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Monday, 17 September 2012
Page: 6988


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (11:13): I rise today to support marriage equality in Australia, to support an ending to the discrimination that currently exists and that has no place in modern Australia. We have heard a lot today about what the traditional view of marriage is and has been but no acknowledgment that over time communities have changed their views about what marriage may or may not be. As my colleague Senator Hanson-Young mentioned earlier, there was a time in Australia when marriage between Aboriginal people and others was not permitted and that was under state law. Fortunately that has changed. It was discrimination on the basis of race and it had no place in marriage law in Australia. And yet there is no doubt that at the time that change was made there would have been many who stood up in parliament around the country saying this would be the end of marriage as we know it, that this was contrary to what people had argued for many years and so on. In fact, as a reminder from history, in 1968, the year after the United States Supreme Court struck down Virginia's anti-segregation law in Loving v. Virginia, 72 per cent of Americans disapproved of marriage between whites and nonwhites and only about 20 per cent approved. The same could have been said even a decade after earlier about marriage between Protestants and Catholics. Eventually culture changes, people change, communities change, and we are now at the point in Australia where the overwhelming majority of people do not think it is appropriate to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality, and that is what this is.

Senator Brandis and others stand up here and suggest that discrimination does not take place. The fact that it is not permitted, it is not legal, says that it does take place. People are being discriminated against in this country whereas in many others around the world they now have marriage equality. As we know, in New York earlier this year there was legislation for same-sex marriage but also 12 countries now have marriage equality. The first was the Netherlands in 2001. President Obama has now come to the point where he said in May 2012 that he would support same-sex marriage. In New Zealand there is a marriage equality bill before the parliament and it will be supported by the conservative prime minister, John Key. Scotland also has announced it will progress marriage equality later this year and it is likely to occur in France and Brazil as well. Even David Cameron, the Prime Minister in England, supports marriage equality, in his words, 'because he is a conservative'. In launching its consultation paper the government announced it will catch up with other countries—that is, in the UK. So we now have a situation where around the world there is a recognition that we need to get rid of discrimination, that we should not discriminate on the basis of sexuality and that marriage should be permitted between same-sex couples.

Let us go to the issue of why we have this continuing discrimination being proposed here in Australia by some members of the parliament. We have heard some examples of that this morning, one from Senator Back a moment ago in terms of male and female and ideal reproductive outcomes. It seems that Senator Back may not be aware of the last 30 years of massive technological changes in terms of reproductive technology. I have not heard Senator Back stand up in here and say that that should be illegal because it somehow is against the natural order of things in his view.

In terms of the rights of children and the needs of children, yes, it is true that children do have a right to know their genetic make-up, and there is nothing in the legislation that prohibits that from occurring. In fact, that is one of the furphies that is raised often in this debate. The fact of the matter is that at the age of 18 people will be entitled to know their genetic history and that is not to be precluded in terms of this legislation. The other furphy that often comes up is that religious proponents will not be able to refuse a marriage of same sex in their particular church or faith. That is untrue as well. There is no proposition whatsoever. In fact, in the Greens' bill of least it is specifically ruled out. So that is not true. Anyone of a particular religious faith or a proponent of that faith or someone who would conduct ceremonies in a particular religious faith will be in no way forced or required to recognise and conduct a same-sex marriage. That will be a choice of that particular faith or church. So let us get rid of that out of the way.

Why is it that we continue to have people proposing that in civil society non-religious ratings we would make a decision that people of same sex are not allowed to wed? We hear a lot about the rights of children and about their development as individuals; I ask, 'What about the rights and development of young gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people? What about their rights as they are growing up?' Much has been said—and in a disgraceful way, I have to put forward here—in relation to the health of young gay and lesbian people. I find it extraordinary that there is so little acknowledgement of the mental health issues that occur because people are discriminated against. That is overwhelmingly the impact of one group of people saying to another group of people, 'You are to be excluded from something that the rest of society can access,' and that is marriage in Australia.

This is all part of the ongoing discrimination against people. That has a long-term emotional impact and that can translate into mental health issues and real self-esteem issues for young gay and lesbian people in Australia. I would like people to think about that pretty carefully. Young people growing up, and parents of young people growing up, want to believe that they or their children will have equal access and will not be discriminated against. For years it was women who were discriminated against, and that continues in some places; but we at least got to the point where we stopped discrimination on the basis of race. We should have stopped discrimination on the basis of religion, of gender and of sexuality. So let us get it straight: this is about antidiscrimination.

I want to go to the cynical reasons why we have this legislation being brought on by the government at this time. The Greens have had legislation in both houses of the federal parliament and around the country, and those debates go on. But why is it being brought forward now? The reason is very simple: this is an attempt by the government to get this issue off the agenda in the lead-up to the federal election next year. This is an attempt to bring it on, have the legislation defeated and then say, 'This is not an issue coming into the 2013 election'. I have to say that regardless of the outcome of this bill that the Greens bill will still stay on the books. It will continue to be an issue right into the 2013 election.

This goes to the heart of the Prime Minister's view on this issue. It has been a mystery to me for a long time as to why the Prime Minister takes the view that she does, especially since she has never articulated what philosophical view is behind her refusal to accept same-sex marriage. So I got very interested in the role of Joe de Bruyn, the national secretary and treasurer of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union—a vice president of the ACTU and a person who is on the ALP national executive. I was particularly interested in his speech to the Australian Christian Lobby meeting on 16 October 2011, seven weeks before the Labor Party conference where it was expected that the Labor Party would not only embrace marriage equality but would actually see it out in this term, where the Greens are here to work with Labor to deliver it. What did Joe de Bruyn tell the Australian Christian Lobby? Let me tell you: 'If a free vote were given to delegates at the national conference, without any outside pressures placed upon them, my guess would be that 80 per cent would vote for such a change. This is a view of the key people in the Labor Party today, and the only way that this is not going to happen is if the Prime Minister makes it clear publicly that she will not accept it. She must put her authority on the line to say, "We are not going to do it." If she does this there is a reasonable chance that a sufficient number of delegates would say, "I would like to vote for it myself but the PM does not want it and we don't want to embarrass or overrule the Prime Minister, so we will go along with her view."' That was Joe de Bruyn, seven weeks before the Labor Party's conference.

He went on to say, 'The key thing to understand is that this issue is not one that is going to be won or lost in the Labor Party on the question of merit, because on an issue of merit we will go down 80-20. It's only going to be won in the Labor Party if it is perceived to be electoral suicide if they go ahead and change their policy, and this is where I think all of you really do have a role to play. The more we are out in the media'—'we' being Joe de Bruyn and the Australian Christian Lobby—'making the point that this is wrong and if any politician dares to express support for homosexual marriage they will wear the consequences at the next election.' He goes on to say to the Christian Lobby: 'There is a role for you in this ongoing battle that we can't afford to lose. We have to win it every single time. If we lose it once, we've lost it forever.' He went on to add: 'In the last couple of days I have seen evidence of people in the ALP who don't care about the issue or would be inclined to support gay marriage. Significant slabs of these 400 delegates, including some who have spoken publicly for it, are now saying behind closed doors they will vote against it because they can see the electoral consequence.'

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

Senator MILNE: That is exactly what happened in the speech from Joe de Bruyn of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, Vice President of the ACTU and on the ALP National Executive, before the ALP National Conference last year. That is exactly what happened. Out came the Prime Minister, just as Joe de Bruyn said would happen, making it clear that she would not accept it and that she wanted a conscience vote. What actually happened was, according to reports, that there were five delegates absent from the floor for the count on the MPs conscience vote motion. It is understood that a number of delegates shifted sides from their intended position to protect the Prime Minister from a humiliating defeat, and the count went the Prime Minister's way, 208 votes to 184. There we have it.

So let us not just pretend that this is a vote on the merits of marriage equality. As Joe de Bruyn has said here, if it were on the merits then 80 per cent to 20 per cent of the Labor Party would support marriage equality. What this is actually about is the power of Joe de Bruyn and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association and the role of that union in the ALP National Executive in keeping the Prime Minister and the current structure in the Labor Party intact. That is what this is about. That is why it is being brought on now. That is why it has been pushed to a vote now: to try and get it off the agenda for the federal election year. That is the fact of the matter. It goes to the backroom faction, the boys in the Labor Party in the backroom, actually doing the numbers to defeat the overwhelming majority of delegates at the ALP national conference, who, without that kind of backroom manipulation going on, would have voted not only for the platform of marriage equality but not to support the conscience vote and to actually drive it through the parliament during this period when the ALP could have driven it through the parliament with the Greens. So therein lies the fact of the matter. You do not have to be a genius to see what has gone on here and to see a member of the ALP National Executive there working with the Christian Lobby to defeat the overwhelming majority of members at the—

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Crossin ): Senator Macdonald, order! Senator Milne is being heard in silence, and I think that is fair.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Well, your members were heard in silence and I think it is only fair that we also hear Senator Milne in silence.

Senator MILNE: Thank you, Madam Acting Deputy President. So there we have it. That is what actually has gone on here and what is really going on here in terms of the ALP position.

The tragedy of this is that, around the country, there are so many young people in the gay and lesbian community who were desperately hoping that this matter would be dealt with on its merits—that discrimination would end in this country and in this period of government. Clearly, if people were able to express their view in the way that they would like then we would actually be able to change it in this parliament such that, in years to come, people would look back and say: 'Oh, for goodness sake, what was that about? We have actually done what we needed to do. We had to get rid of that level of discrimination.' But, instead of that, young people around the country are scratching their heads, saying they cannot understand why the ALP has done what it has done on marriage equality: why they are pushing it to a vote; why they are trying to get it out of the public arena in the lead-up to the election. Well, all that should be pretty clear now. There is a very clear power-play going on in the ALP being led by this particular union leader from the National Executive. So that is the issue.

As to the leader of the coalition, Tony Abbott, he is also on the wrong side of history on this and he has to really answer the question why he will not allow his party members to express a conscience view on this matter. If other parties are allowed to express conscience views, why not the coalition parties? It was interesting to hear, from Senator Brandis in particular, talk about carbon pricing in the middle of a debate about marriage equality. What an odd thing that someone like Senator Brandis should focus on that in the middle of a marriage equality debate? I would have thought he may have quite strong views of his own in regard to this matter since he is often described as one of the more liberal members of the Liberal Party; although, to the extent that they have moved to the right of Genghis Khan, that is probably not a reference to liberalism in the way that people have understood liberalism in the past.

It is clear to me that the real debate that needs to be taking place in Australia is: why has the Labor Party tried to get this off the agenda before the federal election? That is the question. I think young people and the community around the country, parents, want to know what is going on and why we are not taking this opportunity to do the right thing by a whole lot of people in Australia who deserve to be able to access a marriage certificate in the same way as everybody else. They want to know why they are still discriminated against.

In Tasmania, when I moved for gay law reform in 1997, it was very hard argued and hard-fought issue, and the people who opposed it said all kinds of outrageous things about what would happen with levels of paedophilia and so on if this actually occurred in Tasmania. All that was a complete nonsense, and now people in Tasmania go, 'What was that about?' Tasmanians have changed their views to such an extent that we now have a piece of legislation brought in by the Greens and supported by Lara Giddings, the Labor Premier of Tasmania, to make marriage equality legal in Tasmania. That is a fantastic thing. I believe in South Australia there is also a bill before the parliament. Lynn MacLaren, a Greens member in Western Australia, has brought one into the Western Australian parliament. Because the Commonwealth will not move, we now have right around the country a number of efforts by state parliaments to deal with this issue. I am very proud of the fact that the legislation has passed the House of Assembly in Tasmania and, no doubt, there will now be quite a vigorous discussion in the Legislative Council. But, if you go back to 1997, there was a vigorous discussion then and the Tasmanian Legislative Council did pass it, with only one vote against it in the end in terms of being fair to people in Tasmania, where, at that time, you could be jailed for 21 years for being a homosexual. That was pretty disgraceful. We went from the worst to the best, and now it is Australia's opportunity as a nation to do the right thing by people who simply want to marry, who want to have the discrimination against them ended. In my view, it is absolutely time that we do this, and I think it is about time that Joe de Bruyn and the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Union and the ALP national executive actually explained to people what their problem is with this and the extent to which working together with the Christian lobby is preventing this outcome. (Time expired)