Senate debates

Monday, 27 November 2017


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

4:22 pm

Photo of Andrew BartlettAndrew Bartlett (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Before question time, when I was speaking on this legislation, I was mentioning some of the history in regard to it because I think it is important for not just the chamber but, more importantly, the public more broadly to be aware of not just the history regarding this particular issue of marriage equality but the wider issue in regard to this parliament's actions and inaction in regard to discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer people. It was also to recognise the key role—in fact, the absolutely essential role—that the wider community had played in getting action that was often belated but was action nonetheless to address that inequality and that discrimination.

I would like to point out just how much the decision of this parliament in 2004 to ram through discriminatory aspects to the Marriage Act just in the lead-up to the federal election stands in contrast to so many of the ways the parliament has dealt with so many efforts of people to try to get discrimination addressed. I go right back to the very introduction of the Marriage Act in 1961, when it was first proposed to bring together a single legislative regime nationally regarding marriage. That particular vote was one that was a conscience vote for both the major parties at the time. With thanks to the fabulous research service in the Parliamentary Library: I found that during the committee stage of that debate a Senator Hannan from Victoria sought to insert a definition of marriage, presumably in accordance with his own beliefs, that it be defined as:

… the union of one man with one woman for life to the exclusion of all others …

That amendment was voted on according to conscience, and—thankfully for many people—it was defeated by 40 votes to eight.

Many times throughout the last 30 years when the issue of marriage has come up it has been dealt as a conscience vote for both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. But in 2004 during that pre-election rush—when the then Prime Minister, Mr Howard, sought to use gay, lesbian and transgender Australians as a electoral fodder to wedge the then opposition in the lead up to the 2004 election—there was no conscience vote. Both of the larger parties forced all of their members to vote to introduce that discrimination. They also forced their members to guillotine debate on that legislation, allowing just an hour for consideration of all the amendments that were put forward to try and minimise some of that discrimination. They basically shut down the Senate committee inquiry that would have enabled the public to be heard. There was no conscience vote then.

Yet in the time since, when people have sought to reverse that travesty, that injustice, the conscience vote has suddenly reappeared. That 2004 legislation amended the Marriage Act to insert discrimination and signalled that it was the views of the leadership of the two major parties that the relationships of people who were not of the opposite sex had less value than others. Since then there have been 23 different pieces of legislation that have attempted to reverse that discriminatory decision. Three of those have come to a vote in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives. Each time it was a conscience vote, which was denied in 2004 when the discrimination was first introduced. I pay tribute to all of those people, from all parties, who sought to reverse that discrimination and who continued to push the issue. One of those was my former colleague Senator Stott Despoja, who with me introduced legislation in 2006. With people across the community and across all political persuasions, we have continued to push to get that discrimination reversed.

The Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) last year looked extensively at the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 and reported earlier this year. There was a Human Rights Commission position paper in 2012 and previous Senate committee inquiries into other legislation in 2009 and 2010. They are all things that were denied by the guillotine decision of the major parties in 2004 when the discrimination was first introduced.

This bill is a tribute to the huge number of people who have continued to fight to reverse that discrimination. I will name some of them, particularly some of those from my own state of Queensland. Even though we are giving all of this week over to debating this legislation, I expect that there will be a lot of time spent on amendments. This is probably the only time I will speak on this legislation, so I want to take the chance to acknowledge some of those people. It will of necessity be an incomplete list. Shelley Argent, the national spokesperson for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG, played a huge role in making people recognise that this is a human issue, that it is about the impact on individual people, on our families and on our friends, and that it is not an ideological battleground on which people should be used as political pawns. Phil Browne has been the convenor for Brisbane LGBTIQ Action Group. Bill Rutkin is a former president of the Queensland Aids Council and a long-time equality activist. Shirleene Robinson is a current board member of Australian Marriage Equality. Geraldine Donoghue was one of the founders of Australian Marriage Equality in 2005. I acknowledge Dr Sharon Dane and Nita Green. Focusing on other Queenslanders, Thomas Coyne is a young man who campaigned hard in the city of Toowoomba. Toowoomba is often seen as a very conservative town, and it certainly has its conservative aspects. But it was another area where the basic message of love that shone through in this debate really did shift many hearts and minds because of the tireless and genuinely fearless efforts of people like Thomas. I also acknowledge: Andrew Wheatland and Ben Dawson in Cairns; Fiona Anderson and Robin Bristow on the Sunshine Coast; Luke Cashion-Lozell in Townsville; Mr Peter Black—involved in Australian marriage equality and also Brisbane Pride over many years; and organisations like the LGBTI Legal Service based in Brisbane. I also include past advocates—well, they're still advocating, but were even more active in the past—such as John Frame. John spent many years lobbying at a state level to address a range of discriminatory measures. It is worth noting that—whilst I very, very much hope the Senate and then the House of Representatives reverses this discrimination—there is still plenty of unfinished business when it comes to discrimination with regard to people of all sexualities and transgender and intersex people.

Shayne Wild is also someone I know who worked very hard in Queensland for a long period of time. I acknowledge those within the Greens Party—the Rainbow Greens network—across the country, but I particularly acknowledge those in my own state of Queensland, currently chaired by Steven Purcell and Bridget Clinch. There are others I know personally from around the country. I won't start naming all of those because I will run out of time, but I acknowledge Peter Furness and also Brian Greig. Brian Greig was in this chamber and spoke so eloquently in 2004. His voice was a voice heard over so many years every time discriminatory views were put forward. Senator Brian Harradine, some may remember, strongly put forward his particular religious view, which was fine for him to hold, but he expressed very discriminatory and derogatory views in regards to other Australians and other people for decades. As Senator Rhiannon did earlier, I acknowledge those people who are part of the origin of what is now known as the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and other pride parades and festivals around the country. They are the people who have worked to highlight the human reality of discrimination.

My own recollection goes back to the very important report of the Senate Legal And Constitutional References Committee on sexuality discrimination that former Senator Sid Spindler initiated around 1994. That was the first time I became aware of the very specific challenges and discrimination that transgender people faced. It is a real shame that, nearly a quarter of a century later, many of those challenges are still not addressed and there is still so much fear and ignorance and misunderstanding. We still have a lot to do and a long way to go. A lot of it is about misunderstandings. So many people have done such a great job over the last 13 years, since 2004, to addressing those misunderstandings in the community and to help people realise that marriage equality is not something to fear; it is something to celebrate.