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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 6819

Mr GARRETT (Kingsford SmithMinister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth) (13:18): I have had the opportunity to speak previously on the recognition of same-sex marriages. It is an issue that has been on the agenda in our country for many years. It is a part of what I think is a changing public appreciation that the commitment that those who wish to have a same-sex relationship make is a commitment that ought to be duly and formally recognised in marriage as well. In fact, I spoke on the Jones bill in the parliament. At that time I made my views very clear, and I would like to briefly repeat what I said—that I do not believe we should be discriminating against people on the basis of race or religion, and nor should we be enabling discrimination on the basis of choice. This parliament should not deny our brothers and sisters, our nieces and nephews, our children, those we work with and those we represent the right to be considered equally in the eyes of the law as fellow human beings who are entitled to have their commitment to a permanent relationship duly recognised by the state.

Additionally, I wanted to make clear, as the minister for school education, how important this issue is for young Australians who may determine that their relationships are to be same-sex relationships and who may be giving indications of that even through high school years and as they start to mature and go on into adult life. The fact is that, regrettably, we still have high levels of bullying taking place not only in our schools but also through cyberbullying, which is of increasing prevalence in our community. In a number of cases it is both sexual orientation itself and the differences that people might express by their sexual orientation that can be the subject of bullying in the classroom, outside the classroom or online via the variety of hand-held devices and communication technologies that are available to young people today.

The parliament has looked at this matter on a couple of occasions now. The last time that we came onto the floor of the parliament—Labor members in this parliament are able to take a conscience vote—I voted to support the recognition of same-sex relationships by the state. I note that, as of last reading, that same opportunity for a conscience vote was not permitted by the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Abbott. I think it is now time that Mr Abbott reconsidered his position on this matter. I say that not only because I believe that we as an Australian community have reached the point of being able to maturely recognise the level of commitment that same-sex couples bring to their relationship but also because, until we have taken that final step, we do not have in place either the symbolic or the real recognition of both the status and the intention that adheres to those relationships. In that absence, there is still fertile ground for people to believe that there ought to be a form of discrimination that might manifest itself by way of bullying, unkind behaviours and comments in school or online.

As the Minister for School Education I wanted to again place my commitment on the record but also highlight how important I think it is for the parliament to take this necessary step. I do that recognising that, for any young person, the period of adolescence going into adulthood is an absolutely crucial transition period in their lives. The impact of bullying on a young person at that particular point can be far-reaching. It can have consequences that, regrettably, can in some instances be absolutely tragic. We in Australia, as a community and as a society, need to finally recognise that these sorts of instances would be much less likely to happen if we were to take the steps that I think we ought to as a nation and as a parliament to recognise same-sex commitments by the state in this place.

Debate adjourned.

Pr oceedings suspended from 13:24 to 1 6:00