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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
Popular vote on marriage in Australia

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BROHIER, Mr Christopher, Founder, Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage

HANRAHAN, Mr Paul, Executive Director, Family Life International (Australia) Limited

KELLEHER, Mrs Terri, Victorian President, Australian Family Association

PHILLIPS, Dr David, National Director, FamilyVoice Australia

QUINLAN, Professor Michael, Senior Member, Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage

SHELTON» , Mr Lyle, Managing Director, Australian Christian Lobby

STUPARICH, Mr Jeremy, Public Policy Director, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference


Evidence from Mr Brohier, Mrs Kelleher, Dr Phillips and Prof essor Quinlan w as taken via teleconference—

Evidence from Mr Hanrahan was taken via videoconference—

CHAIR: I now welcome representatives from the Australian Family Association, Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage, FamilyVoice Australia, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, Family Life International (Australia) and the Australian Christian Lobby. We thank you all for joining us today and talking with us. The committee has received the following submissions: the Australian Family Association is submission 16, Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage is submission 20, FamilyVoice Australia is submission 23 and the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference is submission 24. Family Life International and the Australian Christian Lobby have not made submissions. I invite you to make a brief opening statement of no longer than two minutes before we go to questions.

Mr Stuparich : I just want to go over some brief points that the Bishops have made in their submission. The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference does not support the change in the definition of marriage. The Bishops recognise that there are differing views in the community and that the nature of the debate over marriage can be divisive. Given the difficulty of the debate, the Bishops have been considering the best way to resolve the issue. A parliamentary vote is one way, but there is no guarantee there will be a clear vote either way on that. Even when there was a clear vote with significant majorities in the Senate and the House of Representatives voting against same-sex marriage in 2012, the issue was not resolved. So a popular vote might be another way to consider what would be a profound social change because it has the potential to engage the whole community on something that would affect the essential character of the community. However, a popular vote by plebiscite or referendum needs a number of elements for the result to be accepted by the broad community. Those elements are listed in the submission and include: the need for a compulsory vote to bring all Australians into the debate, a vote separate to a general election—so that public debate on marriage is not crowded out by other issues—and adequate time, information and space in the media for the public to adequately consider all the issues.

The bishops want marriage, as traditionally understood, to continue to be supported in our laws and social policies. They support a process to resolve this divisive issue. The process should involve the whole community in an open and respectful debate.

CHAIR: Thank you. Mr «Shelton» ?

Mr «Shelton» : Thank you very much. Very similar to the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, the Australian Christian Lobby also does not support changing the definition of 'marriage' in law. But we do welcome the opportunity for there to be a national plebiscite and for all people of Australia to have their say on this matter which is of great public importance and of profound social consequence. We believe that there should be a compulsory vote so that all Australians can be part of the discussion. I think that would create a greater resolution, whichever way the vote went. We believe there should be, in the enabling legislation to set up the plebiscite, equal funding of both the yes and the no case. We believe there should be a prohibition on money coming in from overseas—and, if there were a way that the parliament could look at that, I think that would be a positive thing. The referendum in Ireland featured tens of millions of dollars from outside of Ireland which influenced the debate, so I think that would be an undesirable feature of any Australian plebiscite.

We must ensure that both sides of the argument are allowed to be put. A sad feature of the debate in recent times has been certain television networks and even one public broadcaster declining to take advertisements from the side of the argument that does not favour changing the definition of marriage. We want to see a really fair and open debate where there is no censorship of the argument in any way, shape or form. Obviously, it needs to be respectful and in good taste—and I am not talking about that being a feature of examples where we have seen censorship. So I think we do need to see that. I think that is probably all I would like to say. They are the basic criteria that we would like to see.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr «Shelton» . I will open it up now to someone via teleconference or videoconference.

M r s Kelleher : Yes, I am happy to go next.

CHAIR: Okay.

M r s Kelleher : I repeat the two previous submissions or statements, in that the Australian Family Association support the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, as set out in our submission. As regards the bill itself that has been proposed, the plebiscite bill, our view is that it is pre-emptive. It really should be for the parliament and, ultimately, for the government of the time to work out the conditions or the clauses of an enabling bill, which of course is necessary for a plebiscite or referendum, and I think this bill pre-empts that.

As pointed out in the submission, the coalition, the present government, has said that it will announce its policy on marriage in the lead-up to the next election, next year, that it was certainly leaning towards a popular vote and that therefore something would actually be done on the issue in the next term of government. The Labor Party support changing the definition of marriage, and they too will do something in regards to the issue in the next term of government. So presenting this bill seems to be really pre-empting the present parliament.

As regards the popular vote, again, the AFA agree that this is a very significant and fundamental social issue. It is a very important question, therefore a popular vote is appropriate. Whether it is a plebiscite or a referendum, we do not have any fixed view on that, but certainly there should be a number of elements in the popular vote. The question is very important, and there should be time and opportunity for input into the question or questions for that popular vote.

Also, we should look at what the consequences of a majority vote would be—whether it would be binding if it is a plebiscite or merely persuasive. The funding should be provided equally to both sides of the debate. It should be a compulsory vote. It is too important an issue, in our view, to run such a popular vote at the same time as a general election. It should be run separately so that the issue can be given the serious consideration it deserves. The only other point I would make is that we have no fixed view, as yet, on whether, if it were a popular vote, it should be a plebiscite or referendum.

Mr Hanrahan : Family Life International Australia supports the traditional view of marriage and the definition currently in place. We do not support any changes. Family Life International also supports the idea of a popular vote on any changes to marriage. We believe it is a most important issue and that the Australian people should be heard on this matter. We also believe there should be enough time for the debate to be had and for the debate to be fair and that there be no media censorship of one side of the argument.

We support most of what has been said here by people before us. I would support a referendum over a plebiscite. I believe the matter has not been settled on the constitutionality of these proposed changes, despite the statement of the High Court in 2013 in relation to the ACT parliament's decision. We also think that the question as framed in the bill before us today is inadequate and we would like to see some more discussion about that question.

Dr Phillips : The view of Family Voice Australia is that marriage recognises a fundamental biological reality that children are only conceived and born by the sexual union of a man and a woman. A baby is vulnerable and needs to be cared for, preferably, by its natural parents in order for the child to have a sense of identity. So marriage, in our view, is not something that is open to being legislated by anybody, whether parliaments or whatever. It really is a recognition of fundamental human biology.

We think that that was the understanding of the Australian Constitution when it was adopted in 1900 or thereabouts and that the High Court ruling is unsatisfactory and unsound. The High Court ruling has been strongly criticised by several constitutional lawyers in Australia, particularly Professor Anne Twomey, Professor Patrick Parkinson and Professor Nicholas Aroney. There is some doubt as to whether the definition of marriage given by that ruling is actually binding. It may, in practical terms, turn out to be, but we believe there is some doubt about that.

We believe the right course is to restore the definition of marriage that has been with the human race for the last 5,000 years or so across cultures and across the world—namely, between a man and a woman. So the question then is: how is that best secured to effectively override the decision of the High Court, which we argue is flawed? One option is a referendum to embed in the Constitution somehow the definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman. The other option is to put into the Marriage Act a provision that the current definition of marriage, which we support, not be capable of being changed without a referendum or plebiscite.

We believe it is an important issue. Any move to change the current definition of marriage as in the Marriage Act is something that is so important and affects so many people. It affects the whole of life and everybody in Australia to a profound degree, potentially. So having a popular vote must be, in our view, part of the procedure.

Public funding is important for an equal opportunity in any plebiscite or referendum that is held. It is vitally important that both sides of the question be given equal coverage, and so public funding should be applied equally to both these yes and no cases.

As to the timing of the vote, again, because of the significance of this matter, it should certainly not coincide with a general election. It would then be in danger of being swamped by other questions being contested in the election itself. It needs to be held as a separate event. Because, again, of the importance of the matter, it should not be rushed and so it should not be held before the next federal election is due. It should be held some time afterwards, which would be 2017 or beyond.

Prof . Quinlan : Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage have put in a submission. I will leave it to Chris Brohier to speak about the Constitution and the desirability of a referendum on plebiscite. I do not want to repeat what we have in our submission; I just want to pick up on one point that we raised in paragraphs 13.2.2 and 13.2.3 of our submission which relates to religious freedom. I want to draw the committee's attention to an argument which has been put by Douglas Laycock and Thomas Berg in the Virginia Law Review, volume 99 online 1 from 2013. Laycock and Berg are proponents or supporters of same-sex marriage, but they put this point in relation to religious freedom in this context on pages 3 and 4 of their article. They said:

Sexual minorities and religious minorities make essentially parallel claims on the larger society, and the strongest features of the case for same-sex civil marriage make an equally strong case for protecting the religious liberty of dissenters. These parallels have been elaborated by scholars who work principally on religious liberty and by scholars who work principally on sexual orientation.

2. Both same-sex couples and committed religious believers argue that some aspects of human identity are so fundamental that they should be left to each individual, free of all nonessential regulation, even when manifested in conduct. For religious believers, the conduct at issue is to live and act consistently with the demands of the Being that they believe made us all and holds the whole world together. For same-sex couples, the conduct at issue is to join personal commitment and sexual expression in a multi-faceted intimate relationship with the person they love.

…   …   …

No religious believer can change his understanding of divine command by any act of will, and no person who wants to enter a same-sex marriage can change his sexual orientation by any act of will. Religious beliefs can change over time; far less commonly, sexual orientation can change over time. But these things do not change because government says they must, or because the individual decides they should …

…   …   …

… same-sex partners cannot change their sexual orientation, and the religious believer cannot change God’s mind …

Mr Brohier : I am one of the founders of the Lawyers for the Preservation of the Definition of Marriage. Since 2011, when we started writing to and appearing before the Senate on this issue, we have argued that a referendum is the proper way to go, except however since the ACT and Commonwealth issue there is less of a need for a referendum, although as our paper says there are still good reasons. We are relaxed about whether it proceeds as a referendum or a plebiscite, but we say it should be a structured question with, if it is to be a plebiscite, a definite amendment to the Marriage Act rather than a conceptual question—and here we differ from the current bill.

In relation to question d. of the terms of reference, respectfully, this term misapprehends the law and the role of the Australian people. Same-sex marriage is not a question of discrimination. There is no prior right to same-sex marriage under any of the great international charters; the position is to the contrary. The issue is a question of public policy—what is marriage?—and every Australian's opinion is of equal value in this question. This is a socially divisive issue with strong opinions, and every Australian should have their say.

Senator RICE: Thank you all for appearing. Mr «Shelton» , for years the Australian Christian Lobby have said that the issue of marriage is a low priority and it should not take up parliament's time, yet you now say that it is such an important issue that it should be put to a public vote, potentially at great expense. Would you expand on any inconsistency between these two positions.

Mr «Shelton» : I do not think there is any inconsistency. As you or any casual observer would be aware, this has been a debate which has been relentlessly put back to the parliament over and over and over—and over, and over again. I think there have been somewhere in the order of 16 legislative attempts at Commonwealth level to change the definition of marriage. There have been attempts in every state and territory jurisdiction except for the Northern Territory and Queensland to change the definition of marriage, before the High Court struck down the ACT's redefinition of marriage in 2013.

I guess the point that we are making—and I do not remember the year of those comments, but it would have been some time ago—is that, after many, many attempts, our feeling is that this has been given a pretty good go. There have been numerous Senate inquiries, a House of Reps inquiry and several state parliamentary inquiries. There was reference to the resounding defeat of this in 2012. So our comments there were, 'Look, this has been through the democratic process up hill and down dale. A lot of parliament's time has been expended on it and yet it keeps coming back.' I guess, in the face of the relentlessness of this, where have we left to go? Obviously, we support this now going to the people. If it keeps going to the parliament and getting rejected, as it has, and through numerous Senate and parliamentary inquiries, it is only logical now that it goes to the people for all Australians to have a say. I think that is the best way to resolve this, given that those who want change, as is their right, keep bringing this forward. We need to come to some sort of resolution, and a people's vote obviously is the way to go. I hope that helps.

Senator RICE: Continuing on from that, given that, as you say, it has been a discussion for many years, why, if we are to have a plebiscite or a referendum, does your submission—I think it is your submission along with, certainly, some of the submissions here—

Mr «Shelton» : No, we did not make a submission, I am sorry.

Senator RICE: Okay. Others might like to respond to this. Why, given that we have been discussing the issue of marriage equality for many years—for 11 years since the Marriage Act was changed—is there a perceived need to allow more time and to put off a plebiscite until after the next election? Why not, if we are going to have a plebiscite, have it at the next election or as soon as possible?

Mr «Shelton» : Picking up another point, on the low order of this issue, polling has consistently shown that this is a low-order issue with voters as well, so that is the other point I would make. But, now that this is to go to the people, I think it is important that there is not a rushed public debate. We are talking about something very different to the parliamentary process. As I say, there have been numerous Senate inquiries and several votes in the parliament at state and federal level. I think any reasonable observer of this debate over the last few years would know that the overwhelming weight of media coverage has been pro changing the definition of marriage. That is just a statement. The media is free to report the way they want. I think, if we are going to resolve this issue, we need to have a process where there is time for the other side of the debate to be heard. It has been disappointing to see this year on a number of occasions very innocuous television advertisements putting the other side of the debate being refused by some media outlets, and even by a public broadcaster. I think we have got to break this nexus of silence and censorship of our side of the debate—the side of the debate that favours retaining the definition of marriage—and allow that to be heard and to give people the opportunity to hear the arguments and to distil them before it goes to a vote.

Senator RICE: Despite having had 11 years of that discussion?

Mr «Shelton» : I think it has been 11 years of pretty much one-way traffic. I think any objective observer of the media would know that the weight of the media coverage has been very much on the other side, and that is the prerogative of the press.

Senator RICE: Okay, good.

M r s Kelleher : Can I make a comment there? I would like to support Mr «Shelton» in his statement that this is a very, very serious issue, because the family is the fundamental unit of society, and we see the family as being founded on marriage. Marriage is a very important issue, which is why we think that it should not be held at the same time as a federal election. As Mr «Shelton» pointed out, there has not been very deeply considered presentation, certainly not of the sites of the preservation of the current definition of marriage. It requires time and, I think, not other issues intervening in an election. It is going to be very, very loud—the noise around it is going to be very loud, and there will be lots of different issues. This is a very important issue for society, even if in fact the polling found that for most voters it is not a high priority. I think that their attention needs to be drawn to the issue, and that both sides need to be equally presented. That will require time and also equal funding for both sides of the argument.

Senator RICE: Continuing on, I have a question for Ms Kelleher and Mr Brohier about the issue of using the term 'equality' and whether marriage equality is an issue of equality in human rights. Ms Kelleher, you state that you feel the term 'equality' is not appropriate, or being used appropriately. Similarly, Mr Brohier—you state that it is an error to consider this issue as a matter of equality in human rights, and further assert that there is no question of discrimination. Yet the Australian Human Rights Commission states unequivocally in their report, Resilient individuals,that to ensure all Australians are treated equally and fairly by the law and government, law reform is required promptly at a federal level—that there should be an amendment to the Marriage Act to equally recognise the partnership of two adults, regardless of the gender of their partners. I am interested in you response to that.

Mr Brohier : The two great charters upon which human rights jurisprudence is founded are the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Both those charters do not contain any right to same sex marriage—to the contrary, both those charters say that marriage is a right between a man and a woman. That has been so held by perhaps the most influential human rights court in the world, the European Commission of Human Rights. The Human Rights Commission's submission—respectfully—is wrong, because what the Human Rights Commission says is that a human right stems from what every person wants to do from within themselves. That is not basis for law. If that were a basis for law we would be allowing many things which we would say are not palatable in a proper social context, because it comes from inside a person. The only solid basis to proceed in a human rights discussion are the two great international charters, which have been agreed by all countries. They are the ICCPR and the UDHR, and they do not support any argument that same sex marriage is a human right.

The second proposition is this: before you get to a discussion of equality you have to have a public policy discussion as to what is marriage. You cannot subvert the argument by terms of equality. The people of Australia should be allowed to discuss freely and openly what marriage is in Australia. That is a public policy argument, and that cannot be dealt with by conceptions of equality.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you to the last witness for that interesting response to the Human Rights Commission. You say they are wrong. I suspect you are probably right. It would not be the first time the Human Rights Commission has been wrong—it seems to be the standard thing. My question was to Mr Hanrahan, who I think gave evidence and said it was necessary, if this plebiscite does go ahead, to make sure that there was fair reporting on all sides of the argument. Did you say that, Mr Hanrahan, or did someone else say that?

Mr Hanrahan : I think a few people said that. I certainly did. That would be borne out by the ABC's Media Watch. Paul Barry says he supports the idea of changing the definition of marriage to support same-sex marriage. He highlighted a few weeks ago on his show on Monday night—

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Hang on; my question was just to identify that it was you and perhaps others. I was just wondering how you think we—as a committee, a parliament or a government—can ensure there is fair reporting on all sides. Some of these witnesses have clearly said that the ABC in particular has run nothing else but one side of the argument for a decade or more. I am just wondering if you have some thoughts on how—in a democracy with a free press and media—we can ensure that there is balanced reporting as we approach a plebiscite or a referendum on this particular subject?

Mr Hanrahan : I do not know how we can, especially, get the commercial stations to have any balance in relation to the matter, but it would be an important thing for a discussion. I do not have any particular ideas in relation to that, though advertising should be made available to both sides of the debate.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: If it is to be a plebiscite or a referendum, I would expect and hope that the government would provide equal funding for both sides of the argument, but I suspect there will be a lot of other money flowing into each side, which may skew any paid advertising campaign. I was interested in the thoughts of anyone on how you do try to ensure that there is balanced reporting on this quite complex issue.

Mr Hanrahan : I understand it is a great difficulty to do that, especially with the commercial media.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I think it is a greater difficulty with the ABC, I have to say.

Mr Hanrahan : There definitely is, too. It should not be.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Anyhow, I am not giving evidence here. I am asking the questions.

Mr Brohier : I think there is a provision in one of the referendum machinery acts that says that it is illegal for a media organisation not to carry advertisements with respect to the referendum or reasonably in connection with it. That is one way the parliament could act on a plebiscite.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are talking about paid advertising there—I am not sure about that provision—but it would seem to stand to reason that paid advertising would have to be accepted by all media outlets. But I was talking about general reporting rather than paid advertising. Does anyone have a thought on that? I would greatly appreciate it.

Mr Brohier : The recent problem was that even paid advertising was not carried by the commercial channels, and that would in some way obviate that problem.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Do you have evidence of that?

Mr Brohier : Yes. Channel 10 would not run an advertisement put by the Australian Marriage Forum—a very anodyne ad saying there were questions about same-sex marriage and come to their website. Channel 10 refused to carry the ad.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: That is probably more a reflection on Channel 10 than on the society. Mr «Shelton» , you were going to make a comment?

Mr «Shelton» : Just to add to that: Channel 10, Channel 7 and SBS have this year declined to take advertising from this side of the debate. I do not know whether parliament can mandate that stations take advertisements. We live in a free society. Probably, rather than having the heavy hand of the law, I think that somehow we have to break the shackles of political correctness that surround this debate and the fear and the intimidation that many on our side of the debate feel, because often this is characterised as if those who do not support changing the definition of marriage are somehow bigots or prejudiced in some horrible sort of way. I have to say we certainly reject that. This is not a debate against people or against individuals. This is a debate about what marriage is. It is a debate about what family structure is and what is in the best interests of children. It is a debate about free speech, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. I think the great thing about what occurred here in the parliament a few weeks ago is that we have suddenly all been given permission to speak. We need to encourage the idea that there should be freedom in this discussion to respectfully air this side of the debate and that people on this side of the debate should be allowed to talk and to create more of a culture where it is okay to advocate for this side of the debate. I hope the media might voluntarily participate in that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: As a final question, do you know if this refusal by those three news organisations to accept ads has been reported to ACMA?

Mr «Shelton» : I do not know the answer to that.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Does anyone know if complaints have been made to ACMA about that refusal to accept advertising?

Mr «Shelton» : I know it was the subject of a Senate hearing earlier in the year. It was brought up in estimates here when SBS was here.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Okay.

Mr Brohier : I have written to the television channels themselves. That is not an answer to your question, but I have written directly, and I have not had any proper response.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Perhaps you could forward your letter to the committee, and the committee might be able to take it up with SBS on why they have chosen to do this.

Mr Brohier : I wrote to Channel 10, not to SBS. But I can forward the letter.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you.

Senator MOORE: Mr Stuparich, your submission makes no comment about whether it should be a parliamentary vote or a plebiscite. It clearly states that.

Mr Stuparich : Yes.

Senator MOORE: My understanding is that, for all the other witnesses, there has been a statement in favour of a plebiscite. I have been through all your submissions, and it was in your evidence, Mr «Shelton» . I want to put one question to all of you. I am very much taking up the point that if there were to be a plebiscite—and that is the point—there would have to be this evenness of political process and this evenness of publicity. We have heard previous evidence, and I think some of you heard it, raising concern about the impact on people, particularly from same-sex families, of having an open discussion, as you describe it, and hearing people questioning lifestyle and questioning their parenting. I think we had evidence from a previous witness who said over 6,000 children currently in Australia are being raised in same-sex families, and a particular point was being raised about how an extended popular advertising program could impact on them. Each of you has mentioned, in your submissions, the need for respectful processes through this. I would like to know how you would define 'respectful' when you have such a wide difference of opinion, particularly around that issue of people whose very lifestyles are being questioned by the nature of the process. How would you be able to define 'respectful' in such a process? I would really like to hear from all the witnesses on this, because you have each made the point about how there has to be this shared openness. How do you do that in a respectful way?

M r s Kelleher : The fact is that you can be respectful, and we should be respectful of each other, even when we have a difference of opinion. But it really is putting a chill on free speech and on being able to really talk about an issue if it is going to be shut down because it is distressing to another party. The point is that they are talking about what marriage is and the definition of marriage. I know that, when emotions are involved and feelings are involved about one's personal situation, that is difficult, but we have to deal with that and deal with the fact that there are differences of opinion. We cannot not discuss an issue of such vital social importance because there are differences of opinion, but I do say it has to be a respectful and civil debate, but it must be a full and vigorous debate.

Senator MOORE: How would you define that, Ms Kelleher? I know it is difficult in the limited time we have, and it is a very important issue, but you say it has to be respectful, it should not be distressing and you should not close down debate because the debate is distressing. I have heard from Mr—

M r s Kelleher : Yes, well that is what I mean. One does not attack individuals or you do not cite specific instances to—

Senator MOORE: Lifestyle?

M r s Kelleher : illustrate that this is not desirable, that this or that action or lifestyle is not desirable. We must talk about what marriage is and therefore should marriage be redefined.

Senator MOORE: So, marriage from—

M r s Kelleher : In the course of that it does raise these issues but that is then respectful.

Senator MOORE: So marriage from one person's perspective? Yes.

M r s Kelleher : We would not say from one person's. We would say that it has ever been and that it is only very recently that there was any other concept of marriage.

Senator MOORE: Thank you, Ms Kelleher. Mr Hanrahan, you were talking about respect as well. How do you define respect in this process?

Mr Hanrahan : Respect is being able to put your point and have some consideration for your opposition and how they are looking at the situation. But I think that is somewhat of a smokescreen, Senator. The debate is about marriage. It is about the definition of marriage that already exists. Same-sex couples within the law have all the rights that a de facto couple would have. They have all the rights, in other words, of a married couple. They have children, they are able to adopt—

Senator MOORE: I am sorry, we have very limited time and we are not debating the issue at the moment.

Mr Hanrahan : I understand.

Senator MOORE: I am trying to see how each of you would actually define and how in a debate, from your perspective, we could ensure respectful equality in the debate. Do you have any concept?

Mr Hanrahan : I do not think you can ensure that completely because there are always going to be people involved in the debate who will get emotional and who will get heated and all the rest of it. All we can do is debate the issue. Unfortunately, the issue is before us. Marriage is defined. We know what marriage is. There are attempts from some people to try and change that—

Senator MOORE: Thank you, Mr Hanrahan, we are going into the debate again. Dr Phillips.

D r Phillips : One of the things that needs to be considered is respect for people who uphold the traditional definition of marriage.

Senator MOORE: Yes.

D r Phillips : Those people are facing a situation where, if the definition were changed, their families could well be under attack. We have recently had the example of Burwood Girls High School in Sydney where girls who wanted to uphold the traditional definition of marriage and did not want to take part in the Wear it Purple Day that was proposed were vilified and bullied by other students in the school. So there is pressure of a most disrespectful manner on those who want to hold a traditional view of marriage. A similar thing happened in South Australia recently where one of the owners of a bakery wrote a very respectful letter to the local paper. The result was that another owner of the bakery received some very nasty phone calls and other messages. The experience of those who are seeking to uphold the traditional definition of marriage have had the experience of being viciously attacked for it. So the respectfulness does need to be even-handed.

Senator MOORE: Absolutely. I take your point. I am trying to see it from both sides in terms of how you would actually talk about the respect that you have all mentioned in your contributions to the committee. You have said that any process would have to have respect. If we looked at individual instances of people feeling distressed and being bullied, we would take a very long time to have this discussion. Mr Stuparich, you tried to speak earlier.

Mr Stuparich : The bishops made the point of not talking past people but of trying to engage people in a conversation. I think if we can engage people in a conversation then we show respect by listening, considering and responding, and accepting that in many cases there may not be agreement but seeing that there might be areas where we can find some sort of way to move forward.

Mr «Shelton» : I think one of the great things about Australian society is that, if someone is behaving in a way that is disrespectful, we are very good, as Australians, at calling that out. I think the court of public opinion is a good court but, on the other hand, I think we must ensure that we do not allow political correctness to stifle legitimate debate as well.

Senator MOORE: Mr «Shelton» , you and I are never going to agree on political correctness. If we could actually get rid of that term, whatever people take it to mean—what do you mean when you say that?

Mr «Shelton» : I think when you see slurs used instead of argument, that is where political correctness has its way. When terms like 'bigotry' and 'homophobe' are used, I think that is unhelpful in this debate. I think we should expunge both of those terms from the lexicon and find other ways to engage the argument. If someone is being disrespectful, call it out. If they are being in any way disparaging of an individual or are treating someone in an unkind manner, that should be called out. But I really do not think there is a place for labels and slurs. I would love to see that absent over the next 18 months to two years in the lead-up to this plebiscite and that we engage the arguments in a friendly, respectful way, in the manner that we are doing here at this committee. Perhaps this could be a way of setting the tone.

Senator MOORE: I know I am running out of time. I will put a question on notice: if anyone has any further ideas about how you would have a process in place in our community through this kind of debate, I would be very keen to hear from you. It would be useful around the issue of any kind of plebiscite—how you would ensure equity and respectfulness through the process.

Mr Brohier : Chair, could Professor Quinlan speak to that for a quick minute? His opening statement was on point.

CHAIR: Okay, for one minute.

Prof. Quinlan : All I would say in relation to that is that, as we put in our submission and as I said, it is important that, if we do go down a path of amendment, the religious freedom of people is respected. This really brings up the point that was mentioned earlier, that the people being upset by discussions about marriage are not limited to those people who are in same-sex couples or in same-sex families. There are certainly plenty of people upset—who have religious objections or conscientious objections or a very strong belief in the conjugal and traditional view of marriage—about the change to that meaning. We do have debates in Australia about a lot of things where we are able to talk about both sides of an issue. It is one of the features of Australian society, so I really hope that we would be able to engage in such a respectful discussion in relation to this topic.

CHAIR: Thank you, everybody, for coming here today and thank you for your contribution to the hearing.