Senate debates

Wednesday, 9 August 2017


Consideration of Legislation

9:56 am

Photo of Mathias CormannMathias Cormann (WA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the second reading of the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 be restored to the Notice Paper and be made an order of the day for a later hour.

In moving the motion, let me make a few remarks. The government is bringing this motion forward in order to give the Senate the opportunity to reconsider its decision not to support the government's proposal to give all Australians on the electoral roll the opportunity to have a say on whether or not the definition of marriage should be changed and whether our laws should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Now, this is an issue on which good people right around Australia have strong and sincerely held views on both sides of the argument, and all of us are aware that this is an issue that has come before this chamber on a number of occasions. So far, on each occasion, the parliament has reconfirmed the current definition of marriage in the Marriage Act as being, of course, between a man and a woman. As we also know, that has not resolved the issue, because on those occasions, the losing side of the argument was not prepared to accept that this settled the issue. While some of the views in this parliament may have evolved to a point where there might be a different outcome on this occasion, we believe that if we were to proceed with a vote in the parliament before giving the Australian people the opportunity to have a say on this, the losing side of the argument, even if it were the other side on this occasion, would not accept the outcome. We believe that the best way forward for our country, the best way forward for all of the good people across Australia, who have strong and sincerely held views on both sides of the argument, is to do as we promised them we would do before the last election—that is, to give them the opportunity to have a say via a plebiscite on whether or not they believe our laws should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. At the end of that process there will be an outcome, and the government certainly is firmly of the view that the parliament would respect whatever the outcome would be. If there is a 'yes' vote at the end of that process in favour of changing the laws, the parliament will change the laws in order to give effect to that. If there is a 'no' vote, then the government certainly would not be facilitating the change to the law that is being proposed.

That is the reason why the government last year put forward a bill to conduct a compulsory, personal attendance plebiscite. It was proposed for that to happen on 11 February. Obviously, that particular bill was defeated, and we are proposing for the Senate, here this morning, to reconsider this proposition by the government. We continue to be of the view that this is the best way to ensure that a decision by the parliament on this issue is a unifying moment for the country, and that the losing side of the argument, whichever side that is, can accept the outcome. And we continue to hold the view that the best way to do that is to make all of the Australian people part of the decision-making process.

If the Senate were to agree to reconsider its position, I can advise on behalf of the government that we are in a position to make all of the necessary arrangements for the compulsory personal attendance plebiscite to take place on Saturday, 25 November 2017, which should enable the parliament in the last sitting fortnight before the end of the year in the case that the 'yes' vote is successful to consider the relevant changes to our Marriage Act to change the law such that same-sex couples would be able to marry.

The reason there's a diversity of views in the parliament is that there is a diversity of views in the community. We are a reflection of that, of course. Some people who argue against this plebiscite make the case that, somehow, Australians are not able to conduct this debate in a way that is appropriately courteous and respectful. We happen to disagree. We trust the Australian people. We trust that the Australian people are able to handle this debate. We believe that the Australian people can handle this debate. Difficult issues are always best handled by allowing a democratic debate and, ultimately, a ballot to take place.

In this chamber we have debated this for a long time. In recent times, we have debated this issue in our own party room. I absolutely and utterly respect those who have a different view to mine. All of us come to this issue with a set of personal beliefs that guide our decision making. I put myself forward for election to the parliament as a candidate with my views on this issue very well known. I am not a bigot or a bad person because I happen to think that the definition of marriage should be a particular way. I respect the alternative view, and I respect those who pursue an alternative view. I think it is very important for all sides to respect the right for all of us to have and to represent people across the community who have alternative views.

If there are those who do not participate in this debate in a respectful way that is regrettable. I think that the Australian community is able to deal with this and to handle this. With this sort of process, we have a three-month period in which there will be a conversation across the Australian community which will ultimately lead to an outcome. I should advise the chamber that, in order to address some of the concerns that were raised by various stakeholders in the context of the debate last year, the government have decided, should this bill successfully be restored to the Notice Paper and should we go to the second reading debate and ultimately to the committee stage, that we would amend the bill to remove the public funding for the 'yes' and 'no' cases in order to facilitate the best possible context for this decision by the Australian people. In the end, the Australian people know what their views are on this. It's not going to be a complicated proposition for the Australian people to make a decision, one way or the other. It's not going to be a complicated decision for the Australian people to make, one way or the other. On that basis, the government have made that decision.

I should say that if this proposal of the government for a compulsory personal attendance plebiscite on 25 November is, again, unsuccessful in the Senate then the government believe that we do have a constitutional and legal way forward to keep faith with our commitment to the Australian people at the last election to give them a say and make them part of the decision-making process on whether or not our rules should be changed to change the definition of marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Indeed, if this bill is not restored and if this bill does not ultimately pass the Senate, then the government will be working, through the Australian Bureau of Statistics, to survey all Australians on the electoral roll, giving them the opportunity to have their say on whether or not they believe that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry, and we will get an outcome at the end of that process. It will be a voluntary postal plebiscite.

The government is very confident that we have the constitutional and legal authority to make this happen, and I will share with the chamber why the government is of that view. Firstly, of course, all senators would be aware of section 51 of the Constitution, which gives the Commonwealth parliament powers to make laws in relation to censuses and statistics. Indeed, the Commonwealth parliament has chosen to make such laws—namely, the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the ABS Act 1975. Under those laws, the Australian Statistician and the ABS can request information of all Australians on the electoral roll. Indeed, there is express provision in the ABS Act for the ABS to have access to the electoral roll, so the ABS is in a position where they can, at the direction of the Treasurer, seek information from all eligible electors that are validly enrolled on the electoral roll and ask them for their views on whether or not they believe that the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. Now, that is not our preferred option, but it's the next-best option in order to keep faith with our deep commitment with the Australian people and our respect for the diversity of views across the Australian community—sincerely held views across the Australian community—and bring this issue to a resolution.

Furthermore, as the finance minister, the parliament has appropriated to me in Appropriations Act (No. 1) 2017-18 what is called a Finance Minister's Advance to deal with unforeseen expenditures, amongst other things. Of course, this was an unforeseen expenditure at the time that the appropriations bill was dealt with. There is a Finance Minister's Advance, which essentially enables me to make appropriations to up to $295 million for unforeseen items of expenditure. This is an unforeseen item of expenditure, which will help us cover the cost of up to $122 million for this exercise designed to give the Australian people a say on whether or not they believe the definition of marriage should be changed.

In summary, the ABS and the Australian Statistician have the power to ask the question. I have the power to appropriate the money. They have the power to expend the money under the section 61 of the Constitution—a combination of section 61 of the Constitution, of the executive power, and the powers out of the various pieces of legislation governing their overall operations at present. They have the power in relation to that. They have the power to get access to the electoral roll and, of course, the ABS also has the power under section 16A of the ABS Act to arrange the secondment of officers to the ABS. On this occasion, the secondment of officers that would be arranged is the secondment of officers from the Australian Electoral Commission.

The intention would be for this process to get under way as swiftly and efficiently as possible. Namely, for the requests for information from the ABS to Australians on the electoral roll to start getting posted as of 12 September, for there to be a period until 7 November for people to return their filled-in forms and provide the information to the ABS on what their views are in relation to the definition of marriage, and for us to have a final outcome in relation to this voluntary postal plebiscite process by 15 November. Again, that puts us into a position where, if there is a positive outcome, we would be able to deal with this issue once and for all in the final sitting fortnight this calendar year.

Some people say voluntary ballots are not as credible as compulsory ballots. Given that most democracies around the world actually operate under a voluntary voting system, I find that very hard to accept. Because, in the end, if people feel strongly about it, or if they have a view about it one way or the other, they have the opportunity to participate and they will participate.

I certainly would encourage all Australians to participate in this process. One hundred per cent of Australians on the electoral roll will have the opportunity to participate in this process and to express their view. So nobody who is entitled to vote will miss out. Everybody who is entitled to vote is actually able to put their hand up in relation to this exercise. Furthermore, postal voting is also quite an established way of organising democratic processes in Australia and in other parts of the world.

Again, I say to those senators and to those Australians who have concerns about the voluntary postal plebiscite that there is a better way, of course. A better way is that which we are putting before the chamber again today—that is, to go through the normal, compulsory, personal attendance exercise on Saturday, 25 November. If the Senate votes to restore this bill to the Notice Paper, if the Senate votes to engage in the second reading debate on this bill and if the Senate ultimately passes this bill, then all Australians, through the established democratic processes here in Australia, in a way that is very closely aligned to the way federal elections are conducted in Australia, would have the opportunity to have their say. At the other side of this debate, this actually then puts Australia into a position where those Australians who feel strongly about this but are on the losing side of the argument will be in a better position to accept the change that will then happen. That is our submission to the chamber, and I commend this motion.

10:11 am

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

This motion is not about giving Australians a say. This motion is about weakness and division on that side of the parliament. This motion is about a government so divided and so legalist that they have to handball a hard decision to the community to make it because they can't make it in their party room. That's what this is about. And no amount of words from my colleague can hide us from the fact that this is one big massive handball, because this is a government without a leader and that is utterly divided on this issue. That is what this vote is about. I will come back to the substantive motion in a moment, but let's just talk about the procedural issue.

This is a government that is so weak, it won't even bring the bill back. Do you know what the motion before you is? It's saying: 'Oh, you know that second reading vote we had? Well, we did not like the outcome, so can we have it again?' That's what this motion is. Those opposite don't even have the guts to bring it back through the lower house, probably because they don't know if they can hold all their people. So they put a motion on the Notice Paper saying, 'Oh, we just want to restart the second reading, even though you all voted against it.' That's what they're doing. It's a motion to overturn a clear decision made last year by this Senate, where 33 senators voted against and only 29 in favour, and the second reading was defeated. The matter was settled—comprehensively. But, because the Liberal Party room cannot accept that, now we've got to come in here and deal with a procedural motion to try and bring the second reading debate back on, instead of reintroducing the bill here or in the House, and instead of going through the normal process.

The reality is that this is all a stunt. And everybody knows that. I have a lot of regard for Senator Cormann. He's generally a very decent person to deal with, and he's trying valiantly to create some logic around what is an utterly ridiculous position, which is: 'We just want to keep not having a vote, and we can't decide to have a vote, so we're going to have all these mechanisms, even though the Senate said no. We want a plebiscite. If we can't have that, we'll have a postal ballot, because we can't get to a decision inside our own party room.' It's a stunt. It's a damaging stunt and it's an expensive stunt. There are a lot of things you could do with 120 million bucks, aren't there? It's about three million GP visits or a couple of thousand teachers. I'm sure we could go through a whole range of things that $122 million could be spent on, far better than a vote that is not going to be binding. Let's understand that.

We can talk a lot about democracy and Australians having their say. Eric Abetz is not going to change his vote if this is successful. Senator Bernardi is not going to change his vote. He and I have vehemently disagreed. He's not going to change his position. It's like one big opinion survey to get over the fact that the Liberal party room can't make a decision because they're so divided on this issue and because Malcolm Turnbull, regrettably, has not had the courage of his conviction.

This is a vote whose sole aim is to stop the members of this parliament being given a chance to do their job and vote. This is a vote because some in the coalition can never countenance equality, and they're never going to change their minds. They simply cannot countenance people like me, and others, being equal. It is as simple as that. They're not going to change their minds on this issue. If you would just bring on a vote, we could save the country $120 million and, frankly, put us all out of the misery of having to keep talking about this issue. Frankly, the country has moved on.

I'd also make this point: we live in a parliamentary democracy. We're elected to do a job. Sometimes we do it well and sometimes we do it less well. We're elected to come here to vote, to make decisions. This country did not have a plebiscite or a postal ballot on the Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, native title legislation, the scrapping of the White Australia policy or whether women should get equal pay. I don't think Tony Abbott took to a people's vote the cutting of billions of dollars out of health and education. I don't think the government took to a people's vote whether or not corporations should get a big tax cut. But on this they want us to say that we handball it to the community, and it is simply to do with their internal divisions.

I do want to respond to the comment by Senator Cormann that this could be a unifying moment and that people could be respectful. I hope that people watching me debate wouldn't think I'm a shrinking violet. And I know what a hard debate's like. But I tell you: have a read of some of the things that are said about us and our families and then come back here and tell us that this is a unifying moment. The Australian Christian Lobby described our children as 'the stolen generation'. We love our children, and I object—as does every person who cares about children and as do all those same-sex couples in this country who have kids—to being told that our children are a 'stolen generation'. You talk about unifying moments? That's not a unifying moment. It's exposing our children to that kind of hatred. I wouldn't mind so much if you were prepared to speak out on it, if the Prime Minister were prepared to stand up and say, 'That is wrong.' But what does he do? He says it's a dreadful reason, to not trust the Australian people. He says don't be silly; of course we can have a sensible debate. Well, maybe he should stand up for some of the people who don't have a voice, because we know the sort of debate that is already there. Let me say, for many children who are parented by same-sex couples and for many young LGBTI kids, this already ain't a respectful debate.

Labor will be opposing this motion, and we do so because of our longstanding position, which has been considered by the party and our opposition to a plebiscite. And what I would say to the crossbench is that you made the right decision last time; please make the same decision on this occasion.

10:19 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The Australian Greens will also be opposing this motion, and we do that because the arguments around a plebiscite are crystal clear. It's expensive—over $100 million that could go towards the building of a new school or having new medicine listed on the PBS or saving the Great Barrier Reef; there are so many better ways to spend $100 million. We oppose it because it's unnecessary. We're paid good money in this joint. We've got a job to do. We're legislators. We should just get on and do it. I know this government likes outsourcing. It's taking it to a whole new level. This is a job for the parliament to do.

We oppose this motion because, far from being a unifying moment, it will, totally unnecessarily, unleash hatred and bigotry within our community and expose people to the sort of debate that they should never be exposed to. We do it because, ultimately, the outcome of this plebiscite is meaningless. We've got members of the government who say, 'If the plebiscite is supportive, we won't change our view,' and we've got other members who say, 'If the plebiscite says that Australians don't want marriage equality'—something I find hard to believe—'we'll continue to vote in favour of marriage equality.' What's the point?

Most importantly, we will not support this plebiscite because it violates a fundamental principle in any liberal democracy, and that is you never put a question of discrimination of human rights to an opinion poll. That is the antithesis of the way in which any modern liberal democracy deals with questions of basic human rights. In fact, we recognise that, when it comes to the protection of minorities, it is the role of us in this parliament to show some leadership rather than putting those questions to a glorified opinion poll.

So we don't support a plebiscite. We never have. Now we are in this ridiculous situation that, should the plebiscite as originally conceived by the government not proceed, we're going to see a postal plebiscite. My goodness! You can't write this stuff. We've entered into a parallel universe here. What next? Carrier pigeons being inflicted upon the community? This is Bizarro World stuff.

Why is it happening? Let us name it. It's a government that is divided. It's in turmoil. It's making decisions in its own self-interest rather than in the interests of the Australian community. That is what's happening right now. I have to say it is very sad to see a Prime Minister so diminished, so contorted, so confused and so weak that he has given in—a total, complete capitulation—to the hard Right within the Liberal Party. The sad reality is that, if this Prime Minister cannot lead his party, he cannot lead the nation.

We should come out of this chamber with a clear view that our job is to stand up for people right across the community, to end discrimination wherever it exists and to make sure that, where two people love each other, we respect and acknowledge that love. We need to use the most precious thing that we are given when we are elected to the Australian parliament—our vote—to support those values. That is what the Australian Greens will do every time we are confronted with a bill on marriage equality. Let us get this thing done and let us show those many millions of Australians who want us to do it that we stand with them rather than making decisions that are in our own narrow self-interest.

10:23 am

Photo of Derryn HinchDerryn Hinch (Victoria, Derryn Hinch's Justice Party) Share this | | Hansard source

As I said in question time yesterday to the Attorney-General, 'Let us do our job.' We're here to vote on this. We voted down a plebiscite the last time. I have quoted before various people, including the heroes of the Liberal Party. John Howard said in 2004:

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 that should rest in the hands ultimately of the parliament of the nation and should 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 …

There's no mention of a bloody plebiscite and no mention of a postal plebiscite. That's John Howard. Tony Abbott has said in the past that it shouldn't be left to the courts. Tony Abbott said when a plebiscite was pushed through the party room the last time that it would only exist for the life of the 44th Parliament. This is the 45th Parliament.

As for people who say that Malcolm Turnbull promised—he did promise. He honoured that promise. He took that promise to the parliament. He got it through the House of Representatives, through the other place. He brought it here and he lost. So where's plan B?

With every other bit of legislation, they take it back downstairs, they bring it back here or they bring it back in with amendments. I will commend the government for the amendment they are putting up—and they can technically say that this is a slightly different bill, because they are going to amend it to cut out the public funding, which is a stupid idea. That'll save them $20 million. They should save $122 million for the other place.

Tony Abbott also said, on 2GB—sorry, the former Prime Minister—that marriage was between a man and a woman, and that it was brought in to protect women and children and therefore any move to break up a marriage would be a disastrous situation, shouldn't be done. Yet how come the Liberals' light on the hill—their light on the hill; Prime Minister Bob Menzies attacked so-called man-and-woman marriage, because he was the person who said there will be a conscience vote, back in 1958, a conscience vote for no-fault divorce. What's going to protect marriage, if you believe this more than that? No-fault divorce. He said:

As the question of divorce closely touches the individual conscience of members, we propose that, though it will be a government measure, it shall not be treated as a party measure. Therefore, honourable members will be in a position to discuss it according to their own lights and views.

I'm going to steal from Menzies and say: as the question of same-sex marriage closely touches the individual conscience of members. I propose that there will be a government measure—we would hope. It should not be treated as a party measure, and honourable members will be in a position to discuss it according to their own lights and views. Although I know there's going to be a move to try to kill this off before the government gets its second reading—it's tempting—but I voted against the plebiscite before. I wanted the government to have their say, even though there's nothing left to be said about same-sex marriage. I will support them as they try to get the second reading up. But then I will tell you: this man is not for turning. I don't care who comes at me or with what. I will vote a plebiscite down again, and I would also vote down any foolish postal plebiscite, which I think is open to fraud.

And is this government of all the people—what about young people? Young people wouldn't even know how to open a mailbox. What about them? Are you going to have text votes? Are you going to have email votes for young people? And older people—this one will be voluntary, so you will get the special-interest groups on both sides coming out with the hardest and toughest areas. I think it's a disgrace.

I watched the New Zealand parliament last night pass their same-sex marriage bill. I watched them pass it, and the moment in that house in New Zealand—and it's a single house—after it passed, equality for all people, they all came out and the gallery started singing 'Pokarekare Ana'. It was the most wonderful moment of unity. This government could unify Australia, if they just pass this damn bill, get it through, get it off the agenda.

I hope this morning you do not talk on and on, speaker after speaker. Get it on, get it over, get it done with. Thank you.

Photo of Cory BernardiCory Bernardi (SA, Australian Conservatives) Share this | | Hansard source

Before I call Senator Leyonhjelm, I would remind honourable senators that they should refer to other members and senators by their appropriate titles. It's not specific to you, Senator Hinch, but there were a couple of occasions.

10:28 am

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I indicate that I will support this motion. I also indicate that I support same-sex marriage not for reasons of equality, as is often the argument used by its supporters, but because I don't believe it's any role of the government to tell people who they can marry.

I have supported same-sex marriage since I have been in this place. I have supported it ever since it was ever mooted. I believe I'm the only senator in this place who, in the last parliament and the current parliament, has supported it at every opportunity, including procedural votes. The question we are debating, though, is how to achieve it. The issue, I think, that really underlies this discussion is: is there a perfect way to achieve it? I don't think perfection should be the overriding factor here. I think achieving same-sex marriage should be the end result, and we shouldn't be too fussy about how we get there, as long as we do get there.

We have three options available to us. The free vote is my first choice, but I have to say I am not at all certain that, if there were a free vote, it would pass both houses of parliament. I am not at all sure, and I question why people are so adamant that a free vote is the only way to do this. How can they be so confident that it's going to pass? A plebiscite has its flaws; however, it was previously, in years past, supported by Labor. There is a cost aspect which can't be ignored. My preference would be to hold the plebiscite at the next election. I would've been happy for it to be held at the last election too. I'm absolutely confident—and opinion polls support this—that a plebiscite would be overwhelmingly in favour of changing the Marriage Act to allow same-sex marriage. Yes, Senator Di Natale makes a valid point about voting on other people's rights, and I think that's a legitimate objection, but there are countries—democracies every bit as robust and secure as ours; Switzerland is obviously right at the top—where they vote on these sorts of things all the time, and the sky doesn't fall, so I don't think it's a very profound objection. Then there's the postal vote option. It has its flaws but it could work; I'm certainly not going to condemn it out of hand.

In the end, my concern is for the same-sex couples that want to get married. They're the ones I'm concerned about. I will not let the perfect be the enemy of the good in achieving that.

10:31 am

Photo of Nick XenophonNick Xenophon (SA, Nick Xenophon Team) Share this | | Hansard source

My colleagues senators Griff and Kakoschke-Moore and I cannot support this motion. This motion seeks to restore to the Notice Paper the very same bill that the Senate rejected on 7 November last year by 33 votes to 29. The government is using a little-known, little-used procedure. It's a quite proper procedure that they're entitled to use, but we are also entitled to say this should not go ahead. We've already dealt with this issue. It does not need to be dealt with again. We do not need to revisit a debate on a bill which was comprehensively defeated at the second reading stage.

There ought to be a free vote of the parliament on this issue. I, along with my colleagues, am strongly supportive of marriage equality. We should deal with this. That's what we're being paid for as members of parliament: to deal with this issue. Senator Leyonhjelm makes a good point that there are other robust democracies in the world—the United States, in California in particular; and Switzerland—where citizens vote on issues all the time, but the fundamental difference is that they're initiated by citizens, they are binding and there is a process in place where citizens can say, 'The parliament is not listening to us, and we need to deal with this issue.'

This is the opposite. This is a case where the parliament is not listening to the people. We ought to deal with this issue as a matter of urgency. For those who have put to me, privately—and I respect their views—I want to pick up on what Senator Cormann said: we need to have a respectful debate. I support marriage equality but I also respect the views of those who do not. I think it's important that we have a debate free of rancour and bile, one that is considered and respectful on this important issue. But when it comes to the alternatives that have been put to us—if you don't vote for this, we're going to end up with a postal vote, which is a far worse option—can I say there is a third option, which is for the parliament to decide this issue as a matter of urgency. This really is a case of Groundhog Day, but we're not in Punxsutawney; we're in Canberra. It seems that we're going to keep repeating the same mistake over and over again until there is a free vote of the parliament to deal with this issue comprehensively, once and for all.

10:33 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

In reintroducing this legislation for a plebiscite, the government is playing games with the lives, loves and relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people, and we have had enough. This parliament has the ability to have a vote on equal marriage. We could have a vote on equal marriage this week. Our Prime Minister could pay some attention to and take his lead from Germany, where Angela Merkel, despite not being in support of equal marriage, made the decision to allow a free vote in the German parliament. That was on a Monday. They achieved marriage equality on the Friday. Instead, this government is putting the lives of LGBTIQ people through a torturous obstacle course. That is what this plebiscite is—let alone the shonky, illegitimate harebrained scheme of a postal plebiscite, if that is what comes to pass.

I've got news for this government: LGBTI people exist. We are here, and our relationships are as valid as any other people's relationships in this country. I am married to my partner, Penny. We have been married for 31 years. Penny is transgendered. Under our current legislation, with the current ban on people of the same sex being married, if Penny were to change her gender on her birth certificate from male to female—she is female—we would have to be divorced. This is the sort of discrimination that still exists.

I feel very privileged that we are married and that we had the opportunity to be married 31 years ago. But what about all of those people who haven't had the opportunity to be married, particularly the ageing couples who have a partner who is dying? That's what people are asking for. They are asking for their relationships to be treated equally, as all other people's relationships in this country are. Not having our relationships treated equally has gone on far too long for us.

We know that we've got a majority of parliamentarians in this parliament who support equal marriage. We know that there is a majority of Australians across the country who support equal marriage. Opinion poll after opinion poll after opinion poll show that to be the case. Yet, because of the internal politics of the government, we cannot move forward. It is so frustrating. There is anger and disappointment around the country, yet what is being proposed is just more delays—more of this torturous obstacle—and putting our rights to a public vote.

There are very good reasons why you don't put issues of human rights to a public vote, as Senator Di Natale pointed out. The reality is we know what's going to happen if we have either this plebiscite or this shonky postal vote: the hurt, the hatred, the attacks on LGBTI people are going to be amplified in our community. We have already seen evidence of that. We've already seen stories in the press today about the leaflets that are being prepared. They are saying that the children of gay and lesbian parents are more prone to 'abuse and neglect' and:

Married biological parents have a better record for providing safety and development of healthy, well-adjusted adult children. They minimise abuse and neglect of children.

This is awful stuff, and that is what having a plebiscite—putting our rights to a public vote—is going to unleash upon LGBTI people and their families.

You will have children of same-sex couples being told that their parents' relationships aren't as valid and, for some reason, in their families, they are going to be more prone to abuse and neglect. This is not what we need to be doing. In Ireland, where they had to have constitutional change, they had to have a public vote, and we have the evidence of the damage that that debate caused. We don't need to do that here. What we need to do here is to move on as quickly as possible to having a free vote in this parliament so that our relationships can be legalised.

We are not going to be blackmailed by those who say, 'If you, the Senate, don't support this plebiscite then we've got to have this opinion poll'—this $122 billion, non-binding, non-compulsory opinion poll that we know is going to be illegitimate, that we know would have low voter turnout and that we know would disenfranchise young people. We are not going to be blackmailed into saying, 'We've got to support this legislated plebiscite rather than go down that track', because they are not the options that should be on the table.

The option that needs to be on the table is having a free vote in this parliament as quickly as possible. When we do that, we know what is going to happen. When we do that, when this legislation, as it inevitably will, passes this parliament, there will be celebration. There will be joy on the benches of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. There will be massive celebrations in the community. The end result will be that people will be able to marry the person that they love. That is going to be a wonderful thing. It's something that has been so long in coming. I'm looking forward to that day. What I ask the government is to stop all of this torturous obstacle course that they're putting us through—the torturous process that we're being put through. Let's move on as quickly as possible to having a free vote so that we can join in that celebration and join in the celebration of the love of two people for each other.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion moved by Senator Cormann be agreed to.