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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 1900

Mr BANDT (Melbourne) (13:23): We have reached a pivotal moment in our journey towards marriage equality. Parliament now has before it three bills that, if enacted, would remove discrimination from the Marriage Act, and across the country support for equal love is now deeply felt and widespread. There is a sense of inevitability about the change coming—that love will, eventually, prevail. In fact, the Prime Minister is reported to have acknowledged this inevitability at a recent dinner at the Lodge with same-sex couples. Yet the path to marriage equality is still blocked—blocked by a Prime Minister frightened of more division in her party; blocked by an opposition leader unwilling to let go of the past; and blocked by a lack of courage amongst many in this place who know what is right but as yet are unwilling to stand by their convictions.

As I have said, this is a pivotal moment but also a moment of great danger to those who seek to make marriage equal. There is a real danger that if we act too quickly and move too fast on progressing these bills, we will lose the best opportunity we have of bringing about lasting change. That is why the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill, cosponsored by the member for Denison and me, will be examined by the House and Senate inquiry before we move to a vote. That is why I have sought to work with other members in this place to put in place a single bill to end discrimination. I hope that the committee process can identify which elements of the three bills are the best and that we use the next few months to bring together a single bill. There are some differences between this bill and the Greens' Marriage Equality Amendment Bill—for example, the manner in which the bills deal with religious protections and the extent to which consequential change to related legislation can be made. These are small but significant differences that should be examined.

I say to the mover of this bill, the member for Throsby, and others in Labor, that there is nothing to be gained by pressing forward with this bill at this time and everything to lose. Labor forfeited the right to treat this issue as a government reform when it moved to a conscience vote, so this is a private member's bill. As we have seen time and time again in this place, the best chance we have of getting such a bill through this place is one that is co-sponsored across the parties. So I urge those in Labor who want to see marriage equality to slow down, take a deep breath and work with members across the parties to get this through. The reality is that we do not yet have the numbers in place to pass these bills—neither my bill, nor the member for Throsby's bill nor Senator Hanson-Young's bill. That is the fact of the matter. We do not have the numbers yet to pass these bills because the old parties are not yet willing to support full equality. Yes, Labor changed its platform; but it squibbed on real reform by allowing a conscience vote. At the moment, this has left the fate of marriage equality in the hands of the Leader of the Opposition, Tony Abbott, who has bound his cabinet against change and, as a result, has tied the hands of most of the Liberal members in this place. This is despite the Liberal Party's claim to support individual liberty and freedom.

So we are in a dangerous situation, potentially, where a step forward too fast will mean that the last several years of campaigning could come to nought. There is no doubt that many in the old parties would like the push for marriage equality to fail. We know that there are those who would like to push this bill to a failed vote and then, perhaps, to blame Tony Abbott. There are others who have stated publicly that they would rather that parliament discuss a proposal for civil unions that would entrench two tiers of citizenship in this country. Without taking anything away from those who have chosen to participate in the civil unions just legislated in Queensland, we know that civil unions are not full equality. So there are potentially other agendas here. There are many in the old parties who want to get marriage equality off the agenda and they want to move forward to a losing vote on these bills. I want to make it absolutely clear that the Australian Greens will not be part of any such agenda. Every last member of our team supports marriage equality. We have been fighting for full equality for years and we are not going to give up now. So I call on the member for Throsby and those on the government side who support marriage equality to hold off on a vote on this bill. Regardless of today's debate, we should not rush headlong to a vote that we will lose.

The process that I have just outlined is what those who wish to marry would want, and that is the clear message from equal marriage advocates. Let us take time to build more support. This reform will surely fail if any one party tries to own it. In order to get this reform through we have to be prepared to share the love. The march to freedom and equality has never been easy. It is a road that takes many twists and turns. It must forde many streams and climb many obstacles. I believe that freedom's march can never be denied, because it is powered by one of the most powerful and fundamental of human values—that is, the power of love. It is the love of others and love of those close to you. It is the love of humanity and the love of one's neighbours and friends. It is the love of one's children and the love of one's partner. This is the persistent motivation that has driven history's struggles for freedom and it continues to be today. Regardless of attempts to deny it, this love will not be denied.

In one of his most famous passages, from Corinthians, St Paul said:

Love is patient, love is kind.

It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.

Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

So I believe that, with love's perseverance, we will one day soon remove the barriers to equal love. But if marriage equality is to be achieved it will need love's patience as well. I want to thank the member for Throsby for his commitment to marriage equality and I say again: let us work together to get this done. On that basis and with those reservations I commend this bill to the House, I commend my and the member for Denison's bill to the House and I commend Senator Sarah Hansen-Young's bill for consideration. It is my fervent hope that, after the committees have inquired into these bills and reported on them, we will be able to move forward in a unified position joined, which is my greatest hope, by someone from the coalition benches who believes what they say when they say that an individual should have the right to do as they choose provided that it does not harm someone else.

Debate adjourned.

Sitting suspended from 13 : 31 to 16 : 00