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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 9024

Senator FURNER (Queensland) (16:18): I rise this afternoon to contribute to the debate on this urgency motion of the Greens. I do so to support the position of our Prime Minister, Prime Minister Gillard, in opposing any changes to the Marriage Act and also to reiterate her position as indicated recently in the Age of 15 November. She said:

My position flows from my strong conviction that the institution of marriage has come to have a particular meaning and standing in our culture and nation and that should continue unchanged.

We will continue with that position and we will not amend the Marriage Act. We moved decisively in 2007 when we came to office to amend many of the discriminatory positions that related to same-sex couples. We moved to eliminate discrimination on these grounds in superannuation, social security, taxation, Medicare, veterans affairs, workers compensation and educational assistance—reforms that were significant in those times to eliminate discrimination.

One thing that has been indicated today is that this is a diverse discussion and debate. Certainly in the Labor Party we will have a diverse debate at our soon-to-be national conference where as a democratic party we have the right to have that debate with speakers for and against this particular issue. I think that right needs to be extended to people in the other various parties that are in this chamber as well. Even Senator Joyce has indicated that the coalition should not oppose a conscience vote, should it come to that.

The other part of the motion, however, I really need to challenge—and that is this notion of this being the majority view of Australians. You only need to look at the emails you receive from people who are pro and anti gay marriage to see that is not the case. I have a particular email that I received recently not from a constituent of mine but from a constituent from Western Australia actually. She indicated that:

Australian human rights lawyer Frank Brennan AO, former Chairman of the National Human Rights Consultative Committee, is an expert on discrimination. He says: “In considering whether to advocate a change to the definition of marriage, citizens need to consider not only the right of same sex couples to equality but even more so the rights of future children. I think we can ensure non-discrimination against same sex couples while at the same time maintaining a commitment to children of future generations being born of and being reared by a father and a mother. To date, international human rights law has appreciated this rational distinction.

Those are the words, as I indicated, of a constituent from Western Australia and not from my state of Queensland. It is fine for us to listen to polls—they have some value at times—but we should not be ruled by polls. Regardless of whether it be a poll on this issue, a poll on how well a party is travelling in government or a poll on how well a party is travelling in opposition, we should govern based on what is the right thing to do. To give another example, I have met with a variety of people, both pro and anti gay marriage, from churches from my area. It is important to listen to their views and to appreciate their concerns. Unless we appreciate the views of a variety of people we will not know where we are heading with this particular issue. Just yesterday, I attended a gathering of people of the Islamic faith who have strong concerns about gay marriage. In fact, one of the young gentleĀ­men at the barbecue, Abdul, approached me wanting to know our position on gay marriage. He indicated to me their overwhelming position on this issue.

There are a diverse range of views in our communities. They are views we as a government need to listen to and decide upon. We need to continue to press the position that we have indicated overwhelmingly: that we will not amend the Marriage Act. We will consistently put across our view, particularly at national conference, to support marriage between a man and a woman.