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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 6983


Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (10:53): I rise in the chamber today as a very proud and lucky husband of some 38 years, a father of three remarkable children and a grandfather a little man who has become the absolute light of the life of our family to oppose the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012 as introduced by Senators Crossin, Brown, Marshall and Pratt. The coalition supports the definition of marriage as prescribed in the Marriage Act 1961. It states that marriage is 'a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life'. These words of course go back to the earliest known writings. In fact, they go back almost to our first studies of human societies and a point in common way back from the beginning of human society is the concept of the union of the man and the woman.

The coalition went to the last election supporting the definition of marriage as I have just stated and it will go to the next election on that platform. I quote from the shadow Attorney-General in his contribution on 23 August in this place on this subject:

Let me very briefly state to the Senate the coalition's position on the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2010. The coalition made an undertaking to the Australian people at the 2010 election that we would support the existing definition of marriage and, having made that undertaking to the Australian people, we are not going to act at variance to it. The Labor Party has changed its position, because Julia Gillard gave a similar undertaking to the Australian people at the 2010 election but subsequently facilitated arrangements within the Labor Party to allow that undertaking to be vacated.

He concluded his comments by saying:

When we in the coalition give an undertaking to the public we stick by it, whether it be on the carbon tax, private health insurance, or any issue, and this is one such issue.

Let me distinguish between the terms discrimination, deprivation, disadvantage, difference and equality. The principle of equality requires treating all cases alike, so the judgement that same-sex and opposite sex unions are alike with respect to marriage and therefore should be treated alike by marriage law is of itself false.

It was in 2009 in this parliament that discrimination was removed in relation to same sex couples. There were four bills: the Same-sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill 2008, the Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 and Same-sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Act 2008. They went through the parliament with bipartisan support. They were designed to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from a raft of Commonwealth legislation, including veterans' affairs, social security and income tax. The first of them amended some 14 acts of parliament in order to increase the coverage of same-sex couples and their children in superannuation and related matters, allowing super trustees to make same-sex couples and their children eligible for superannuation reversionary benefits. The first three I mentioned all include provisions to treat same-sex relationships in a similar manner to married and de facto relationships. So when we come into this place and we hear this continual cry of discrimination, it is against the law to discriminate against same-sex couples and those who feel they are discriminated against have got the full opportunity of the law in which to prosecute cases.

Let me turn to some common-sense examples. Whilst the law against discrimination is universal in this country, we would know that there are some communities who as yet have not enjoyed the full protection of the law. I give the example of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Let us imagine if for one minute in this place today we could with a wand wipe away all disadvantage and discrimination against the Aboriginal people. Would it then be the case that Caucasian Australians, Asian Australians and African Australians could call ourselves Aboriginal or Torres Strait? The answer logically is no, we could not. We know that there are genetic and other factors to be taken into account in describing Aboriginality. Yet there would be those who would say, 'I want to be called Aboriginal. I have a circumstance' for whatever reason. We know very well that there are differences within the different communities in Australia. We are not all equal, we are not all entitled to refer to ourselves as Aboriginal.

There are 76 people in this nation who should know what a nonsense of an argument is being put forward by those who propose this legislation, and that is 76 senators in this parliament.

We all know the meaning of the term senator and we all value the need for its historic protection. We know that the term senator in historic terms takes us back, for example, to the Roman forum, in which there were senators who governed Rome at that time. We know the US Senate context and the US State context and, indeed, we know the Australian context. We are different from others in this country, but are others in this country less equal than the 76 senators? Of course they are not. Are they discriminated against, Madam Acting Deputy President? Are they disadvantaged? Indeed, are they deprived? Maybe some of our spouses would think that they are probably deprived by virtue of our being in the Senate.

The point I want to make is that we all know it is a nonsense for the rest of Australia to say: 'I'm disadvantaged. I'm discriminated against. It's unequal that I'm not called senator therefore I want to call myself senator.' We know, as we know in the marriage debate, that there are criteria by which Australians can aspire should they wish to become senators. They must be 18 years of age or older. They must be Australian and eligible to vote. They must subject themselves to preselection and they must get elected. Therefore, there are criteria by which people can refer to themselves as senator. In the same way there are criteria by which people can refer to themselves as married people—that is, a man and a woman who are able, in the event that they do not have close family or other relationships, to publicly place themselves before the community in a public event with public witnesses and go through the marriage process.

I could take the example of airline captains, or judges, or lawyers. Why can't I call myself 'Judge Back'? It is because at this moment I do not qualify. I do not meet the criteria. In terms of pilots, as we would all know, why can't I call myself 'Captain Back'? There is a public good associated with that event, and that is that the rest of the people on an aircraft who might be subject to my being in the cockpit would of course say, 'You are not qualified; you do not meet the criteria.' In the same way that those who are not married do not meet the criteria at this moment that is not to say that they are not eligible to do so in the future. I could even give the example of a Victoria Cross winner. Why can't I be called 'Back VC', or my colleague Senator Williams be called 'Williams VC'? It is because we all know that that is a venerable status which, of course, is accorded only to those of the highest levels of bravery. Are they more equal than the rest of the community? Am I discriminated against because Roberts-Smith is a VC? Of course I am not. We look upon that person with awe, as indeed I look upon married persons in the same way and as I look upon those friends of mine in same-sex relationships. Obviously they are people who have committed themselves to themselves and, therefore, I applaud that circumstance, but they are under this law not the subject of discrimination.

In fact, as I have observed this debate over the last few months, it has occurred to me that we are starting to see some of the elements of propaganda coming into the debate. Let me remind you of what propaganda relates to: an effort to mobilise community attitudes and opinion; directed at extending power and influencing how people think; a movement of control to achieve selfish ends; a persuasion for us to believe in something or do something we would not normally believe or do. As I look through the various techniques that are those of propaganda, I unfortunately see many of those applied in this debate.

Firstly, there is attacking one's opponents as opposed to attacking their arguments. We have heard in this chamber and we have heard in the wider community statements like: 'Let us put the dark pages of history behind us.' Attacking those with a view rather than the argument. Secondly, we have the tireless repetition of an idea or a simple slogan.

How many of us have had thousands of emails of exactly the same wording, simply continually putting a repetitious argument or a simple slogan? They say things like: 'I support marriage equality and I urge you to do the same,' or 'Same sex partners should not be treated differently in the law from opposite sex partners.' I have just pointed out in this contribution the four pieces of legislation, going back to 2009, that ensured that that very thing did not take place.

Thirdly, they appeal to fear or seek to build support by instilling anxieties and panic. Fourthly, they use loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition, such as the comment that has just been made in the last few minutes that opposition to the bill is a denial of human rights; that the coalition is acting to limit the capacity of members and senators of the coalition to a conscience vote; and the statement that marriage as an institution—which has been understood to mean one particular thing for the entire history of humanity—is fundamentally an unjust institution. These are the sorts of emotive and loaded terms used to try to motivate and change people's views for purposes which I would say are selfish.

Fifthly, as another propaganda tool they invite those not already on the bandwagon to join those already on the road to certain victory, even, as in the contribution by Senator Pratt, stating some enormous percentage of the Australian community supporting the inevitability of gay marriage. Well, I have seen equal surveys supporting the opposite. I will quote again from the contribution of Senator Brandis on 23 August in this place:

After listening to Senator Sarah Hanson-Young's speech I am bound to say that one would have thought there was only one available view. Senator Hanson-Young—

he said, in turning to her—

I have to tell you that yours is not the only view. Much as those who advocate your view do so, I am sure, in good faith, you will not win this argument by seeking to silence alternative views.

Another of the principles of propaganda is presenting only two choices, with the product or idea being propagated as the better choice. We have seen in this, have we not, that supporters of the bill state their views in such a way that those of us with opposing views are not entitled to have our views, which we also hold with equal vigour. Even if these opposing views reflect the entire understanding in the entire course of human history of what marriage is, the supporters of this bill will pay no respect to those who do not agree with it.

The seventh principle is making individuals from opposing viewpoints appear to be out of touch with the reality of today, with statements like this in one of the many emails we have had:

A majority of Australians support marriage equality. This includes a majority of Australian Christians, a majority of rural and regional Australians, Labor and coalition voters, a majority of Australians with young children.

Let me say that (a) I dispute that fact and (b) I do not want that being presented as a reason I should oppose this bill. I hold my view as strongly and, hopefully, as eloquently as those who support it.

The eighth principle is using euphemisms, increasing the perceived quality, credibility or credence of a particular idea. The ninth is using generalities which are deliberately vague with the intention of moving the audience by undefined phrases without analysing their validity. An example is from the Harvard journal on public policy: 'Supporters of the gay marriage bill are very happy to state what they think marriage is not … but they have not developed a cogent argument about what marriage is. They find it easy to criticise the traditional view of marriage but don't construct a complete alternative,' going for simplistic statements, and they are 'very keen to focus on who should be allowed to marry, but not what marriage actually is'.

As one whose professional background is that of a veterinarian, I often go back to the hierarchy of life. When we go back to life in its most basic form—single cell organisms, amoebae—we know the two roles and objectives are nutrition and reproduction. Then when we go a little bit further up the hierarchical tree we come to hermaphrodite species, in which both gametes are in the body. As we proceed up the complexity of the pyramid of social life we come to two more features and factors, and they are social order and longevity.

Of course, then we move up to the mammalian, the primate and the human hierarchy of existence and we move to the point at which I wish to conclude my contribution, the rights and needs of children. This legislation is very adult-centric and it is egocentric but we all know that there are complementary but different roles for males and females in a relationship. They do not assume an equality in relationship but a complementary relationship. We all know, with some humour, some are from Venus and some are from Mars and of secret women's business. Those husbands among us would know we are the boss of the house and we have our wife's permission to say so! But what is overlooked in this legislation is that children themselves are critically important to the overall relationship and they have a right and are entitled to know their biological parents. We speak of the term, phenotype, which is the set of observable characteristics of an individual being a combination of their genotype, or their genetic make-up, and the environment in which they are raised. So in the human sense it is not just about birth but also about the development of the individual through to and beyond their stage of independence. There is overwhelming research, if you want to go back to research as others do, that a child's best interests are served when born into and brought up in a home which is provided by a husband and his wife in a long-term and loving relationship. That is what we should aspire to.

I say again that I have many friends in gay or lesbian relationships bringing children up and those children are loved and they are lucky, but it does not depart from the fact that marriage is the union of a man and a woman. Marriage is far older than any laws about marriage. It has been understood, as I said earlier, by every society about which we have knowledge. It has never been a same-sex union even in societies where same-sex arrangements have been known and accepted. Marriage is two halves of humanity, being male and female. It is the union of two reproductive systems found in life and found in humanity, the two systems that are essential for the generation of children and the continuation of our species. We know this legislation covers the whole gamut, as Senator Pratt has said: lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual relationships. Madam Acting Deputy President, the European Court of Human Rights says that it is not a right that gay marriage should exist; it is the union of a man and a woman that should exist. I say to you that any bill that impacts on children or society's base unit must undergo far more scrutiny with a family and a cultural impact study before we move towards any decision to change. I am firmly of the view that the legislation in this country ensures that discrimination against same-sex couples has been legislated out of existence. If in practice such people are discriminated against, they have got the full use of the law in which to examine it. But what I can say to you is that the marriage definition is as it should be and for others let them use any other definition—perhaps a civil union—(Time expired)