensland survey of some 5½ thousand LGBTI Australians. An overwhelming 85 per cent of those people said no to a plebiscite, and 65 per cent said no under any circumstances. There are good reasons why they and people like me put this view forward. When you look at the kind of debate we would have in the context of a plebiscite, you see that those opposed to marriage equality are actively framing their arguments around issues that do not actually relate to the substantive nature of a relationship between two people. They do this because they have already lost, in the eyes of the community, the substantive debate. When you look to the arguments that would be put forward in a plebiscite here in Australia, you see that the arguments prosecuted by those against marriage equality—as was demonstrated in the recent experience in Ireland—make it about children. Indeed, the Australian Marriage Forum headline their website with the words 'Think of the Child', arguing that marriage equality deprives children of a mother or a father. They are out to portray families headed by a married mother and father as real, ideal, acceptable and respectable, and others, like my own, as less so. It is utterly vile to have a public debate which one side at least wants to make all about the status of children.
I have my own lived experience of these issues. This example is not from my current family life but from an experience I had as a child, which I sincerely ask senators in this place to reflect on. My mother had a difficult divorce from my father and re-partnered with a delightful man, Greg. Since I was aged seven, Greg has been my dad. We were delighted, as a family, to welcome my younger brother Nicholas. But I was confused, dismayed and hurt as an eight-year-old child to hear a number of children claim that my brother was a bastard. I had to ask what it meant but I knew it was bad. No child should have their family status subjected to public debate like this. 'Bastard children', 'illegitimate children', 'half-caste children'—all are pejorative terms used in the past to comment on families and their origins. I thought we had moved on from those times, and this plebiscite should not be used to drag us back to them.
The dominant message in the Ireland referendum was that children raised by other than heterosexual, married parents are damaged and disadvantaged in some way. As a mother and as someone in a same-sex relationship, I certainly do not want children like my own son to be subjected to a public debate about the status of their family. I know what that feels like and it is not right. The simple fact is that our families already exist, and no plebiscite changes that. I said in this place some four years ago during the 2012 marriage amendment bill:
Stop pretending that our relationships are not as real as yours, our love not as true, our children not as cherished, our families not as precious—because they are.
This plebiscite is an extension of this pretence that, in some way, our families are not real and are not of equal value. It gives licence to those who do not support our families to condemn them as if by passing this bill they can somehow prevent our families from coming into being. Well, you cannot.
If the coalition really cared about children they would drop this bill and direct the $200 million they want to spend on this divisive plebiscite to protecting the interests of children who do not have any reliable adults to care for them, rather than targeting the relationship status of children of same-sex couples who could not possibly be more loved or cared for than they already are. Two hundred million dollars would put in place a whole suite of early intervention child-care programs for our nation's most vulnerable children. Instead, this government is currently effectively cutting funding to many of these programs within its new jobs and families package. Your priorities could not be more wrong.
So those in favour of a plebiscite are deliberately and blindly overlooking its damaging effects. Instead, you are targeting families and children, and also you are targeting the need to keep our young people safe in our schools. You are targeting the family status of children and raising unfounded concerns regarding free-speech. Again, I quote the Australian Marriage Forum. This is from their website: at the heart of those against marriage equality is a debate about school education where 'the normalising of homosexual marriage will be used to further normalise homosexual behaviour'. That is what they say is at the heart of this debate. It is not about marriage; it is not about whether my relationship with my partner is committed and true. It is a clear message to young LGBTI people that you are not normal. That is what the proponents of this plebiscite who are anti-marriage equality are trying to say. That is the argument that they will put forward in the context of a plebiscite.
I do not believe that any young person in our schools, especially a young person dealing with an emerging same-sex attraction who could, for example, also be attending a conservative Christian school, should be subjected to people actively campaigning around them against their identity. It is an appallingly damaging thing to do to their self-esteem and identity.
On this note, again I reflect on some of the work that the University of Queensland have done. They researched 1,600 LGBTI people in Ireland to ask them what their experiences of the referendum were. Here are a few quotes from people who experienced that referendum.
Seeing your parents have to seek approval or beg for human rights scared children and made them insecure. If the basic rights of your parents can be questioned and voted upon the children feel it could be the same for them!
The No campaign were ruthless in their use of images and language towards LGBTI parents and their children. The biggest hypocrisy of the whole experience was their utter disregard for both young LGBTI people, and the children of LGBTI people. It was so hateful.
The researcher who did this work said very clearly that the results show that the euphoria TV audiences saw after the referendum hid the reality of the social and psychological impacts of the campaign on the daily lives of LGBTI people and their families.
What I found most disturbing about our results—
Dr Sharon Dane said—
is that younger LGBTI people, who are already vulnerable, were the ones who reported feeling the most anxious and afraid in the lead up to the referendum.
For example, the referendum gave community and family members who were not support of marriage equality a platform from which to express the hurtful views.
Dr Sharon Dane said:
The fact that their stories were told with such detail and emotion, almost one and a half years since the date of the referendum, suggests that the impact of the 'NO' side campaign was more than a momentary experience or something that could be simply rectified through a win for marriage equality.
Dr Liz Short said:
This research provides very clear evidence that significant social and psychological detriment results from holding a nation-wide 'debate' and focus on families, children and parents, and on whether all should have the same rights, recognition and options.
Many participants expressed that ''under the guise of equal debate'' and ''balance'', the 'No equality' side was provided with a ''megaphone'' for ''homophobia'' and ''hate''.
Numerous reports of strained, damaged, and broken relationships and bonds were made, including within families, friendship groups, workplaces, schools, and neighbourhoods.
I do not want this same outcome for our nation. This plebiscite bill would be utterly damaging in this regard. These are gobsmackingly appalling priorities on the part of the coalition—to think that they want to spend $200 million on such a divisive instrument in our nation.
Only 23 per cent of those 1,500 people in that survey of Irish LGBTI people said they would be happy to have the referendum again. For them the cost of the referendum at a personal level was simply too high. That was the view of the overwhelming majority. More than 75 per cent of people said the cost of that referendum was just too high. It had a deeply negative impact on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people and their families.
In making this speech today I really want to lay down the challenge to those opposite about their priorities. It is a real shame to me that they have put this forward as a priority, because, as a government, they are incapable of any real leadership on important issues in our nation. Those opposite are incapable of real leadership because we have a Prime Minister who is pro marriage equality but is held captive by the hard Right of his party—a hard Right who do not share the same values as the overwhelming majority of other Australians. I do not begrudge anyone in their party the right to hold those views. We can and should have religious freedom in our country. But it cannot be at the expense of other people's freedom—freedom for people like myself and my own family.
I have no issue with religious celebrants only choosing to solemnise the marriages that accord with their own religious beliefs—for example, Catholic priests are not currently forced to solemnise the marriage of someone who has previously been divorced, and nor should they be obliged to conduct same-sex marriages. But I do begrudge those opposite the right to hold the whole of our country to ransom in an attempt to legislate their views. It is a small minority rump of those opposite that is holding this whole parliament to ransom on this question.
There is no doubt in my mind that rejecting this plebiscite is the right thing to do. So what for the way forward? We already know, by a good look at the public record, that the majority of senators and members, including a majority in both chambers, are already in favour of marriage equality. Given this, there has to be a way forward. So what is now the best way forward for marriage equality?
For almost a year now the Turnbull government has been repeating its mantra: the only way forward is through a plebiscite. Well, this statement is a political talking point not a fact. The most obvious and simple way forward is with legislation in this parliament. Marriage equality legislation is about the simplest form of legislation this parliament has seen. The key parts of it are less than a page long—much less complicated than the plebiscite bill before us.
When Turnbull, Brandis, Abetz, Abbott or any number of other coalition MPs claim that it is a plebiscite or nothing, what they really mean is that their party policy is to proceed only with a plebiscite. However, there is a big difference between what a policy might reflect and how this parliament might respond to it. Politics is the art of the possible. The simple fact that the government does not have the numbers in the parliament to pass the plebiscite legislation is before us today, and I look forward to defeating the bill. It might be the end of the coalition's current policy, but it is not the end of the matter. While marriage equality does not exist in this country, it never ever will be.
The plebiscite was Tony Abbott's idea. It was designed to delay, frustrate and ideally sink marriage equality. Those against marriage equality know this, so the only way out for them was this costly, divisive and unfair plebiscite. When Mr Turnbull rolled Abbott in September 2015 to become Prime Minister he agreed to maintain the Abbott policy as part of a deal to deliver him the numbers for the top job. That deal saw Mr Turnbull commit to a plebiscite and to allow a free vote on the issue after the 2016 election. That policy did not take into account that plebiscite being knocked back in this place. It is silent on that.
Once this plebiscite bill is behind us, I want to look to my colleagues here to pursue something different. It is time for partnership and cooperation in our parliament on these important issues. The government has tried to lay the blame for the failure of progress on marriage equality at the feet of the ALP. This is absurd, and it could not be more wrong. It is time for a path forward, illustrating our mutual commitment to achieve the outcome we all want. It is time for us to reach out across the chamber to all parties and crossbenchers in a mutually agreed bill with multiparty support—and it is time to allow a conscience vote, a free vote, for all MPs.
Given the national support for marriage equality, it is time to see marriage equality pass this parliament with a free vote and the support of the coalition MPs that we know support it. I am keen to see this happen and will actively reach out to any MP who shares this vision and wants our parliament to do its job. It is time for marriage equality now.
I stand to make my contribution to this debate on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 and will be joining my colleagues in, hopefully, voting down this divisive plebiscite. I have lost count of the number of my LGBTQI friends who have urged and begged us not to support this plebiscite, some of whom are the very same friends who have been nagging me with: 'What is the parliament going to do about making sure we have marriage equality so we can get married?'
Those same people are saying, 'Do not support this plebiscite', because it is divisive and they do not want to achieve marriage equality this way. They are deeply distressed about it. I have spoken to a number of people who are very distressed at the thought that this will go ahead in this way. Although they have been campaigning for years for marriage equality, they do not want to achieve it this way and they are prepared to wait. If it means waiting, they are prepared to wait. It is not just my friends who have said this to me. Across the board, people from the LGBTI community have been saying that they do not support the plebiscite and are urging us to vote no.
We have got to this situation because Mr Abbott needed a way out. He could not deal with his ultra conservatives—even though many, many people in the coalition now support marriage equality—so he came up with this brilliant plan of a plebiscite. Of course, the ultra conservatives, the hard right, thought it was great because they would get money to denigrate people. Fancy that! Not only did they put off marriage equality, but they would also get funding to go out and have a go at the LGBTI community. They must have thought they had hit the bonanza! But, as I said, overwhelmingly, people in the LGBTI community have said that they do not want this plebiscite. Rainbow families have been up here a number of times. I am sure a great many people in this place have met with those families and heard from them that they do not support this plebiscite. They have gone through with us some of their concerns about the impact a plebiscite will have on their families.
I have been looking at this issue specifically with regard to mental health impacts. I, along with many people, am convinced that this plebiscite will be damaging to the LGBTI community's mental health. Many people have been looking at the survey in Ireland, where people felt angry, distressed and anxious. Very clearly, many people thought that the campaign in Ireland had a negative impact on their mental health. Of the 1,657 Irish LGBTI people surveyed for the report Swimming with Sharks: The negative social and psychological impacts of Ireland's marriage equality referendum 'NO' campaign, by Dr Sharon Dane, Dr Liz Short and Dr Grainne Healy, only 23 per cent would go through that campaign again. Here we have the facts of a similar process—of course, theirs was about changing their constitution, which is different to the plebiscite—but the most recent evidence is that most people would not go through it again. Surely we should be learning from that experience, the most recent experience of its type. Seventy-one per cent of participants felt that they often or always felt negative, 63 per cent reported that they often or always felt sad and 57 per cent reported that they rarely or never felt happy. This shows a very significant impact on people's mental health.
The report shows that the two groups most negatively impacted by the no campaign in Ireland were the children of LGBTI parents, and young LGBTI people. In other words, it was the kids who felt particularly negatively impacted by the no campaign. That is exactly what would happen here with funding for the no campaign, funding that would be facilitating hate speech and the denigration of young children's families and of young LGBTI people who want to have families. Given the various attempts and comments about wanting to suspend certain elements of anti-discrimination laws, it is very obvious that those who will be campaigning for the no campaign will want to use that sort of denigrating speech.
Ireland had a referendum to change their constitution. We do not need to do that. We do not need a plebiscite. We can pass legislation in this parliament to make marriage equality a reality. There have been successive attempts, and we get closer and closer. Let's have the debate here. The Marriage Act was originally changed in this place and it can be changed again. Just the thought of the debate around the plebiscite has had a negative impact on people's mental health. Lifeline has now added a marriage plebiscite as a category to its services. The trauma that the LGBTI people are likely to experience if a plebiscite goes ahead will have an impact on their lives that will, in fact, be unquantifiable.
In the Swimming with Sharks report one of the LGBTI people surveyed said:
Definitely the hardest part for me. My Dad was campaigning for the no vote. I had to just make peace with it in the end and realise that I couldn't change him and that he wasn't going to be who I needed him to be. It hurt a lot though and I still don't think I've fully processed or recovered from that.
Another participant spoke of their grandparents and the approach they were taking and the impact it had on them. Their grandparents were just like other people they had met who were voting against them. This person said:
I can feel my heart rate increasing just typing this … I do not wish to speak ill of [my grandfather] but knowing that he was voting against me and my future was one of the most painful moments of my life …
LGBTI people will be the targets of negative campaigns that will try to legitimise prejudice and homophobia. We should be supporting the LGBTI community so that they can feel loved, safe and respected. But, in fact, what this process will do is denigrate and foster hate speech against the LGBTI community, and it will impact most significantly on families, on young children and on young people. That is not the future that we should be laying out for young people.
I agree with my colleague Senator Rice, who said that we should be breaking up from the plebiscite. We should have done it a long time ago. In fact, we should never have got together in the first place. We certainly should be breaking up with the plebiscite. There should be a free vote in this place on marriage equality. It is 2016. It is time that we had a free vote in this place and enabled marriage equality so that LGBTI people have the same rights that I had when I got married three years ago. Let's vote this down and get on with marriage equality.
I rise to speak against this bill for a plebiscite. In my maiden speech I made a direct reference to an example that had impacted my family quite closely in the issues that first nations people struggle with in terms of their sexual identity. I also spoke about the call on the Prime Minister really urging him to replace this bill with legislation supporting a free vote on marriage equality. I stand again asking for the Prime Minister to do this—and why? Because we know Australians overwhelmingly support marriage equality.
In the Northern Territory people certainly pride themselves on giving others a fair go, and I know that the Australian community is very much like that. Territorians certainly do not need an opinion poll to tell us that we support marriage equality, and as part of the process of informing myself more on marriage equality and the views of the people of the Northern Territory I held a couple of roundtables in Darwin and in Alice Springs to canvass the views of the LGBTI community and the wider community, and I would certainly like to thank all those people who shared their views and experiences. It was very personal for many of the people gathered who shared so openly not only with me but, clearly, with all else who were present. Some of them knew each other; some of them did not. They spoke personally from the heart about how a plebiscite would impact their families, their professional lives and their personal space. Their concerns were largely about the division and what hateful and hurtful comments would surface—have already surfaced in some of the campaign ads they have already seen on the television—and that any plebiscite campaign would only accentuate the hurt and the hate for some of these people who feel it so deeply.
I have received numerous emails and messages on both sides of the campaign and I have certainly made it clear that I support marriage equality and that it should be made possible by a free vote in the parliament. Families have spoken to me about how hurtful the lead-up to the discussion and debate but also even any campaign would be. It would also be discriminating. The ad campaigns that have run so far this year caused deep concern when a rainbow coloured nurse was used in a campaign against same-sex marriage.
I heard also how people are worried about the plebiscite debate being a forum for haters and bigots. And then of course there are the parents of LGBTIQ members who fear the negative impact on their children. There was a teacher who told me that homophobia is a very real issue that has to be dealt with properly in schools. This teacher was concerned about the negative impact of a plebiscite on young people and their mental health and wellbeing. People also asked why the money to be spent on a plebiscite cannot go towards supporting much-needed counselling and health and wellbeing services that assist youth in particular, especially when we see the high rates of suicide and depression amongst the LGBTI community.
Many say the plebiscite is just a distraction from so many far more pressing matters. Members opposite talk about the proposed plebiscite date of 11 February, some three months away, as though the date is the golden pot at the end of the rainbow and as if at 11 February all will be well, but why should LGBTIQ people be subjected to the intrusion of whether their love is real when—hello—we could do it right now? The rainbow is right here. We could act today to make marriage equality a reality.
One of my favourite quotes from the recent NT election comes from the newly elected member for Namatjira, Chansey Paech, the first openly gay Indigenous parliamentarian in the country. This young man has broken new ground—young, gay, black—and he wears it all with pride while representing a largely Indigenous bush electorate. His opponents in the campaign for Namatjira tried to make his sexuality an issue, thinking that Aboriginal men in particular would react negatively to a gay candidate. But, as the result proved, it was not an issue for most of the voters in Namatjira. As one bush voter said to him, 'We don't care if you're a gay; we just want better houses.' As the member for Namatjira said himself in his first speech last month:
I look forward to the day when this country will recognise my rights as equal rights, when I too can marry in my country, on my country, as a recognised first Australian.
This is what this debate is about. It is about equality, recognising that it is not acceptable in Australia to discriminate against a group of people based on their sexuality or gender identity. Governments across different jurisdictions have administered marriage laws in Australia since European settlement. Restrictions were placed on Indigenous Australians' right to marry whom they chose, and there was variation in state laws regulating who we could or could not marry. Victoria's Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 gave the Victorian Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines the power to refuse marriage applications from Indigenous Victorians. In Queensland the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 prohibited Indigenous women from marrying anyone other than an Indigenous man without the permission of an Aboriginal protector. In the Northern Territory, which was governed by Commonwealth law, the Aboriginal Ordinance 1918 restricted marriages between Indigenous women and non-Indigenous men. For example, the marriage of Indigenous or half-caste women to non-Indigenous men required legal permission.
In 1959 a young Indigenous woman, Gladys Namagu, was denied permission by the director of welfare in Darwin to marry her fiance, a white drover called Mick Daly. This became a celebrated case where Mick was convicted of cohabitation with Gladys.
Sitting suspended from 18:30 to 19:30
National media covered the love story of Gladys and Mick. It was taken up by the courts and eventually they won their right to marry when the Director of Welfare eventually decided not to oppose their union.
That was in 1959. Only seven or eight years later we had the 1967 referendum, and that was a tremendous outcome for first nations people in this country. A few years later, my father met my mother, and the difficulty of cohabitation and the laws and the stigma that still surrounded remote regions of Australia were very strong in their relationship. I share that small, personal part of my story because it impacted on the lives of my family.
I would like to actually acknowledge the very personal stories that have been shared in the Senate today during the plebiscite bill debate, in particular by Senator Wong and Senator Pratt. I think it is really important that we remember that we are speaking to so many Australians. We are talking about the lives of Australians whose basic, fundamental human right is being questioned. I note that when the power to ban interracial marriage was removed from Australian law it was not subject to a plebiscite.
In my maiden speech I also spoke about the hate that was levelled at one of our sporting heroes, Adam Goodes. The vitriol, the social media attack, the commentary—all Australians were transfixed on this one person. The emotion that came out from all Australians—some of it good and some of it horribly wrong. If we can see that kind of hateful and hurtful debate take place so recently in our memories over a sporting legend who was forced to retire, I am in no doubt that this is the example—just one major example, a most recent one—which families from the LGBTI community speak about. The fear, the hurt, the hate: it is unnecessary when we are talking about their basic human rights.
Given this, we need to ask the question: can we respectfully debate and discuss marriage equality when we cannot do this on issues of race in this country? I know personally that we struggle with that. It should not be a debate. Let's do our job as lawmakers and make marriage equality a reality now.
As a politician I have voted on relationship rights before. When I was a state member of parliament in Queensland I was proud to be part of a government that passed a bill allowing civil unions in Queensland. That was as far as we could go as a state government. Back then, in support of that legislation, which was subject to a conscience vote, I said this:
I recognise that there are strong views in my community on both sides of this issue. I have heard from supporters and opponents of the bill. I believe that, more than anything, my community expects me to be honest with them and vote with my conscience.
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My conscience tells me that we should not prevent couples from celebrating and recording their commitment to each other merely because of factors such as their race, gender, or sexuality. For that reason, I will be supporting the private member's bill to allow civil unions in Queensland. I believe that my community expects their political representatives to reject all forms of discrimination. This bill removes a form of discrimination against same-sex couples and it has my full support.
That legislation, passed by the Bligh government in 2011, was cruelly repealed by the Newman LNP government on its election. Fortunately, things were set right by the Palaszczuk Labor government, which restored civil unions on its election last year.
It is now time for this parliament to set things right and make marriage equality law. This parliament has the power to make marriage equality legal. We do not need an expensive, divisive, nonbinding plebiscite to do the right thing.
Today I want to speak about families. I have my own family. My wife and I are fortunate to have two wonderful children. Families are vital to society, but no two families are the same. There are families like mine, with two kids and two parents. There are families with 11, 12 or 13 children. There are families with a single parent, and those single parents are no less capable of being parents. Their love for their children is the same. There are families with stepchildren, and step-parents who share parenting or who co-parent. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these families. The love they share for each other is exactly the same as the love my family shares for each other.
Our LGBTI community have families too. They are rainbow families. I have several LGBTI friends who are in loving relationships and who have children: rainbow families with loving mums or loving dads, with grandparents, aunts and uncles. There is nothing different about the love they share for each other—absolutely nothing. There is nothing unique or special that makes my family more legitimate than any of the other families I have mentioned. It is not our place to tell someone's family that there is something illegitimate about them, that there is something abnormal, wrong or unnatural about their family.
I respect the fact that marriage is a longstanding institution. It was with respect for that institution of marriage that my wife and I publicly recognised our own love through marriage. Some say that this institution cannot be changed, that it must remain the preserve of a man and a woman. The reality is that the meaning of marriage, the meaning of family, has changed before. This was pointed out by Beth Robinson, an attorney for the plaintiffs in the marriage equality case in Vermont, which started the push towards marriage equality in the United States. Robinson compared the case in Vermont to a 1948 decision by the Supreme Court of California overturning a law barring interracial marriage. She said:
The notion of a black person and a white person marrying was as antithetical to many people's conceptions of what a marriage was as the notion of a man marrying a man or a woman marrying a woman ...
… … …
That California decision was controversial, courageous and correct.
It is correct to say that times have changed since 1948, and the world has moved on since interracial marriage was banned. In many other places, marriage for LGBTI people has also moved on. The United States, Spain, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, South Africa, Norway, our neighbours in New Zealand and many other countries have moved on in relation to marriage equality. The world has moved on, and it is time that Australia moved with it.
Marriage discrimination is one of the last bricks in the wall that have stood in front of our LGBTI community and their rainbow families being recognised as full citizens in our country. I am very proud that very often it has been Labor governments in this country that have led the way in recognising LGBTI families and LGBTI people and conferring rights on them that have been taken for granted by many of us. In the mid-nineties the Keating government passed a law which essentially made it illegal for states to impose laws that discriminated against homosexual people in relation to sexual contact if they were over the age of 18. In 2008 the Labor government introduced historic legislation to provide equality to same-sex couples under all Commonwealth laws in areas including tax, social security, health, aged care and employment.
But equality that is not complete is not equality at all. A majority of Australians support marriage equality. They want us to make it happen, but a plebiscite is not the right way for us to do the right thing. Let us be clear: the plebiscite is not about trusting or not trusting the Australian people. The arguments made by the government in this respect are fundamentally flawed and show that they are completely disingenuous when it comes to making marriage equality happen. The plebiscite is about giving people a say in someone else's private relationship. Marriage is a decision between two people only. It is not a decision to be made by anyone else other than the two people getting married. In modern Australia, permission is not needed for straight couples to get married. When I got married I did ask my in-laws as a courtesy but I was not asking for permission. I did not have to go and poll the Australian people about whether my wife's and my relationship was worthy of marriage. I knew and my wife knew that our relationship was strong enough to take the next step. More importantly, when the Marriage Act was amended by Prime Minister John Howard in 2004, we did not hold a plebiscite then. We did not need a divisive, expensive poll then, and we do not need one now.
The people who should most have a say on whether we remove marriage discrimination via a plebiscite are the people this plebiscite will directly affect, and that is the LGBTI community. Labor have consulted the LGBTI community. The government say they have, but have they really listened? Over the past few months, I have met with members of the LGBTI community. I met with them here in Parliament House, I marched with them through the streets of Brisbane at the Pride Festival and I have sat down with them, along with other members of the opposition, and really listened to their concerns. They told me that their community overwhelmingly does not support a plebiscite. Even if the plebiscite would lead to marriage equality, they do not want a plebiscite. They have been fighting for this for all their lives and they are willing to wait longer, if necessary, to avoid the hatred and division which will be ushered in via a plebiscite. Why would they do that? Because they know more than anyone how hurtful and damaging a plebiscite will be.
The LGBTI community have lived the majority of their lives in fear, pretending to be someone else and afraid of what people might say. They hear constantly and are told every day by our cultural conventions that there is something wrong and different about them. I cannot tell you the number of occasions when friends of mine have talked about their partners and it is presumed that they are talking about someone of the opposite sex. At one level that is a normal reaction from people, but it does show that each and every single day LGBTI people run up against presumptions and assumptions that are very hurtful to them. It is why the mental health of LGBTI people is among the poorest in Australia. Beyondblue has called for this parliament to end marriage discrimination, saying that all Australians deserve the opportunity to express their love and commitment through marriage, regardless of how they identify. The sense of loss, hurt and discrimination experienced by those who are denied this opportunity is profound. Lesbian, gay and bisexual Australians are twice as likely to have a high level of psychological distress as their heterosexual peers. LGBTI people have the highest rates of suicide of any population in Australia. The elevated risk of mental ill-health and suicide among LGBTI people is not due to their sexuality, their sex or their gender identity in and of themselves but it is due to discrimination and exclusion, which are key determinants of someone's health. This is particularly an issue for the LGBTI community in regional parts of Australia, including regional Queensland. I have many friends who have suffered abuse. I have friends who have been violently attacked. I have friends who have been afraid to be who they are, because it has taken us so long to get to a point where we have silenced the notion that there is something unnatural or abnormal with gay and lesbian people. I have friends who are in happy, fulfilling relationships today but who still suffer now from years of being discriminated against. Despite the leaps and bounds made towards equality, our country is still not a safe place for LGBTI people. We are only now reaching a point where these Australians are able to feel safer, to come out and to feel proud of who they are.
Marriage equality will take us forwards. This plebiscite would take us backwards. Not content with facilitating division via this plebiscite, the government also wants the public to fund the campaigns against marriage equality. They want the taxpayer to give money that will be spent on television commercials, newspaper ads and letterbox drops distributing material that will contribute to the further suffering of LGBTI people. If there is some doubt or naivety from those opposite that the 'no' campaign will be civil and respectful when they seek to justify why LGBTI people should not be equal, then it is clear they have not been listening to what is already being said about this issue.
The Australian Christian Lobby has said they will spend the money on advertising that has nothing to do with marriage equality. Lyle Shelton, the ACL leader, told ABC Radio that 'there's been very little discussion about the consequences, how this might flow into schools through programs like the Safe Schools program when you take gender out of marriage'. He said: 'The money will go towards airing the concerns of a whole range of consequences that flow from taking gender out of marriage.' So, there you have it: the head of the ACL is saying that all of this public money will not actually be spent on the issue of marriage equality; it will be spent on what he considers to be the 'inevitable consequences' of gay marriage. Why should taxpayer money be spent on TV ads that tell LGBTI kids there is something wrong with them because they are gay, that they do not deserve to be parents, that they do not deserve to get married?
A debate cannot be civil or respectful when the premise of denying equality based on sexuality is not civil or respectful in the first place. I have heard my colleagues opposite say that Labor is standing in the way of marriage equality, that the only way to achieve marriage equality is a plebiscite, that the yes vote will get up anyway and that my colleagues on this side of the chamber are playing politics with the lives of LGBTI people. That is probably the most disrespectful thing that has been said in this debate so far. My colleagues on the other side know as well as we do that they are playing politics with this matter. We could have marriage equality now. The coalition is in government. Malcom Turnbull is our Prime Minster. When he toppled Tony Abbott, he had the opportunity to do away with Abbott's plebiscite policy. But he has not done that—because, despite saying that he supports marriage equality, he is hamstrung by the far right of his party. If Malcolm Turnbull wants marriage equality to happen, then he should put a vote to the floor of the parliament and let his party vote freely on this issue. There is only one person and only one party delaying marriage equality and that is Malcolm Turnbull and his government.
I love my family and I love my kids. No matter what they do when they grow up, or who they decide to love, I will love them always. I am not unique or special in that sense. No-one in this place has the right to say that my family is more important or more legitimate than anyone else's. No-one in this country has a right to tell LGBTI families that there is something different and wrong about the love they share. Marriage brings loving people together. Let's bring people together by making everybody equal.
I have listened to some of the comments here and I have spoken to many people on the streets and listened to their concerns about this. You say the parliament should make the decision on this. Has anyone really considered how the public feel about this? Is it going to be a social issue—the impact on the Australian people of a plebiscite on same-sex marriage? I have no problem with people who want to be with people of the same sex. Everyone has a right to live their life with happiness and how they want to in their own homes. But what I am hearing from people is that they want the word 'marriage' to be defined as being between a man and a woman. If you want to bring in equality, if you are a homosexual and you want to marry someone of the same sex, let's make it a 'civil ceremony'. Why do you have to use the word 'marriage', which is defined as being between a man and woman? The public would come along with you. They would agree with you.
Same-sex marriage has a social impact and I think it has not been discussed on the floor of this parliament. Tell the people how it will impact on their lives. What are the numbers who want to marry? I have spoken to a lot of gay couples. They do not want to marry; they are not interested in it. So here we have a minority who are pushing their views onto the majority of Australians. The parliament, especially those in the opposition, does not want to go to a plebiscite. You know that the majority of people out there in society might vote against it and you are not game to put up with that and face it.
I have heard the arguments on the floor of the parliament. You have said there is going to be intolerance and hate speech. That was not the case in Ireland. Is that a weak excuse for not putting it out there and letting the people know about it and have their opinion? It is not about this parliament. We are representatives of the people. But when it comes to a social issue like this, it is up to the people to have their say. Don't deny them their democracy to have their say—because it will impact on our society.
I personally have called for a referendum—and it is One Nation policy. Why? Because section 51 of the Australian Constitution defines the word 'marriage'. 'Marriage', as interpreted by the founders of our Federation, is between a man and a woman. If this parliament passes the word 'marriage' to define couples of the same sex, then who is to say that further down the track in this parliament we will not pass multiple marriages as the same case? So let's put it to a referendum for the people to define the word 'marriage'. Put it to the people: do we define 'marriage' as people of the same sex or people of the opposite sex as well? Let's put it in our Constitution. Apart from that, if that is not the case, then let's send it to a plebiscite for the people to decide. I personally believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, but, if the people of this country in a plebiscite decide to vote that marriage can be between those of the same sex, I will abide by their wishes. I will support it in this parliament because that is what the people want.
This is where my concern is. I will be moving an amendment in this parliament that I believe the plebiscite should go to the next election. A cost to the Australian taxpayer of $170 million is a disgrace. It should go to the next election so people can vote on this at the next election. We cannot afford it. I am fighting for money to clean up the family law courts. People are suiciding. There are farmers. I went to Charleville. Farmers there are distraught because they cannot farm their land and have no help from the government whatsoever. We can use that money in many areas—hospitals, schools and other areas—without spending $170 million on a plebiscite.
How many people are we actually talking about? If you truly love someone, do you really need to have a certificate that says you are married? That commitment can be made to anyone. How you feel about a person comes from your heart. You do not need to have it defined to have it justified. Besides, I will tell you now: I have been married twice. It is not all it is cracked up to be. It is not as fantastic as everyone thinks it might be.
We are paying interest of $40 million a day. Can we afford that? No, we cannot. We have to be mindful that this country is in debt and what it is costing us. Then there is your call about marriage equality. Equality means 'right across the board'. They have rights to superannuation and everything else as far as marriage is concerned. I acknowledge that and I totally agree with it. I have heard the cases of couples of the same sex making fantastic parents. I have no problem with that whatsoever. But where are the rights of the child? Under marriage equality, you are going to talk about the adoption of children. Where are the rights of the child to be brought up in a home where there is balance between a male and a female? I will be criticised for this because I speak my mind. Add it to the list.
I want people to understand what will happen with this. If you have marriage equality, then you must have adoption of children. That is part of it. The rights of the child. I am concerned about that. Also, what happens when those children of same-sex couples go to school and the teacher says, 'Johnny and Susan, I want you to draw a picture of your home with your mummy, your daddy and your siblings,' but the children say, 'I don't have a mummy' or 'I don't have a daddy'? So, further down the track, are we going to say, 'No longer can you call that person your mummy, your daddy, your grandma or your grandad because that offends the children who do not have that'? I do not know. Can anyone in this House tell me: what do they call the people of same sex in that household? Are considerations of those kids being taken into account? We change it now when at schools we do not sing Christmas carols because it offends a certain religion. We do not do that because it offends a certain race. Has this been debated? Tell the people what the future holds for them. Let them make an informed decision. That is what I am saying. Put the facts out there. Let the people know, because it will have a social impact on our society and people have a right. Let them have their say. Let them have their vote. We owe the people of Australia this. I will stand by their decision. Are you prepared to do that? If they vote no, against it, are you still going to push for this until the parliament gets its own way?
Look at the minorities. I am sick and tired of adhering to the minorities in this country. Let's look at what the majority wants. That is what it is all about.
Sorry, Acting Deputy President. You are right. I have friends and acquaintances and work colleagues who are homosexual. I have spoken to them and a lot of these people do not agree with marriage. They do not want it; they do not agree with it. In all honesty, give the people their right to have a vote. I stand by the plebiscite and the wishes of the majority of Australians. I say: put it to the vote at the next election and let the people have their say.
I stand proudly to oppose the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 which would, if passed, provide for a divisive, unnecessary and harmful plebiscite. I say 'harmful' because we know the experience of the people of Ireland, who were in a totally different situation in terms of their constitution and their political and legislative frameworks. They needed to go through a plebiscite in order to deliver this reform. History will show you that, ultimately, the Irish people voted for the reform, and I have to say it was one of the most joyous times that I have had in my over decades-long contribution to this debate in Australia, watching the Irish people celebrate marriage equality in their country. But we do know the harm that was caused not only to LGBTIQ people in Ireland but also to the children of LGBTIQ people in Ireland. People are saying, 'Won't someone think of the children?' Well, we are thinking of the children in opposing this plebiscite, and we are thinking of the children in supporting a free vote on marriage equality. My party, the Australian Greens, are thinking of the children in our long-held and uniquely consistent support of marriage equality in this country. We are thinking of the children of LGBTIQ people, and we are thinking of LGBTIQ people.
What we know from the quite frankly horrendous statistics on suicide, is that LGBTIQ people are, as a cohort, very vulnerable people. Why would you want to subject vulnerable people to what you know is going to be a harmful and hate-filled debate? There are people who, as the Prime Minister does, say, 'I've got greater faith in the Australian people than those who make these comments,' and, 'I have confidence in the capacity of Australia to have a respectful debate'. Well, regrettably, I do not share that confidence because I have seen this debate firsthand, not as a gay or lesbian person but as someone who has participated in this debate for over a decade. I have seen the hate and I have seen the harm, and, tragically, that is exactly what we would be voting for if we were to pass this legislation this evening. Why would we subject people to almost certain harm just because a few of us, and I will come to the identity of that few in a minute, lack the courage to actually have a free vote in this place? Make no mistake, it is well within the capacity of this parliament to deliver marriage equality this year if it wants to, and the only person standing in the way is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who still refuses to give his party a free vote on this issue.
I want to say something about discrimination, because members who have bothered to inform themselves and educate themselves will know that there is still discrimination that is being faced by LGBTIQ people in our community. I want to say very clearly to members of this parliament that we cannot hope to end discrimination in our schools, in our hospitals, in our other sporting clubs or anywhere else in our community while we still preside over discriminatory laws. The Marriage Act, as it is currently drafted, is discriminatory, so if we want to show some leadership here—if we want to be able to look our community, the people who we represent, in the face and say, 'Don't discriminate in your schools, in your sports clubs or in your hospitals'—first we have to make sure that we are not discriminating in the laws that we create in this place. Shamefully, we are still discriminating in the Commonwealth Marriage Act, and shamefully, it was the big political wedge that was thrown by former Prime Minister John Howard's former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. Unfortunately, the Labor Party supported that amendment to clarify that the Marriage Act related only to marriages between a man and a woman. We have to end the discrimination in our laws. Until we do, there will continue to be discrimination in our community. That discrimination will not end overnight should we pass a bill on marriage equality—it will not. But those who would discriminate—whether it be casual discrimination or more entrenched, systemic discrimination—would be sent a very clear message by the leaders of this country sitting in this place voting for marriage equality and voting to end marriage discrimination in this country.
There are lots of arguments that are put against marriage equality by many people, and I have to say I reckon I have heard most of them. I heard a few of them in Senator Hanson's contribution, and I just want to respond to a couple quickly. Senator Hanson claims that many gay couples do not want to get married. That is true. But, do you know what? I do not want to get married either. I have never been married, and I never will get married. But, do you know what? If someone tried to take my right to get married away from me, I would defend it to the death, because I want the right to marry. I do not want to get married; I want to have the right to marry. I want to have the right to marry, and that is what LGBTIQ people deserve in this country. They want the right to marry. The fact that some of them do not want to get married is completely irrelevant to this debate.
The other point I would like to make is that what this legislation is proposing to do is outsource a fundamental human right in this country to a popular vote. It is all very well for coalition senators in particular to come into this place and say that if their states or their constituencies vote for marriage equality then they will vote for marriage equality. But it sets an awfully dangerous precedent for this parliament in a representative democracy, which is what Australia is, to outsource fundamental human rights to a popular vote. It is a very dangerous precedent.
I have no doubt that a yes vote would win. I have no doubt in my mind. That is because I have seen this debate firsthand for over a decade. I remember in 2005 when I tabled in the Tasmanian parliament the first explicit same-sex marriage legislation in any Australian parliament. I remember we could not get a single non-Green vote to even refer it off to a parliamentary committee—not a vote on the issue but just on the question of whether we should have a parliamentary and community conversation about the issue of marriage equality. We could not get a single non-Green vote. Yet, if we fast-forward seven years from that day, I co-sponsored legislation with a Labor Premier, Lara Giddings, that actually passed through the Tasmanian House of Assembly. It was the first chamber of any Australian parliament to pass marriage equality. When people say to me that Tasmania is an inherently conservative state, I say, 'Go and have a look at that debate.'
While I am at it, I want to paraphrase something that a Labor Party member said in that debate. It was Graeme Sturges MP, the member for Denison, a longstanding unionist of very high regard in Tasmania. I did not always agree with Mr Sturges, but he said something in that debate that has never left me. He said: 'I've been married for nearly 50 years. It's been absolutely fantastic and I can thoroughly recommend it for everyone.' That is what he said before he cast his vote in the Tasmanian parliament in favour of marriage equality.
How else do we know what Australians think about this plebiscite? Shelley Argent at PFLAG and Rodney Croome at Australians For Equality have done a lot of work to try to discover what the Australian people think about a plebiscite. We know what Australians think from a Galaxy poll from July this year. When respondents were asked whether or not they supported a plebiscite, less than half—not a majority—supported a plebiscite. A minority supported a plebiscite. But then when the poll followed that question up by revealing that in fact the proposed plebiscite would not be binding, that support dropped to 35 per cent in support of a plebiscite. Then when respondents were asked the subsequent question that revealed the cost to the Australian taxpayer of a plebiscite, support dropped to 25 per cent. One in four Australians support the plebiscite that this legislation seeks to enshrine. One in four only in this country support it, based on that poll.
A survey has also been conducted of nearly 5,500 LGBTIQ Australians. I am advised that it is the biggest survey of LGBTIQ people in Australia's history. Eighty-five per cent of the people surveyed oppose a plebiscite. Many high-profile community LGBTIQ leaders have said very clearly and very explicitly, 'We would prefer to wait to get marriage equality if it means we don't have to put up with a plebiscite.' They would be prepared to wait.
And they may have to wait, because this legislation is not going to pass when the vote is held either tonight or tomorrow. But they will not have to wait long, because the Senate rejecting this legislation puts the ball fairly and squarely back in the court of our Prime Minister, a man who we all know supports the reform and supports marriage equality but a man who, to date, has not found it within himself to offer his MPs a free vote on this issue.
What sort of Prime Minister does not have a plan B in these circumstances? You can say what you like about Malcolm Turnbull, but he is not silly. He is not. He is a very intelligent man. I have no doubt at all that he has a plan B up his sleeve. I hope that when this Senate knocks off this legislation, which it will, that we see Mr Turnbull fulfilling a part of his destiny as Prime Minister and revealing his plan B, which can only be to walk into his party room, open his arms, open his heart and tell his members they will be given a free, or conscience, vote on this issue. When he does that and when we see a cross-party sponsored piece of legislation, I have no doubt that the Commonwealth parliament will vote for marriage equality and we will end the discrimination that still exists in our laws.
So here we are today, about to knock off the plebiscite. For all we know, Mr Turnbull will not take the obvious step of revealing his plan B. If he does not reveal a plan B, we will be left in a situation where the majority of Australians support marriage equality, a majority of members of parliament support marriage equality, the Leader of the Opposition supports marriage equality, the Prime Minister supports marriage equality and numerous community leaders support marriage equality. Yet, we just have that one person, our Prime Minister, who will be standing in the way of this important, in fact, crucial reform. We have to end the discrimination in our laws if we are serious about ending it in our schools, in our hospitals, in our sporting clubs and in our community.
I was reflecting earlier about the journey that many of us have come on. I want to pay particular credit to someone who I would proudly describe as a friend of mine, and that is Rodney Croome AM. He is an awesome Tasmanian, a man who is dedicated, and who is in the gallery this evening. I am very pleased that he and his colleagues are in the gallery. Rodney is but one of a large number of people, including Shelley Argent from PFLAG and many others, who have worked on this reform. Rodney has been on this for well over a decade. He has paid personal sacrifices for his support of marriage equality and his opposition to the plebiscite. I want to acknowledge him today as a champion of the LGBTI community in this country and someone who has selflessly worked, for goodness knows how many hours, to deliver this reform of marriage equality.
I want to say through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, to Rodney and all of the other people who have worked so hard on this campaign: it is not long now. You can feel it. It is so important that we do it the right way. The right way is not a harmful, divisive and expensive non-binding plebiscite, because we know that is not what the Australian people want. We know that is not what the LGBTIQ community wants in this country. They want the reform and quite understandably they want it now. That is why when this legislation is defeated by the Senate, with every fibre of our being the Australian Greens, as the only party that have consistently—since the start of the marriage equality debate—supported marriage equality in his parliament and in this country, we will be seeking to work constructively and collaboratively with other members and other parties who support this reform. It is why we will do everything we can to put the acid where it needs to be put, and that, of course, is on Malcolm Turnbull, our Prime Minister. Rarely in a country's history do you get a situation where one person, by one action, can change the course of a crucial debate, but that is where the Prime Minister finds himself at the moment. This legislation will go down, and he has the capacity to deliver the reform this year if he wants to do it.
We stand ready in the Greens. I know there are members from the Labor Party and from the Liberal Party who stand ready to work cooperatively to make this reform happen, but it needs the Prime Minister to give a free vote to his members. So I urge the Prime Minister, in fact, I beg the Prime Minister, to give us a free vote. Give your party room a free vote, because you are the one, Prime Minister, who can make this reform happen by one simple action. With one scintilla of courage he can deliver a really crucial reform to this country without the harm and without the expense that a plebiscite will guarantee.
I am proud to stand here as someone who has worked nowhere near as hard as Rodney Croome and many other people on this issue but who has worked hard on marriage equality for well over a decade now. I stand here proudly in opposition to this legislation. I stand here proudly as a member of the Australian Greens saying, 'We stand ready to work with other members right across the political boundaries of this parliament to deliver the urgently needed reform of marriage equality.'
In December last year I had one of the proudest moments in my life when I walked my daughter down the aisle for her wedding. I thought to myself, 'Wouldn't it be lovely if every parent could have that opportunity?' I want to get it on the record that I support gay marriage. There is absolutely no argument about it. The sooner we get it done the better. To make it very, very clear: I do not agree with the plebiscite—$160 million-plus. We politicians get paid a significant amount of money. No-one can say that we do it tough. Have the intestinal fortitude to put it through the chamber. Have the guts to put your hand up for or against—whichever way it happens. I hope it goes the way that everyone is telling me—that it is going to get through. Why are we spending taxpayers' money? I am opposing the plebiscite.
As a servant of the people of Queensland and Australia I remind senators that the people have voted for a plebiscite by returning the government and by voting for our party, Pauline Hanson's One Nation party. Why disregard the people's verdict? Why are so many senators and members so scared of giving the right to decide marriage's future? Do such senators simply want to control the people? Do the Greens and the ALP have so little faith in Australians, fearing that an open debate will somehow be divisive and hateful? If so, why? Always beneath control there is fear. We have seen no evidence of hate to date; just respectful disagreement. It is the right of every person to express that respectful disagreement.
Some senators, amazingly, deride the plebiscite as an opinion poll. Does that not imply they think their election as a senator was an opinion poll? If it was, does that not question the legitimacy of their position in the Senate? Do senators blocking the people having a say simply fear a no vote will succeed, and are attempting to block it? This is, at its core, yet another issue of freedom versus control, with the usual suspects wanting to control the people that we are supposed to serve.
A plebiscite will provide legitimacy for the result, whichever way it goes. People who are in favour of gay marriage, if the vote goes that way, will accept it. The people who oppose gay marriage will also accept it because it is the people's view. A decision of politicians by politicians for politicians will not provide legitimacy for the result. There will be half the population aggrieved. Instead, a plebiscite will provide legitimacy, and that will provide freedom for all. Australian people must be allowed to have their say on marriage.
So, what is there to be so divisive about? My personal view is that there is nothing to prevent two people who love each other living together lovingly. That already occurs. If a union between two people of the same sex needs to be formalised, another form of celebrating and recognising that can occur. My view, however, is that marriage is between a man and a woman in accordance with the laws of nature. I freely recognise and applaud those who disagree with me. I uphold their right to have an alternative view. I understand there are strong opinions on this issue and I welcome diverse opinions, because they can only make us stronger and make the people's acceptance of the result so much stronger.
It is difficult to believe that senators are worried about the cost of a plebiscite when we have wasted almost $10.2 billion on desalination plants, with all but one mothballed immediately. That is almost enough for 70 plebiscites. Where is the outrage over that expense? Silence. Crickets. All this wasted expense was based on a forecast from a government funded serial misrepresenter of climate science. As I said in my first speech, so-called science expert Tim Flannery beclowned himself when he said that dams would never fill again. It was a wasted forecast—wasted billions, abused Australians. We are now witnessing the destruction of our economy. South Australia has already self-harmed with all the self-satisfied criminal ignorance of a child shredding a Rembrandt with a pair of scissors, and now other states are madly following. Am I to understand that we can flush billions of people's dollars away and destroy Australian livelihoods, jobs and lifestyles, yet not trust Australians with having the opportunity to exercise their say for a tiny fraction of that cost?
For those claiming now to be concerned about the public purse, allow me to make a suggestion: hold the plebiscite concurrently with the next federal election. There are ways of minimising the cost and maximising the debate. Respectful debate and honest sharing of opinions—let's have them. It is such freedoms that Australians are famous for. We are the people who believe in a fair go for all, including for those with whom we disagree—unless, of course, you disagree with the leftist agenda of control over freedom. For those who support and speak for freedom, we must give Australians a voice.
I rise tonight to speak on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016, a bill which, if passed, will give effect to the most wasteful political exercise certainly that I can remember and probably in Australian history: Australia's largest ever taxpayer-funded, non-binding opinion poll.
As others in this place would know, I have, over time, changed my view regarding marriage equality. I have come to support it after careful thought and reflection and after speaking to many same-sex couples, including among friends, family and my Tasmanian constituents, and hearing what marriage equality would mean to them. I believe we need a pathway to marriage equality in Australia but that this bill is not the way to achieve it. Not only is it a monumental waste of money at a time when there are far greater needs; it will serve as a platform for hate speech, even though many of those supporting a plebiscite disagree. Only today, in my office here in Canberra, I received in the mail—and I am sure many other senators did and probably members in the other place too—a pink document that said the most atrocious things about the effect that same-sex marriage would have. I was going to bring it in and read it but, to be honest, I actually felt sick when I read it. I tore it up and put it in the rubbish bin.
I believe that, rather than achieving the desired outcome, this bill would likely delay it. What makes this expensive and wasteful exercise all the more galling is that for the past seven years those opposite have been lecturing Labor about fiscal responsibility: those opposite, who are now overseeing a net debt of $296 billion, $77 billion more than it was predicted to be when Labor left office; those opposite, who have more than doubled last financial year's deficit from a projected $17 billion in their first budget to almost $40 billion now. And what hour did they choose to break the news that they had blown out the deficit? Close of business on a Friday. I will not digress to speak of all the announcements we have had from this government at close of business on a Friday, but let me just say this: as it was explained in the TV drama The West Wing, Friday is known as 'take out the trash day'. It describes a media management strategy where as much bad news as possible is released on a Friday in the hope it will get buried in the flood and because, it is alleged, fewer people read the papers on a Saturday.
Labor are willing to take a cooperative approach to budget repair, but we are not going to be lectured by a government that tells us we need to tighten our belts and then proposes to waste over $170 million to outsource a decision that should be made by this parliament. We believe in budget repair that is fair, but those opposite have their priorities all wrong. Spending $170 million or more on a non-binding national opinion poll is clearly the wrong priority. At the same time, this government is doing almost nothing to crack down on multinational tax avoidance, overly generous superannuation concessions for those on high incomes, or negative gearing. Despite trying to make the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Australia do the heavy lifting on budget repair, this government wants to waste $170 million on a non-binding plebiscite.
We were led to believe, when Mr Turnbull rolled Mr Abbott for the prime ministership, that we would have a different approach to leadership; that Mr Turnbull would have the courage of his convictions and pursue those issues that he truly believed in—like real action on climate change, like an Australian republic and like marriage equality. Instead, we got a continuation of Mr Abbott's policies, but with a slightly better dressed salesman. The really embarrassing reality for Mr Turnbull on the plebiscite is that it is not his policy; it is Mr Abbott's policy. As I said, it is an expensive and wasteful delaying tactic cooked up by the conservatives in the Liberal Party to delay marriage equality.
We know from statements prior to becoming Prime Minister that a free vote in parliament would be Mr Turnbull's preferred approach. But, as with so many other issues, Mr Turnbull has had to roll over to the right wing in his party. He has had to forfeit his convictions in exchange for their support for his leadership. It has left so many Australians looking at last year's leadership coup and scratching their heads thinking, 'What was that all about? What was the point of Mr Turnbull becoming Prime Minister? And who is the real Malcolm Turnbull anyway?' Mr Turnbull may claim to have won the election, but, in the words of former Treasurer Peter Costello, Mr Turnbull's government is 'in office but not in power'. We saw an example of that when the government's so-called workable majority in the House of Representatives crumbled in the first week of parliament. Despite his narrow win in the last election, Mr Turnbull was severely wounded. He does not command the authority within his party to lead it. Instead, he is letting his party lead him. If he had the courage and the authority to lead his party to stare down the conservatives, then he would be bringing on a free vote instead of pursuing a wasteful and expensive plebiscite that he does not really support. But, like an old book that is falling apart, we all know Mr Turnbull has lost his spine.
Not only is the plebiscite a waste of money but it will serve as a platform for hateful and divisive comments that call into question the legitimacy of same-sex relationships and the legitimacy of families with same-sex parents. Australian Marriage Equality, in a fact sheet on the plebiscite, has pointed out that this is the experience in marriage equality votes overseas. Research into US states that held referenda on marriage equality found that amongst LGBTI communities there was a 37 percent increase in mood disorders, a 42 percent increase in alcohol use disorders and a 248 percent increase in generalised anxiety disorders. At the same time as these states experienced an increase in mental health issues, there were no significant impact on the mental health of LGBTI people in states that achieved marriage equality without a statewide poll. So the fact is: no matter how hard you try to achieve a respectful debate marriage, equality referenda and plebiscites serve as a platform for anti-gay hate speech.
There is a very real concern about the implications that this could have for the mental health of LGBTI Australians if the Turnbull government's proposed plebiscite goes ahead. As Dr Patrick McGorry observed in a recent press conference:
We know when these campaigns are held in the public domain, like in the US and in Ireland, the risk does goes up. There is evidence to support that, so this is a dangerous thing to be doing to actually give a free rein to this sort of debate. It will harm peoples' mental health, there is no doubt about that.
So if the no case in a marriage equality plebiscite can restrain themselves from hurtful comment—comments which call into question the legitimacy of people's families and relationships—then why on earth do they need to suspend provisions of anti-discrimination legislation, as some have requested?
Yet, this bill is not only offering a platform for such hurtful and discriminatory comments but proposing to fund it with taxpayers' money. Struggling Australians are justified in asking why they are being called on to make sacrifices in the name of budget repair when this government wants to spend over $170 million on an opinion poll. If the government had their way in their first budget, pensioners would have had their pensions cut by $80 a week, university students would be paying up to $100,000 for a university degree and unemployed Australians would be waiting for six months to receive Newstart with nothing to live on but fresh air.
Imagine what else the Turnbull government could do with $200 million if they abandoned this folly. With $170 million you could run a community grants program and give $1 million to every House of Representatives member to spend in their electorate. In fact, this is exactly how the Stronger Communities Program operates. Scrapping the plebiscite would save enough money to fund eight or nine rounds of Stronger Communities. Another use for $170 million would be to return the $115 million of funding this government has stripped from the CSIRO, with plenty of change to spare. I have spoken many times in this place about the government's disastrous cuts to the arts and the impact on the Australian economy and society. One hundred and seventy million dollars would return about over half of the funds they have ripped away from the arts sector and restore much of the damage the government have inflicted on our arts industry.
I have also spoken several times in this place about the dire situation facing Palliative Care Tasmania in my home state and their community education program. A mere $2.3 million would fund Palliative Care Tasmania's community education program for another four years and another $100 million or so would be enough to role out the program nationally, vastly improving the end-of-life care experience for thousands of Australians. Also in my home state of Tasmania with just over half the cost of the plebiscite the government could restore the $100 million they cut from funding to the upgrade of the Midland Highway or restore the Gonski funding to Tasmania for the 2018 and 2019 school years. So there are lots of things we could be doing with that money.
How can those opposite convince the Australian people of the need for an expensive taxpayer-funded opinion poll when they themselves are divided on the details? We have heard that Senator Brandis, the Attorney-General and minister who has carriage of this issue, was rolled by the conservatives in the cabinet on the issue of public funding. Senator Paterson recently said quite openly in a doorstop that he did not think that either side should be funded and that he did not believe taxpayers should be running political campaigns. And Senator Smith has said he would either abstain or cross the floor on this plebiscite bill—not to mention those like Senator Abetz who have mentioned that, no matter the result, they will not be bound.
I reject the argument by those opposite that the plebiscite represents a pathway to achieving marriage equality, because it clearly does not. If the plebiscite was the best, or the only, way in which marriage equality could be achieved then we could have a debate about whether it is worth the expense; but it is not. If the plebiscite was a viable pathway to achieving marriage equality then it would be overwhelmingly embraced by the LGBTI community; but it is not.
Dianne Hinton, the national president of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, said:
The notion that our families will become a national discussion, something to be judged by strangers, to us is appalling.
And it is to me too. A joint statement of over 50 LGBTI representative groups had this to say on the bill that we are currently debating:
Our expectation has always been that should a plebiscite proceed, parliament would ensure a fair and reasonable plebiscite process that recognises the impact of this national conversation. Unfortunately, the plebiscite machinery legislation now presented by the government is neither. Indeed it is unfair, unjust and unworkable—
The groups then went on to provide the following concerns about the government's plebiscite approach—
all of the above—
we call on parliament to vote down the plebiscite machinery legislation.
This statement was supported by groups such as Australian Marriage Equality, Working it Out, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, and the National LGBTI Health Alliance. So if, as this government and particularly Attorney-General Senator Brandis would have you believe, a $170 million taxpayer-funded opinion poll is the best path to achieving marriage equality in Australia then why is it overwhelmingly rejected by the LGBTI community?
In support of the plebiscite we hear arguments that the Republic of Ireland went through a national vote on this issue. But that was a binding referendum not a non-binding plebiscite, and they went through it because it was legally necessary for them to do so in order to achieve marriage equality. Like the exercise in various US states, it served as a platform for hurtful, discriminatory and divisive comments. But, unlike here in Australia, it was necessary to go through the exercise in order to get the job done.
The number of members and senators in this parliament who have said they will not be bound by the result of a plebiscite just goes to show what a wasteful exercise it is. As Justice Michael Kirby pointed out, referring the issue of marriage equality to a plebiscite is 'simply an endeavour to delay or defeat the measure.' Justice Kirby said that the government's proposed plebiscite creates a dangerous precedent in Australia where parliamentarians avoid making decisions on controversial issues and refer them to an expensive popular vote instead.
While Justice Kirby makes a compelling argument for parliament to get on and do its job, another who has made the argument well is the government's own Senator Smith. As I mentioned before, Senator Smith has signalled his intention to cross the floor on this bill. Senator Smith said that the plebiscite proposal is:
… a willing admission by some that an institution which has served the nation well for 115 years is suddenly, on one issue alone, not up to the job.
Now, I ask these couple of questions: did we have a plebiscite when the Marriage Act was passed in 1961? No, we did not. Did Prime Minister Howard call a plebiscite when he changed the Marriage Act in 2004? No, he did not. Over the past 115 years, 44 Australian parliaments before us have undertaken major economic reform, declared war, signed treaties and made many other decisions that have had a huge impact in shaping our nation—all without a plebiscite.
The last time we had a plebiscite on any issue was almost 100 years ago, and that was on the issue of military conscription. Back then we did not have the benefit of regular opinion polls to give us an insight into what Australians thought on particular issues. Yes, these polls are only a sample and have a certain margin of error. But when you have a series of them overwhelmingly producing the same result it is not unreasonable to draw the conclusion that a plebiscite is almost certain to produce the same outcome. We already know from poll after poll that Australians overwhelmingly support marriage equality, so what is one more poll going to tell us that the others have not?
Even so, I have a fundamental problem with popular opinion being used as a decision-making tool, especially when it comes to issues of basic human rights. That is why we have a representative, deliberative democracy, instead of being captive to popular opinion on every issue. As parliamentarians, we are elected to this place to make these decisions—not to outsource them. Of course, we will hold a national vote when there is a federal election, or when we need to change the Constitution, because it is legally necessary. But in our democratic tradition, parliament makes the decisions it is empowered to, because that is what the Australian people have elected us to do.
If Mr Turnbull truly believes in marriage equality, as he claims to, then all he has to do is bring on the vote—just bring on the vote. With a conscience vote allowed in the Liberal Party, the numbers are there in parliament to achieve marriage equality by the end of this year. So let's do our job right now. Let's end this wasteful, farcical exercise and reject the government's taxpayer-funded opinion poll. Let's get on with our job as parliamentarians, bring on a bill for marriage equality and vote for it. Let's embrace the future and legislate for marriage equality.
I rise to speak on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. This bill represents a complete abrogation of our responsibilities as elected representatives. Instead of spending our time debating this bill, we should be spending our time considering any of the many bills that have already been brought before this and the other place and which would actually legislate for marriage equality, bills that would give us, as parliamentarians, the opportunity to do our job. Parliament is the place where the issue of marriage equality can and should be dealt with—it is incumbent upon us as elected representatives. But instead of granting a free vote to Liberal members, the Prime Minister continues to support a damaging and wasteful plebiscite on marriage equality. Instead of allowing the parliament to do its job, Mr Turnbull presses ahead with a plebiscite to appease the ultraconservative wing of his party. But what Mr Turnbull does not seem to understand is that those waging this crusade against the same-sex attracted and gender diverse members of our communities cannot be appeased. Instead they will continue to attack and marginalise LGBTI Australians, their families, their friends and their supporters.
To say that Mr Turnbull's approach to marriage equality is a farce would be an absolute understatement—it is a tragedy. Mr Turnbull has repeatedly failed to show any leadership on marriage equality, an issue he once claimed to passionately support. Mr Turnbull has said that he does support marriage equality, but it appears that that support is well and truly eclipsed by his political ambition. He has become hamstrung in trying to appease the conservative wing of his own party on this issue. Mr Turnbull has lashed out at those of us who have concerns about the tenor and nature of a no campaign. Mr Turnbull has tried to reassure us that Australia has nothing to fear from the plebiscite because the debate will be respectful and civil. However, anyone who has followed this debate would be well aware that Mr Turnbull cannot even guarantee a respectful debate from his own party room. The comments and arguments that have been put forward by marriage-equality opponents in this place should give some indication of exactly what is to come if the government's planned plebiscite goes ahead.
The debate about the Safe Schools Program has already given us a bitter taste of the hurtful and damaging arguments that we can expect to see. The damage caused by a taxpayer funded no campaign in a marriage equality plebiscite would be significantly more devastating. PricewaterhouseCoopers examined the impacts of the proposed plebiscite and warned that it would do more harm than good, leading to high levels of social tension, discrimination and mental health and mood disorders, and would cost taxpayers and business far more than previously understood. In all, PricewaterhouseCoopers estimated that the cost to the economy would more than likely be around $525 million in direct expenses and lost production. The CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Luke Sayers, described the plebiscite as:
… a massive waste of time and money that will remove focus on the economy, growth and jobs which is the real priority for Australia.
The fact that this government has agreed to provide taxpayer money to fund the public campaigns means that the government not only is providing a platform for bigotry but also is now proposing to fund it.
The emotional part of a plebiscite would be truly immeasurable. The true cost would not be counted in dollars. It is exactly for this reason that the LGBTI community, their families and their supporters have called on us to oppose the plebiscite. After receiving material from the group Marriage Alliance, one Tasmanian wrote to me urging me to oppose the plebiscite, saying:
I've been dealing with this kind of hurtful and offensive material for over 50 years but, even so, I am not immune to being hurt by it. And l really fear for young people today who are confronted by this ignorance and hatred.
No-one should have to endure a national debate on the validity of their relationship, on the worth of their love. And, most significantly, it is not necessary. None of it needs to happen, because the federal parliament has the ability to deal with this issue. The power is here. The means are here, with a couple of bills in this and the other place. But what is clearly lacking from the government is the will. If the Prime Minister had the courage—if he stood for anything other than his own personal and political self-interest—then he would grant a free vote to his party room and lend his support to a bill for marriage equality. Mr Turnbull has the power to stop all of this. Mr Turnbull has the power to abandon plans for this plebiscite, to do something that would go a long way in curtailing the rise of damaging and outright offensive debates on issues facing gender diverse and same-sex attracted Australians, which has been shockingly exacerbated under Mr Turnbull's leadership.
It is time for Mr Turnbull to recognise that this debate is not about him; that his leadership is not the central matter here—at least, it should not be. At the heart of this debate is love and the equality of the love of all couples, regardless of gender. At the heart of this issue are people like Melinda who recently shared her story with parliamentarians. She wrote:
I have served my community as a police office for 28 years. But I am not seen as an equal in my nation. My four sisters are married; I am not. The only reason is because I am gay. Marriage equality is about human rights. It's about treating all love as equal.
Eddie and his family visited Parliament House with Rainbow Families. Eddie asked:
Why should people who barely know us make an assumption on our families and vote on how we can live?
Eddie was one of 27 children from Rainbow Families who came to Parliament House to lobby parliamentarians to legalise marriage equality and block the plebiscite, which they argue would harm their families. As Co-Chair of Rainbow Families Ashley Scott explained:
Rainbow Families oppose a plebiscite because we know what the impacts will be, both for our families and for vulnerable people in our community. We elect our politicians to be decisive and to act in the interests of all Australians a plebiscite is a political fix that will do harm and put lives at risk.
Calling for parliament to deal with this issue should not be at all a controversial proposal. This should not be a shocking proposal. It should not be a stretch to say that we in this place should do our jobs, do the very thing we are elected to this place to do: debate and consider legislation and then vote on it. Marriage equality is an important issue but not one that is more complex than many of the other issues that we consider in legislation on a regular basis. The only complexity here is Mr Turnbull's attempts to manage his own party room. The government's expensive plebiscite proposal is nothing more than an attempt to delay the reform.
When Mr Turnbull seized the leadership of the Liberal Party, there was a considerable optimism that Australia now had a prime minister who would listen to the community on marriage equality. I have to say I was one of those people. I was optimistic that Mr Turnbull would listen, that he would be a prime minister who would listen to the tens of thousands of people who have joined in rallies across the country, have shared their stories, their lives and loves, like the thousands of people who have contacted those us in this and the other place through Australian Marriage Equality's Equality Calling campaign.
While the voices of these people might have been ignored by the government, I want to make sure that at least some of them get heard in this place. I want to share some of the messages that Tasmanians have left me so they are recorded in the Hansard of this place. These are the voices of gender-diverse and same-sex-attracted Australians, their families, their parents, their children, their friends, their co-workers and their neighbours.
A caller told me:
I believe that same-sex marriage is a human rights issue.
I grew up in a big Catholic family. Of six children two of us were gay. All my brothers and sisters are now married. They wish the same for me.
My gay brother sadly died at the age of 34. He experienced a great deal of discrimination during his life as a result of being gay. All he wanted was true love—he wanted to be happily married.
A parent said:
I have two beautiful daughters. One can get married whenever she wants to and one can't. I want to see equality come in as soon as possible and let my daughters decide when and where they want to marry. I don't want them not being treated the same. I have raised them to be beautiful people and I want them to be able to go and be with the person they love.
Australians have a deep-rooted belief in fairness and equality and this is clearly at the heart of their support for marriage equality, like the caller who argued:
Australia should respect all our citizens whether they are gay, lesbian, straight, black, white, Muslim, Christian, whatever. Equality is about everyone having the same rights including having the opportunity to demonstrate their love and get married.
So please vote for marriage equality to give people the opportunity to demonstrate and share their love the way that most Australians can.
Another caller reasoned:
It is about time Australia followed in the footsteps of so many other countries like ours and gave all Australians the same opportunities in life, including the chance to marry and raise a family.
It is about love and fairness. I believe my love is the same as anybody else's.
These are just a few of the many voices from my own community who have stated their support for marriage equality.
In addition to the thousands of individuals who have made calls to express their support for marriage equality, hundreds of organisations have pledged their support to equality through Australian Marriage Equality. The open letter from Australian business leaders in support of Marriage Equality in part said:
We support diversity in the workforce and recognise the rights of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) employees to live and work, free of prejudice and discrimination, with all the essential freedoms enjoyed by other members of our organisations and the broader community.
The letter went on to say:
An equitable society, free of discrimination, also allows all employees to function at their best. Australia is a robust democracy however, we support seeing it treat all its citizens equally.
Legalised discrimination in one area allows discrimination to flourish in all areas.
The letter concludes:
We support the right for all our employees to have equal opportunities in life. We therefore support marriage equality.
This open letter has been signed by hundreds of Australia's business, industry and sporting leaders, and yet even their voices are being ignored by this government.
In another open letter to the Prime Minister more than 40 leaders have urged him to pursue a free vote in parliament. These religious leaders asked Mr Turnbull to drop plans for a plebiscite as they believe it will polarise the community and 'alienate LGBTI individuals within religious communities'. In relation to the impact of a plebiscite on gender diverse and same-sex attracted Australians, the letter stated:
After decades of legalised discrimination, and ongoing social stigma, LGBTI Australians will face an angry, drawn-out debate, one likely to multiply existing disadvantages and stigma.
Everyone, it seems, knows that a plebiscite will be divisive, harmful and an obscene waste of money. Everyone knows that the correct way to deal with the issue of marriage equality is through a bill in parliament. That is, it seems, everyone but those opposite. Instead, those opposite cling to this idea of a plebiscite as a way to protect Mr Turnbull.
As a result, Australia is in the shameful position of being isolated on the issue of marriage equality amongst countries with English as a first language. Globally, more than 20 countries have passed laws to bring about marriage equality—countries that are culturally and economically similar to ours, like New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada, and Great Britain. Australia has long missed the opportunity to be a world leader on the issue of marriage equality. We have missed the opportunity to move with other countries. It is time for us to take action to end our shame in continuing to uphold discrimination against gender diverse and same-sex attracted Australians. We do not need this plebiscite. We need a free vote in parliament.
Organisations and leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities have issued a joint statement on the plebiscite, calling on the Australian parliament to ensure that every Australian is able to marry the person they love in the country they cherish. The statement sets out the groups' support for a parliamentary vote on the issue of marriage equality:
Our shared goal is simple—we want marriage equality as soon as possible at the lowest cost. The most efficient and effective way of achieving marriage equality is a vote in Parliament, a power confirmed by the High Court in 2013.
I have a number of other quotes I would have liked to have read into the Hansard, but my time is running out, so I will take up the last few minutes that I have to say this to the government: it does appear that the votes will be there to vote down the plebiscite bill. I hope that is what happens at the end of this debate.
I also say to the government that gay activists, parents and friends of lesbians and gay people—the broader gay community—and most Australians will be looking to the government after the plebiscite bill is voted down. They will be looking to the government to provide the leadership that should have been provided a long time ago. They will be looking to people that say they support marriage equality. They will be looking at Senator Brandis, who is part of the leadership team and who supports marriage equality. Senator Brandis, they will be looking to you to say: 'The ball is back in your court. Do not let us down. Let's debate the legislation in this parliament. Go back into your caucus and go to bat for our community.' That is what they will be expecting and that is what I hope will happen.
I hope, when this bill is voted down, that Mr Turnbull will decide to lead, that Senator Brandis will go back into his caucus and say, 'We tried to put this plebiscite bill through. We couldn't do it, but now it is time for us to take the lead and bring legislation into the parliament for marriage equality and deal with it there.' That is what is being expected of you. That is what is being expected of this government: they cannot say to the community that they support marriage equality but refuse to act. After this bill is voted on, it will be back in their court. There are thousands and millions of people counting on the government to do the right thing, to end the discrimination, to bring a bill into parliament that will give marriage equality to our LGBTI community.
Again, I say to the government: do the right thing. Provide the leadership that people expect of you and bring a bill for marriage equality into this parliament for debate. (Time expired)
I am not going to stand here tonight and reiterate the arguments that have been put so eloquently in recent hours, recent months and even years by people with a far more personal interest in same-sex marriage than I have. All I will say is that I, too, believed that marriage was something between a man and a woman because it just was, you know? That is, until about 10 years ago, when I actually listened and heard the selfish, blinkered hollowness of my argument.
Today I want to talk specifically about the plebiscite and why I am proudly voting against it. Also, why a plebiscite is the wrong way to bring about what should be a right: the right of two Australians to marry no matter their gender, and the right for a same-sex couples married legally overseas to have that union recognised in their own country. This plebiscite was cobbled together after that marathon coalition crisis meeting. It was a word that millions of Australians had never heard of. To steal from the late Jim Killen, 'plebiscite' could have been the name of a horse running in the fifth race at Rosehill.
At the time, it was opposed by some of the leading lights of the Liberal Party. It was opposed by the member for Wentworth, who would go on to replace Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, and by the now government leader in the Senate, Senator Brandis. And they were right. We do not have plebiscites on every other bit of legislation. We did not have one on the omnibus bill that popped up in the last session. They are not talking about a plebiscite, but they are trying to get us to vote their way for the troubled ABCC.
As for the argument that the people must have the right to decide on such an issue, even when legalising same-sex marriages will not personally affect them, where was that furphy when Prime Minister Howard tightened the Marriage Act back in 2004 to specify that marriage could only mean:
… the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
and that overseas marriages would not be recognised in this country?
Mr Howard was adamant that it was the duty, the responsibility, of elected politicians to make that decision, and the Labor Party agreed. Mr. Howard was very specific about our duty. He said:
We've decided to insert this into the Marriage Act to make it very plain that that is our view of a marriage and to also make it very plain that the definition of a marriage is something that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation.
… not over time—
be subject to redefinition or change by courts. It is something that ought to be expressed through the elected representatives of the country.
That is us. That is you and that is you and that is me. The High Court agreed. That is one reason why we will vote against the plebiscite.
The other reason, which has been raised by a lot of people, is the obscene cost. They said $160 million. The latest guesstimate is about $200 million. Some bean counters now reckon it will go over $400 million. Who knows? Not to mention the 15 million bucks of taxpayers' money for the yes/no campaigns. Let's say it is only—only—$160 million. By voting this legislation down we save a heap of money. I have a better idea, seeing that the government has already budgeted to spend it. The plebiscite, we are told, is all about love, relationships, commitment and quality of life. So let's use that money—$160 million—for a royal commission into the Family Court, child welfare agencies and foster care across this country—a commission with the ultimate goal of a new federal child protection agency, because, I tell you, such an inquiry is desperately needed. But whatever happens to those saved millions, I urge the Senate to vote this legislation down. Do your job and hope it is the first step to a free vote in the House of Representatives. Who knows? If they do their job, as Prime Minister Howard so eloquently put it, we could be seeing gay marriages for Christmas.
At some time or another over the past three years, the leaders of every major political party in Australia turned their minds to the question: how should the issue of marriage equality be dealt with? And at different times every single one of them arrived at the same answer: by a plebiscite, as the best way of engaging the whole of the Australian community in what everybody accepts would be a profound social change.
In 2013, Mr Bill Shorten, the Leader of the Labor Party, said that he supported dealing with this issue by a plebiscite. He said:
Personally speaking, I'm completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite.
He went on to say that in terms of a plebiscite:
I would rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people.
So whatever Mr Shorten might now say against a plebiscite, one thing we know for sure is that he has no objection to it in principle. Similarly, as recently as last year, the Leader of the Greens, Senator Di Natale, said that he supported a plebiscite. Indeed, Senator Rice and Senator Xenophon sponsored legislation for a plebiscite in this very chamber only last year. And also last year in the coalition party room, after a long and thoughtful debate, the coalition parties decided that they, too, thought that there ought to be a plebiscite. So every side of politics, from the most conservative side of politics to the radical Left, both mainstream parties—the Liberal Party and the Labor Party—had all decided that the right way to deal with this matter was to deal with it by a plebiscite. So, this year, the government took that policy to an election. Nobody can deny that it was an issue in the election campaign, particularly in the final week. We won the election and we intend to deliver on our promise to the Australian people to deal with this issue by a plebiscite—but for the fact that, in one of the more cynical exercises in politics that I have ever seen, the Labor Party has now decided to play the politics of the issue rather than progress the very course of action that is a plebiscite that Mr Shorten said only three years ago that he was supportive of.
Support for a reform of the Marriage Act to give same-sex couples the right to marry is at an all-time high in this country. More than two to one of the population favour it. There is hardly an electorate in the country in which there is not a majority in favour of change. So the one thing we know in this chamber—every one of us: those who support the plebiscite and those who oppose it—is that, if there were to be a plebiscite on 11 February, as the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 provides for, it would be carried, and we would have marriage equality within three months. The Australian Labor Party went to the last election promising that, if they were to be elected, there would be marriage equality within 100 days. It is 96 days from today until 11 February. If this bill were to be passed by the Senate tonight then we would have marriage equality in this country in less than 100 days. Yet the Labor Party and the Greens and some on the crossbench have conspired to make sure that that does not happen. I say again to the Labor Party and to those that have decided to play the politics of this issue rather than seek the outcome which they claim to believe in: stop playing politics with gay people's lives—because that is all that you are doing. Stop playing politics with gay people's lives, get out of the way and let us have the plebiscite that would deliver marriage equality within less than 100 days.
I want to deal with some of the intellectually dishonest and spurious arguments that have been made against the plebiscite by those opposite. But, before I do, let me deal with the one respectable argument that has been made against it—by my friend Senator Dean Smith. As those of us who know him know, Senator Smith is a constitutional conservative and he is a man of integrity. He is of the view that because resolving an issue of this kind by a plebiscite is constitutionally unorthodox or unusual it sets a dangerous precedent and it is not something that we ought to sanction. But I say to Senator Smith that there is something unique about this issue: no-one can say that any individual who sits in this chamber or in the other house has any greater insight into, investment in or appreciation of what a marriage means than any other citizen of Australia. If ever there was an issue that is not an issue for the political class, an issue in which every member of society is entitled to have a view and an issue in which every member of society has an equal stake and equal ownership, then surely it is this. And that is why I respectfully demur from the view of my colleague and friend Senator Dean Smith. But at least he has a principled argument, which is more than can be said for those opposite.
Let us look at the arguments that have been raised in opposition to the plebiscite to give a cover, a veneer of sincerity, to what is a deeply cynical exercise in playing politics with gay people's lives. First of all, unbelievably, the Labor Party—of all people—counsel fiscal prudence and say that this plebiscite would cost too much money. The estimate is approximately $170 million. Australia pays more than that every four days in interest on the debt the last Labor government left us, so I do not think we will be taking lessons in fiscal rectitude from the Australian Labor Party.
And then there is the argument that the result of a plebiscite would not be binding on the parliament. And that is true. But what that argument entirely leaves out of account is the fact that almost every conservative member of the coalition, from Mr Tony Abbott down, who is opposed to changing the Marriage Act has declared and publicly undertaken that, if there were to be a yes vote in the plebiscite, they would either vote for it in the parliament or they would abstain. So, were there to be a yes vote, as surely there would be, there is no doubt whatsoever that the marriage reform bill would pass. There would be more votes for it after a plebiscite than there would be for such a bill today. So the argument that the plebiscite result is not binding is a spurious argument. If you care about this issue, you care about the outcome; you do not sacrifice the end to the means.
But what underlies the Labor Party's real outlook was given away by many of their speakers. I heard Senator Catriona Bilyk's speech and this is what she said: 'I have a fundamental problem with popular opinion being used as a decision-making tool.' It is almost unbelievable to hear that said, isn't it, in a democratic chamber—'I have a fundamental problem with popular opinion being used as a decision-making tool.' Well, we in the Liberal Party, we in the coalition, do not have a problem with heeding popular opinion or regarding popular opinion as something that ought to instruct us in our decision making. In fact, that is what democracy is all about. Underlying the Labor Party's—and the Greens'—opposition to the plebiscite is the kind of sneering Left elitism that says the Australian people cannot be trusted to have a decent debate, the Australian people cannot be trusted to have a civilised respectful debate about a vexed social issue. Well, I do not share that pessimism about the decency of the Australian people.
Nor, by the way, was that the experience in Ireland, where there was a referendum, a popular vote, to change the Irish Constitution to allow same-sex marriage. In the last few months, I have had quite a lot to do with Mr Tiernan Brady, who ran the campaign for the yes vote in Ireland and has come to Australia to run the campaign for marriage equality in this country. I have a great deal of time and respect for Mr Tiernan Brady. This is what Tiernan Brady, a gay man, said about the Irish experience:
The referendum was an astounding and unifying moment for our country. In the Irish experience, a plebiscite is difficult, but our experience is that it also brought great rewards and it created a visibility of LGBT people and their families. It allowed the great cultural change in Ireland that flowed from the vote. It was a real moment of joy for the entire country.
That was the evidence of Mr Tiernan Brady, who is in a better position than anyone else to know the nature of a plebiscite.
If Mr Brady's observations about the Irish experience are not to be taken seriously, hear the words of a former American ambassador, His Excellency John Berry, the first gay American ambassador to Australia. Mr Berry said:
I think Ireland is a great example to look at where they had recently a plebiscite that was conducted very respectfully ... One of the LGBTI leaders from Ireland in fact is in Australia—
this is a reference to Mr Brady—
right now and made this very point that their plebiscite actually helped bring their country together on the issue. A plebiscite does not have to be a divisive technique.
… … …
It's part I think of your national ethos that everybody deserves a fair go. And we have certainly been given our fair go by everyone we've met in Australia in every state by every leader—
speaking of himself and his partner, Curtis.
So I certainly believe however Australia decides to move forward on this issue it will be done with great respect. I think Australia's one of the most rational countries in the world. You handle debate and discussion better than anybody quite frankly.
So there is the evidence of two well-placed foreigners: Tiernan Brady, who ran the campaign in Ireland; John Berry who represented the United States of America in Australia for the past four years. That is their judgement of, in Mr Brady's case, what it meant for Ireland and, in Ambassador Berry's case, what it would mean for Australia, as an observer with an acute interest in the issue.
But let us take at face value what the Labor Party say. Their speakers have said: 'We have a great deal of concern that harm would be done to gay people and their families by this debate.' If that is so, why do you want to prolong it? If you are concerned that this debate will cause harm to gay people and their families, why do you want to prolong it indefinitely? If that is your concern, why would you not bring it to a close? Why would you not bring it to a close in fewer than three months and have it over and done with? Because, as a result of the course that they are forcing upon this chamber, those opposite are prolonging what they say is a divisive, hurtful and harmful debate potentially for years and years to come. If that is what you do, let that be upon your head.
But we really know what is the motive of the Australian Labor Party in opposing the plebiscite that only three years ago their leader supported. Caroline Overington, the journalist, put it very well in an article in the Weekend Australian on 3 September this year. This is what Caroline Overington had to say:
Shorten seems to have decided that he would rather play games with people’s lives. And why? Because Labor is ashamed of the fact it didn’t bring it in when it was in office; and now the party is trying to go back in time. Labor wants to claim this victory as its own.
They are annoyed that it was Malcolm Turnbull who managed to get his party to agree to a plebiscite; and took that policy to the electorate; and got a mandate for it.
Will Shorten really put politics—point scoring—ahead of the right of Australians to have their moment—
their 'unifying moment', as Mr Tiernan Brady described it. I am very sorry to say that the answer to that question is yes. Mr Bill Shorten, Mr Mark Dreyfus and Senator Penny Wong cannot bear the thought that, while they in government did nothing to progress this issue for six years, at last we have a Prime Minister, a Liberal Prime Minister, who has progressed the issue. The truth is that Malcolm Turnbull is the first Australian Prime Minister to come into office with a commitment to marriage equality—the first. When Kevin Rudd was elected in 2007, he was opposed. He changed his mind later, but he was opposed and on his watch did nothing to progress the issue. When Julia Gillard came into office in 2010 she was opposed as well. No Labor Prime Minister has ever lifted a finger to progress this issue. In fact, every Labor Prime Minister has stood in the way. The first Prime Minister of Australia to progress the issue, to put marriage equality in the tangible reach of the Australian people, is Malcolm Turnbull.
I am very proud to be the first Attorney-General to serve in a government that has progressed the issue and the first Attorney-General to bring to the chamber a bill, the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill, as an exposure draft, to show how that would be achieved. But it will only be achieved if we have the plebiscite—the plebiscite which only three years ago Mr Shorten said he supported, but only last year Senator Di Natale and Senator Xenophon and others on the crossbench said they supported.
So here we are. We are a minute away from the vote on the second reading of this bill. If this second reading is defeated, then the cause of marriage equality in this country will be delayed for years. If this second reading vote is supported, then we will have plebiscite in 96 days time. We all know what the outcome of that plebiscite will be and we will have marriage equality in this country by February. The choice is yours. The choice lies in the hands of those who have it in their power to give Australia marriage equality within less than three months or to delay it for years to come, because I say again: a vote against this bill is a vote against marriage equality. Those who claim to believe in marriage equality but nevertheless, for their own cynical, game-playing reasons, are determined to vote against it should hang their heads in shame.