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

House of Representatives on 6/12/2017

 (12:04): I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. In the Riverina electorate, 47,333—54.6 per cent—returned a 'yes' response to the Australian marriage law postal survey. For the 'no' response, 39,308—or 45.4 per cent of people—indicated they wanted the law to remain unchanged. There were 86,641—77 per cent—eligible people in the Riverina electorate who participated in the survey. There was a strong participation rate across age demographics, the strongest being the 70 to 79 years range, with 90.4 per cent; then 65 to 69 years, with 88 per cent; and 80 to 84 years, with 87.7 per cent of eligible voters. I have received hundreds of letters from my constituents across the Riverina and central west expressing strong views on both sides of the debate. It is encouraging to see such a strong participation rate from the Riverina, with people clearly taking the opportunity to make their voice heard.

The result is clear, and I will respect the majority view of the Riverina electorate and vote in support of this bill. Right from the time that we agreed as a joint party room of Liberals and Nationals, and the then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, declared that we would be going down the plebiscite path, I said that I would uphold the will of the Australian people. This caused some consternation in my electorate, particularly with my local newspaper, when it became obvious that electorate-by-electorate results would be determined, and that I was going to support the will of the Australian people. It was enunciated that I had backflipped. I had not. I think if the parliament were to go to the trouble, the time, the effort and, indeed, the expense of asking the Australian people what they want, and then if I were to turn around and reject that view if the Australian people wanted a change on a particular matter, then that would not be democracy at work. Despite what the Riverina decided or did not decide, I was always going to uphold the will of the people. I made that quite clear. I made it clear in a national press conference well before my local print media asked me, despite the fact that I had given some television interviews on it locally. To not uphold the will of the people would not be democracy at work. I've made that point quite clear. The Australian people have spoken, and they actually appreciated the fact that they were asked for their view. I would have been quite happy to vote on it on the floor of the House. I said so in the joint party room. I made it publicly clear that I would have been happy to have a vote in the parliament.

I will just take a couple of moments—though I don't want to get into a partisan argument—to note that the previous speaker, the member for Shortland, said that he didn't want to overpoliticise this, and then went on to say that this postal marriage survey was papering over the cracks in the coalition party room and that we were pathetic. I just want to point out: had Labor taken a party view on this and had some members of the Labor Party been opposed to it, they would have been expelled from their party. They are the Labor rules. If you go against or vote against the Labor view or a position taken by the party, you are expelled from the party. That position is not held by the coalition; I have voted against my party and voted against the coalition on water legislation. That is why this bill did not come before the parliament for six years.

It is the coalition that has brought this bill and brought about this result for the Australian people and for those people who wanted a change to the Marriage Act. It has been brought about by the Australian people, by the Liberals and Nationals giving the Australian people a say in it. Australians have clearly embraced the opportunity to have their say as part of the process, with 79½ per cent—or 12,727,920—of eligible Australians participating and having their vote counted. Of those, 61.6 per cent—or 7,817,247—responded yes, and 4,873,987—or 38.4 per cent—responded no.

As the minister responsible for the Australian Bureau of Statistics, I'd like to acknowledge the role that that august organisation played in this marriage law postal survey. It has been a significant past year for the ABS. The 2016 census delivered the high-quality data that Australia needs to make informed decisions on important policy matters. The Australian public showed strong support for the census, with a response rate of 95.1 per cent. Just like the census, we've seen strong participation and response to the marriage law survey. This is not just because Australians wanted to have their say but because Australians believe in and respect the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I say that despite the fact that the census was much maligned; it is now used by a lot of demographers, not least of whom is Bernard Salt, and others at newspapers for a lot of their material and copy because it was a good census.

The marriage law survey has been a significant logistical undertaking, exceptionally well delivered by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I'm glad that the member for Canberra is in the parliament to hear me say this, because I know that many of her constituents work for that very well-respected organisation, the ABS. An exercise of this scale—giving every eligible Australian on the electoral roll the opportunity to have their say and to implement the process to enable this within just a few months—is huge. It's a massive undertaking.

To the Australian Statistician, David Kalisch; his deputy, Johnathan Palmer; and all of the staff of the ABS: I commend their professionalism in the conduct and delivery of the marriage law survey. The ABS was also strongly supported, principally by the Australian Electoral Commission, Australia Post, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Finance. Thank you to all of those public service teams involved in the process. I'm sure the member for Canberra acknowledges that as well.

Ms Brodtmann interjecting—

Mr McCORMACK: She's nodding, so thank you, member for Canberra. They've done a great job.

I'd also urge some caution in this debate. We do not need to de-gender society. We do not need to defund charities and organisations which have long held traditional views.

I also want to make some remarks about some newspaper editorials that I wrote nearly a quarter of a century ago which I should not have. This was against the backdrop of a society and a federal government fraught with fear about the spread of AIDS. There were Grim Reaper media advertisements which really had an impact. They took their toll. That said, my words were unwise. Words hurt, and hurt lasts. I said sorry then. I've apologised many times since. I do so in the federal parliament again today.

Many constituents have also sent me emails prior to and since the survey, and I'll just read few of them. They show the difference of opinion, but they also show passionate people wanting to have their view heard. 'Your electorate has spoken. It is time for you to do your job and for Australia to have marriage equality,' wrote a constituent via email on 15 November, the day the decision was announced. 'I urge you and your colleagues to expedite and support the legislation that will effect this change and to pursue the social change that has clearly been endorsed by Australia.' Another one: 'I do sincerely ask you to consider the rights of all Australians to the fundamental freedoms of thought, conscience, religion and belief, expression of opinion, assembly and association when considering the terms of any draft bill to ensure it protects these freedoms of those with a genuine belief that marriage is the union of a man and a woman.' I voted no—I want to make that point clear—but respect those who did not have the same view and voted yes.

This is a final one I'll put on Hansard: 'If same-sex marriage is going to come to pass, please do what you can to ensure that the appropriation protections are in place. While I understand that parliamentarians will feel morally bound to pass legislation to change the definition of marriage, the legislation should have attached to it strong protections for freedom of speech and conscience and parental rights to raise their children with the understanding that marriage is only between a man and a woman.'

Whilst acknowledging the provisions are already in place, I encourage amendments with genuine protections for religious freedoms, freedom of speech and parental choice. I recognise and say that discrimination cannot and will not be tolerated in any way, shape or form.

To the LGBTIQ community and those of the same gender who wish to get married: good luck to you, may you enjoy all the freedoms that have been enjoyed in the past by heterosexual couples, and may your futures together be loving ones.


Sam Edwards