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Thursday, 13 October 2016
Page: 1896


Mr HASTIE (Canning) (13:12): I rise today to commend the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 to the House. I am already publicly on the record supporting the national plebiscite on the question of same-sex marriage. There has been a lot said about the plebiscite, but one thing that is clear is that the government has been very open with the Australian people about this pathway to same-sex marriage since August 2015. Indeed, it has been vigorously debated over the past year both in this house and in the wider Australian community.

The Turnbull government took this policy of a plebiscite to the July federal election to resolve the issue of same-sex marriage. It was distinct from the Labor policy to legislate same-sex marriage within 100 days via a parliamentary vote if they won government, which they clearly did not. So the Australian people were presented with a very clear choice: a popular vote on this issue where they have the freedom to exercise their own conscience or leave this significant decision to the political class. The Australian people re-elected the coalition government. They chose our policy of a plebiscite rather than the policy offered by those opposite. We, therefore, have a mandate for this plebiscite. The Australian people chose the plebiscite to resolve the question of same-sex marriage. This is the proper way forward after the introduction and failure of 20 separate same-sex marriage bills into parliament since 2004.

As it was made clear earlier in the week, Labor has declared that they will frustrate the will of the people and vote down the plebiscite. This is thinly veiled contempt for the Australian people. This neither respects the government's mandate, nor the choice of the Australian people to exercise their personal vote, their conscience, on this important question—a choice that, at the last election, they made very clear they want. Labor's intransigence on this question points to a deeper truth: in this parliament, we are at an impasse. To go forward decisively as a nation on this question, we should and must consult the people.

Whatever side prevails in the plebiscite, they will, importantly, have both a cultural and legal mandate—which is something you can say about the Irish experience, with their referendum. Contrast that with the US experience, where the Supreme Court of the United States unilaterally ruled by judicial fiat that same-sex marriage would become law of the land, riding roughshod over individual states and their own democratic processes. It is my belief that culture is upstream of politics. If same-sex marriage enjoys the support of the Australian people—as those opposite have just claimed, and recent polling has suggested—the 'yes' campaign has nothing to fear from a plebiscite. It is the quickest and surest way to their end state of legalising same-sex marriage in this country.

The coalition has delivered on a plan for the plebiscite after wide consultation with advocates from both the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns. The details are clear: a national vote on 11 Feb 2017; a fair question, 'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?'; a result that will be determined nationally, with the 'yes' vote being carried with 50 per cent plus one of the national vote; and funding for both the 'yes' and 'no' campaigns of $7.5 million each. If the 'yes' vote carries, it will sail through the parliament—as the Prime Minister has said on many occasions—and no serious advocate of the plebiscite should dare oppose it. The pathway is very clear. It is fair. The plebiscite bill is a good package. It is, therefore, very disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition and Labor have already chosen to oppose this bill. They have given their reasons, and I need not cover them here. However, it is worth noting that at the heart of their opposition is politics—a desire to cause as much damage to the government as possible, even if it means frustrating the desire of same-sex couples to marry. The Australian people deserve better.

I wish to make a few points about the nature of marriage and the civility of public discussion in Australia. I believe this debate is about the objective nature of marriage itself. We are proposing to change one of civilization's oldest institutions. This is not about people's sexuality and this is not about appeals to religious authority; this debate is about the objective character of marriage and how we define it. I hold to the common view of marriage as a comprehensive union between a man and a woman—comprehensive, because it involves both mutual consent and sexual union that is inextricably linked to procreation and the continuation of the human race. Marriage, in this form, is inherently ordered towards family life. That is why I argue that common marriage in its ideal form is both permanent and exclusive. That is why people say 'til death do us part' and promise to 'forsake all others'. It is about the preservation of a family unit that occurs when two members of the opposite sex come together in a comprehensive union—a union that is both diverse in gender and affords equality to both sexes.

These objective characteristics of marriage have not depended upon individual or cultural preferences across history. There is continuity in how we understand the meaning of marriage throughout human history. These characteristics have been common across all cultures and religions—ancient Greek and Roman, Judeo-Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Confucian. Even under the atheistic communist regimes of the 20th century, where religion was excised from public life, marriage looked the same in its basic character: a man, a woman, procreative potential, children, permanence and exclusivity. All of this is self-evident and requires only observation and reason to comprehend. I have made no appeal to religious authority in making the case for comprehensive marriage and so, in making this case, I appeal to people's reason and common sense. It is on that level that I expect people to find my arguments compelling—or, indeed, to oppose them, and I am more than happy to engage in that debate. I appeal to everyday Australians who can follow an argument without resorting to name-calling, emotional blackmail or accusations of bigotry.

There are many decent people in my seat of Canning. In fact, I am quite confident that, in Canning, we can conduct this debate with temperance, sympathy for those we disagree with and a mutual respect for people's right to be heard and understood without casting aspersions on the motives for their arguments or, indeed, on their character for making them. I am confident we can do this, but it is clear that Labor takes a much lower view of the Australian people, with accusations of bigotry and an assumption that they are incapable of respectful debate. I pose this question: where is our national culture, when we cannot even have a debate about the fundamental nature of marriage?

There is a need to have a public discussion about the consequences of changing the definition of marriage. It is true that Australia is the last English-speaking country in the world to redefine marriage. We can learn from international experience, and I dare say that we need to appreciate the consequences. We are, ultimately, redefining the contours of secular and religious liberty in this country. What does that mean? I think it means that we preference sexual liberty over and above religious liberty, which you could argue has been a long time coming. Where same-sex marriage has become law in other countries, we have seen more state and judicial intrusion into individuals' lives. It is my belief, as a Liberal, that the state should be a supporting actor in our lives and not the protagonist.

Witness the recent example of Trinity Western University in Ontario, Canada. It was denied accreditation for its legal graduates by the Law Society of Upper Canada—a body that accredits universities with delegated state authority. That decision has been upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeals and is now headed for the Canadian Supreme Court. Why? Because the school holds to the view that marriage should be between a man and a woman. It does not have a discriminatory enrolment policy yet was targeted for its adherence to orthodox Christian teaching on this question. Think of Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla, who was forced to resign from his position in 2014 after it was revealed that he gave a mere $1,000 to a campaign to uphold Californian state law on marriage in 2008. Think of Catholic adoption and foster care agencies across the US and Europe who were not granted religious exemptions under their state jurisdictional laws. Rather than yield to Massachusetts, Illinois and District of Columbia laws, they chose to close down, and they no longer operate in those districts. The alternative was go against conscience.

So the question I put is: will Australian individuals and organisations—secular and religious alike—be protected from similar coercion? These are discussions that the Australian people need to have among themselves at schools, at work, in their homes. This is no small change we are suggesting. Hence I think the plebiscite model is the best way to go forward. This must be debated by the Australian people, not just the political and media class. So, whatever the outcome of the plebiscite, if the yes vote prevails, one thing can be sure: the Australian people will grant a cultural and legal mandate, and this issue should be resolved, going forward, for many years to come. I commend this bill to the House.