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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26537


Senator MARSHALL (3:41 PM) —I seek leave to have my speech on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise to address the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004.

In doing so, can I say how ashamed I am of this Government and the Prime Minister. This is a most regressive piece of legislation. It is fuelled by the politics of hate and division and the possibility of laying down a political wedge in the community at large.

And it is a sad indictment on a government that really has no agenda and no vision for this country and our people.

How could the provisions of the bill before us be of any significant importance to the Australian community at this point in time or need to be dealt with in the hasty manner in which they are? There is no reason for it other than an impending election campaign and the possibility of exploiting fear, prejudice and hate throughout the community.

Here is an issue that demonstrates the backward-looking, outdated, old-fashioned, mean, nasty and totally out-of-touch nature of the current Prime Minister and his attorney general, Mr Ruddock.

Here is an issue and a bill that these men say is necessary because there is significant community concern about the possible erosion of the institution of marriage. Well, what a joke, Mr President! That is a load of rubbish.

Who are these people and what exactly are their concerns? What century are they living in? Or where are they living?

And what exactly is it about marriage that is under such threat today from the gay and lesbian community? There isn't anything.

This isn't an issue about gay marriage at all. This is an issue about exploiting prejudice and hate. It is about division and segregation. It is about discrimination and it is about the Prime Minister's unhealthy obsession with everything President George W. Bush.

That is what this is about. Why, after eight years in Government have Mr Howard and Mr Ruddock chosen now, just prior to an election to bring about this change to the Marriage Act?

Why hasn't the Government acted during the past 8 years if this was such an important and necessary issue to act on?

It is a cynical approach by the Government. There can be no doubt.

If there was not to be an election this year and the possibility to use this issue to divide the community at large on the basis of prejudices held by people, would it be coming to the Senate right now?

The answer would have to be no.

This bill is politically motivated. Just like the proposed changes to the US constitution banning gay marriage, this is a politically motivated stunt.

If only the issues weren't so sensitive, one would have to laugh at the politics of the Government on this issue. President George W. Bush mentions that there might be a need to act in the US on gay marriage, two minutes later, Prime Minister John W. Howard sees an opportunity to exploit the very same issue and brings it here to Australia.

It is laughable. This is a Prime Minister obsessed with the US President and all of his policies. Does Mr Howard seriously think he can keep up with the neo-Conservatives? Well, it seems as though he is willing to do all that it takes to at least give it a go.

It is a disgrace that our Prime Minister has chosen to attack some of the most already-discriminated against members of our community for his own political and electoral purposes. Again, I have to say how ashamed I am of this Government and this Prime Minister.

Now, Mr President, let me turn to the bill itself.

This bill seeks to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, entered into for life, to the exclusion of all others. Fine.

But this insertion is not the motivation behind the bill. The motivation is to discriminate against gay and lesbian Australians.

As my colleague, the Member for Batman, Mr Ferguson said in the other place, and I will quote him, “the Prime Minister was at long last driven by the will of the community to fix the blatant discrimination inherent in our superannuation laws. He was driven to concede that gays and lesbians should have the right to nominate the beneficiary of their own hard-earned and accumulated superannuation. I commend him for finally relenting on this issue, albeit a relenting that was long overdue. But I also suggest that having made the concession, the Prime Minister was so petty and small-minded that he could not make that reform without soothing his own moral conservatism. The Prime Minister could not make a progressive reform for our gay and lesbian Australians without giving them a commensurate kick in the guts,” end quote.

That is exactly right and that is exactly what we have before us today.

I cannot understand how in this, the 21st century and in the very same year that we have removed discrimination against same-sex couples in terms of superannuation, why the Government would seek to impose another layer of discrimination against same sex couples. It really beggars belief.

This Government just simply cannot accept that the world has changed—that Australia has changed—and with it has the idea of what constitutes a family.

Australian families in the 21st century come in all shapes, sizes and forms. This should be embraced and supported, not shunned and systematically averted.

It is high time that the national parliament recognised this and afforded all Australians, regardless of individuals' sexual preferences the rights and opportunities that all other Australians have.

Why should a union between two loving and committed people be denied simply on the grounds that they are of the same sex? There is clearly something wrong with a society that turns a blind eye and rejects a union on those grounds alone.

At a time when marriage rates are on the steep decline, wouldn't you think that we would be looking at ways to increase the number of committed, loving and caring unions/relationships/ marriages (call them what you will) in our community?

As the Member for Sydney said in her contribution to this debate, as a society we are stronger when we look for ways to celebrate and increase the sum total of love: not wall it in, deny it or ignore it because it does not read like a Mills and Boon novel.

Labor will be supporting this bill but it isn't for the discriminatory reasons that the Government has introduced it.

Labor believes in removing discrimination against same-sex couples and gay and lesbian Australians. Labor is committed to introducing protection from harassment and vilification on the grounds of sexuality.

Following the next federal election, Labor in Government will undertake an audit of all federal legislation with the view to removing ALL discrimination against same-sex couples—this will involve making changes to many aspects of the law, including in taxation, veterans' affairs, social security, superannuation, and more.

Labor wants to ensure that we deliver same-sex couples full equality with that experienced by all other Australian de facto couples.

Mr President, given everything going on in this country and around the world at this point in time, how on earth could the Government justify wasting the time of the Parliament on this unnecessary diversion?

As the Member for Sydney argued, and I quote from her contribution to the House of Representatives debate again, “does anyone believe that it is a coincidence that this legislation came about at the same time as the member for Makin was making the front page of every newspaper with new revelations about the trip to Paris she took with her then boyfriend? This is an ugly little trick designed to rebuild the government's family values credentials after that fiasco,” end quote.

Well, Mr President, what a way to display those credentials—by demonising an already-marginalised group in our community. It is simply disgraceful.

Mr President, in concluding my short contribution to this debate, I would like to make a point that has already been made and is well understood in the Australian community:

Australians in same-sex relationships lead normal lives and want and deserve to be treated like all other Australians. Same-sex couples, or gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual and transgendered Australians are not asking for special treatment—quite the opposite, they are asking for no special treatment. These people want to live their lives as valued citizens of Australia and to be criticised against the very same criteria as all other Australians.

As the Member for Batman said in the other place, “sooner rather than later we as a community and as legislators must cut down the straw men and afford rights and responsibilities to all partnerships, not just straight partnerships as the Prime Minister would define them. In that regard, the work of the Tasmanian and ACT parliaments must be commended, but other parliaments, including our own national parliament, must start to think about biting the bullet and removing discrimination in all its forms against gay and lesbian Australians”.

I couldn't agree more.

Just finally, I think I owe it to explain to the Senate, in quite frank terms why it is that I will be voting to pass this bill, with my colleagues, even though, as I have outlined, I do not support its intent.

Quite simply, I will be voting to refuse John Howard the opportunity to play his nasty politics of division in the lead up to the next election and throughout the election campaign. I do not want to see the Australian community divided by this issue because of John Howard. We know too well the Prime Minister's politics of divide and conquer and I will not allow it to take hold with this issue at this stage of an electoral cycle. I will vote to pass this bill to get it off the agenda and I do so looking forward to the day, in what I hope is the not too distant future when a Government with a heart finally gets to lift this shameful and ridiculous discrimination.