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Wednesday, 19 September 2012
Page: 7410

Senator CHRIS EVANS (Western AustraliaMinister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (17:30): I will just speak briefly to this motion, because I think Senator Milne's contribution is just not right. The parliament debated Senator Hanson-Young's bill on 23 August, I think. So the Greens brought this matter on for debate in the parliament. The Senate first debated the question of marriage equality legislation at the initiative of the Greens some three weeks ago. We indicated that we thought the most appropriate way to deal with this bill was to allow a proper debate in the parliament and to allow all senators to contribute.

Senator Hanson-Young: So that is why it was rushed through today?

Senator CHRIS EVANS: Senator, if you want to speak, join the debate, and you can be as aggressive as you like then. But it will not change the facts: you brought on the debate on this bill. The government recognised the desire by the parliament and the community for us to have a debate on the question of marriage equality. We facilitated that debate by giving up government business time to allow the parliament and the Senate to debate the bill. We made that time available and we have been proceeding through that.

Contrary to the impression given by Senator Milne in her contribution, we have allowed all senators who wanted to speak the opportunity to speak. As I understand it, all bar one of the Greens has already spoken and the other is on the list and will have the opportunity to speak. All senators who put their names on the list have been afforded the opportunity to make a contribution. That is another point that I wanted to make very clearly.

The question of the arrangement of the business is designed to facilitate us concluding that debate—that is absolutely right. We thought it best to allow a proper debate, as we have on other matters of conscience before this parliament—and the Greens have cooperated on such matters. When we debated issues such as euthanasia, RU486 and other matters, we facilitated everyone making a contribution, we facilitated a debate which allowed those views to be aired and then we brought it to a vote. We are following the same process.

The Liberal and National parties are not allowing their senators a conscience vote—that is a decision for them—but the Labor Party is and we facilitated the debate in the same way we have other debates. We allocated extra sitting time last night to facilitate the debate. We sought the agreement of the Senate to do that because we wanted to allow that debate to occur and we wanted to allow all senators the opportunity to contribute. We made it very clear that we were bringing this bill on this week to get it debated. We think it best that it is done in its totality in the one sitting week, and we are looking to bring it to a vote. That is what the community has been asking of us, that is what parliamentarians have been asking of us, and we have sought to facilitate that in the parliament.

This sudden interest and concern about whether or not the procedure on Thursday is altered, quite frankly, does not wash. That is a decision taken by the parliament. The time we are using tomorrow morning is the government's allocation of private members' time. We have taken our turn and we have allowed that time to be used in that way for this bill to be considered. The opposition have facilitated time in the afternoon. They have given up some of their rights, if you like, in the afternoon to facilitate the debate being concluded. We make no apology for saying that we have facilitated the debate and we are looking to bring it to a conclusion by dealing with it properly on one occasion and allowing all senators to contribute. I think we should allow that debate to continue.

We do not want to delay the Senate on these procedural motions for any great length of time, but I do want to correct the record in terms of the suggestions Senator Milne made. This has been handled in the same way we have sought to deal with other sensitive issues that are matters of conscience for senators. We changed the sitting hours on all those occasions, I am sure, and we changed them last night. What this is really about is that Greens do not want to come to a vote. That is fine, but be honest about it. Be honest and say that, for whatever reasons, you do not want it to come to a vote and that, despite all the people who are supporting wanting it to come to a vote, the Greens have decided that they have a political strategy. That is fine, but just be honest about that. Do not pretend it is about procedures—because it is not. You do not want the vote, and you are entitled to that view, but we are looking to conclude the debate.