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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1438


Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:21): I rise to ask my question to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, and it is with some degree of sadness today that I actually have to ask this question. Can the Attorney-General comment on the consequences of Labor's decision this morning to deny Australians marriage equality?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:21): Thank you, Senator Reynolds, for that question. This morning, I am sorry to say, Senator Reynolds, the Labor Party has driven a stake through the heart of marriage equality, because, regardless of the pieties we hear coming from people like Senator Wong, who assert that they believe in this cause—

Senator Wong: It matters to me.

Senator BRANDIS: You say it matters to you, Senator Wong. Why won't you do something about it? Senator Wong, in 2004 you came into this chamber and voted against marriage equality, as the division list reveals. For six years, from 2007 to 2013, you were a senior minister in a—

The PRESIDENT: Order! A point of order from Senator Williams, who was on his feet first.

Senator Williams: Mr President, as you are aware, I spent some time in your position, as deputy chair. When I was in that position and Senator Wong was speaking, when people would interject she would stop and stare at the chair and demand silence.

Senator Wong: He was yelling at me!

Senator Williams: She is even interjecting at me now, Mr President.

The PRESIDENT: Your point of order, Senator Williams?

Senator Williams: My point of order is: would you please bring her to order, remind her of standing order 197 and, if necessary, standing order 203.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Williams.

Senator Wong: If he's yelling at me, I'll yell back.

Senator Williams: You are a disgrace, you are!

The PRESIDENT: Order! I remind all senators to curtail their interjections.

Senator Ian Macdonald: You are a disgrace, Penny!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald! In particular—and I am reluctant to do so—I will remind both leaders not to shout across the chamber, and I remind all senators not to interject.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Wong, for six years, between 2007 and 2013, you were a senior minister in a government that did not one thing, not a single thing, to advance marriage equality. In July 2010 you said on the Ten Network that you were against marriage equality and today, this morning, you have been part of a caucus that has put a roadblock in front of the only feasible possibility of seeing marriage equality in Australia any time soon. In fact, Senator Wong, but for the decision you and your caucus made this morning within four months from today we could have had this outcome. Senator Wong, you have for years now said you believe in this. Why have you put a roadblock before it today?

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left! Senator Reynolds, a supplementary question?

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:25): Clearly, Mr President, the truth hurts. Can the Attorney-General please explain, despite this, how the government is progressing this issue?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): Yes, Senator Reynolds, I can, and may I say how proud I am to be a minister in the first Australian government of either political persuasion to progress the issue of marriage equality, led by Mr Turnbull, the first Prime Minister, and to be the first Attorney-General in office to be progressing this issue.

We took a plebiscite proposal to the 2016 election and had it endorsed. We introduced a plebiscite bill into the parliament. In the meantime I attempted to negotiate in good faith with the shadow Attorney-General, Mr Dreyfus, and asked him whether he had any counterproposal—if there was any way that the government could amend the plebiscite bill so as to make it acceptable to the Labor Party—and he refused to say a word. Last night we— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Reynolds, a final supplementary question?

Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (14:26): Can the Attorney-General advise the Senate how the government is honouring its commitment for a plebiscite?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:26): Well, Senator Reynolds, I had begun to tell you. We introduced a bill, we offered to negotiate with the Labor Party to accommodate any legitimate concerns they had—

Senator Cameron interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron!

Senator BRANDIS: and they refused to engage in a good faith discussion with us. Last night the government authorised the release of an exposure draft of a marriage amendment bill which will form the basis of a community discussion as to how, in the unlikely event that there is now a plebiscite, the matter would come before the parliament.

Can I, in closing, appeal to the crossbench. It is not too late, Senator Hinch and other members of the crossbench, to reconsider your position, to give Australians the marriage equality you say they deserve, and to give it to them within four months by supporting this bill.

Senator Cameron: Yes, throw a lifebelt to Malcolm Turnbull! Throw him a lifebelt!

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cameron, you have interjected on every question so far. Please desist.