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Monday, 15 November 2010
Page: 2286

Mr BANDT (8:12 PM) —I ask leave of the House to amend the notice relating to same-sex marriage in the terms circulated to honourable members in the chamber.

The SPEAKER —Is there any objection to leave being granted?

Mr Ruddock —I have not seen the amendment.

The SPEAKER —I will get a copy to you as soon as I can get you one. It is coming.

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Could the Deputy Clerk stop the clock, please. We will do this correctly procedurally so that everybody can be happy. Is there any objection to leave being granted? I am in the position where the honourable member for Melbourne has sought leave to amend his motion and I am seeking an indication from the House whether leave is granted.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —There is much uncertainty in the chamber as to the nature of the change that the honourable member wishes to move. It does seem that the proposed amendment is quite different in substance from the original motion moved. That is the perception that is being discussed informally in the chamber. For clarification purposes, could you read out the original motion and then read out the proposed amendment so that the House can be informed.

The SPEAKER —The motion is as circulated in the Notice Paper. The amended motion is now being circulated to honourable members in the chamber. There is a one-paragraph suggestion of an amendment. Is there any objection to leave being granted?

Mr Entsch —As a point of clarification, given that this was basically put on just before we were expected to speak on it, the original motion in relation to (a) and (b) has now been removed from it. This now replaces the entire one and in effect it is No. 2. Can I seek clarification on that.

The SPEAKER —Without my getting into interpreting the motion, the original motion was in two parts. The second part was a call upon parliamentarians to gauge certain things. Basically, that is the amended motion that leave is sought for.

Mr Entsch —Can I assume that No. 1 stands, or is No. 1 now deleted and No. 2 becomes the motion?

The SPEAKER —The original motion in totality had two parts. The amended motion, as circulated, is the whole motion, as I understand it. I will get clarification from the member for Melbourne that the one-paragraph motion is the proposed amended motion that he wishes to place before the House. It is a single one-paragraph motion and all the rest in the first part of the original motion is no longer what he is proposing. I am only allowing this because of the exceptional circumstances of this present parliament. This is not something that I will be in a position to allow in future. We must bring this aspect to a resolution. Is leave granted for the member for Melbourne to move the motion as he has proposed and circulated, which is a one-paragraph motion?

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop —I have a point of order. The original motion—and the people who are listening to the broadcast are entitled to know—in part (b) calls on all parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality. The proposed amendment says:

The House calls on all parliamentarians, consistent with their duties as representatives, to gauge their constituents’ views on ways to achieve equal treatment for same-sex couples, including marriage.

Which is a totally different concept from the one originally moved. Ordinary rules of debate tell me that it is a departure from the substantive motion as originally moved and therefore would be out of order. I ask, Mr Speaker, if you could rule on that, apart from the question of leave, because quite frankly this has been brought on at the last moment, when the issue had been canvassed before. There was no consultation and I feel that it is a difficulty in the circumstances for a proper decision on whether leave should be granted or not to be reached.

The SPEAKER —To give certainty about what we are looking at I will rule on that point—and this is an advisory ruling—and say that if leave were granted for this proposed amended motion I would see it as being in order. Is leave granted?

Leave not granted.

Mr BANDT —I move the motion relating to same-sex marriage in the terms in which it appears on the Notice Paper:

That this House:

(1)   notes that there is:

(a)   a growing list of countries that allow same-sex couples to marry including the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Spain, Canada and South Africa; and

(b)   widespread support for equal marriage in the Australian community; and

(2)   calls on all parliamentarians to gauge their constituents’ views on the issue of marriage equality.

Love knows no boundaries. Love knows no limits. And love knows when it has found its partner. There have been many attempts through history to limit love. All have failed. As we move further into the 21st century, I am confident that attempts to limit love will fail again and that full marriage equality will become a reality. This motion before the parliament does not seek to overturn the Howard government’s change to the Marriage Act which sought to limit marriage to a few. My colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has a bill before parliament that, when passed, will amend the Marriage Act to enshrine the right for all Australians to marry regardless of their gender or sexuality. In time the Greens will move for that bill to be debated. But with this motion we seek to provide an opportunity for members of parliament, the media and, most importantly, the community to discuss the importance of marriage equality. The motion is not binding on members of parliament or the government. Its passage will not in itself legally endorse or ratify the right to marriage equality. Rather it will acknowledge the reality of community opinion in Australia, which has changed.

In moving this motion, the Greens want parliament to acknowledge that Australian public opinion is changing. We also want parliament to acknowledge that change is happening around the world. We want those who are still stuck in the old way of thinking to go out and engage with the people in their electorates to find out where they are now at. I welcome my colleagues who have chosen to participate in this debate today and I am encouraged by the fact that many more MPs would have spoken today if we had more time for speaking spots rather than the 10 we were able to allocate. I am also encouraged by the number of members of parliament, including ministers, who have indicated their support for marriage equality through the media. Some of them have raised the prospect of bringing forward their party conference to change policy. I am also encouraged by suggestions and support by various members for a friendship group that could progress these issues. This is all welcome. However, I would say that there is no need for such delay. If the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were willing to shift direction, we could change the law right now. It is especially disappointing that the Prime Minister and the government continue to hold on to 20th century thinking on matters of love when the community is so far ahead of them.

We know that the community has progressed. Recent polling shows that the majority of Australians support a move to full equality for marriage. When the Greens’ Marriage Equality Amendment Bill was considered by a Senate inquiry, over 25,000 submissions were received. We know that there are many small groups who are well organised and well resourced and that they will continue to speak out very loudly in favour of discrimination. But it is a mistake to think that, because they speak loudly, they speak for everyone. I would ask members concerned about those groups to have a look at today’s analysis of community attitudes appearing in the Fairfax press. What it suggests for those sitting in this House by virtue of a small margin is that the well-organised old-world lobby groups are not engaging the voters in your seats. Instead what you will find there, as Mark Davis writes, is that ‘perhaps the marginal seats are not as fussed by gay marriage as the politicians think’. That means the time is right to make this change.

There are now so many people wanting to marry but whose love the law says cannot be recognised, and there are their friends and family members. It is these people whom this debate is ultimately about—the many, many people who want to marry and cannot because their partner is of the same sex and the many, many people whose sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, grandmothers and grandfathers, friends and neighbours all know someone who wants to be married but cannot because of this archaic legal discrimination.

Today the online campaigning group GetUp! asked couples to submit their photos and their stories of why they want to be married. Tony Bannister wrote:

The attached photo is of my beautiful partner Paul Walters & I. We have been together as a couple for over 13 years. We are committed to each other, our families and our friends. We have busy, successful careers, have a number of properties which we co-jointly own and we live our lives, just like most other ‘married’ couples in harmony with each other in a caring and loving way.

What we don’t have is a recognition of our partnership in terms of legally or equality. Not only is this discriminating as to what this means to ours and others relationships but I strongly believe that this is at the root of discrimination in terms of educating our children that same sex partnership, marriage and unions are just as equal, loving and right as our parents and friends. Anyone we are connected to, from parents to friends to work colleagues, can see that what we have is no different from what they have yet agree that we should have the same rights and protections. Until this happens we are living in a world of ignorance and intolerance.

That is an important point. When one considers what the arguments against same-sex marriage are, it can only devolve to the basic proposition that there are two groups of people in Australia, one of which deserves more rights than others. When you have a young boy in a country town who is struggling with his sexuality, or a girl in a city school, for us in this parliament to be sending the message that there are two classes of people is completely unjustifiable and will not promote full equality in our community. The examples on the GetUp! website are just a few of the thousands of Australians who want to be married but are barred by the Howard government ban.

There have been times throughout history when the civil rights of the group of people have been violated, often with legal sanction. Many of those struggles continue. The struggle to end discrimination and for full equality for LGBTI people did not begin with marriage equality and it will not end when it is achieved, but it is an important turning point for that struggle. There is a famous aphorism ‘Love conquers all’. As I said in my opening remarks, love is a powerful force and it is a powerful force for good. It is the power of love that has brought us to this moment in the debate over marriage equality, and it is the power of love that will force this parliament and this country to face the reality of what marriage and love mean in the 21st century.

I know that some people have said that they do not need a motion to go and engage with their constituents and get their views. But what this motion does is ask members of this place to recognise that community attitudes have moved on. It is a call from those of us who believe in full equality to the rest of the members of this place to go and talk to the people in their communities and find out that their attitudes have changed. I commend this motion to the House. I know that this motion will not be the last step in the struggle for equality. This motion will not bind members to do certain things; this motion will not result in a change in the law. What it will do is take another important step in the struggle for what some senators and members on the government benches have acknowledged is inevitable law reform in this country. I comment this motion.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Is the motion seconded?

Mr Wilkie —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.