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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1891


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (10:56): I rise to support the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 and I will explain why. As I recall, we went to a federal election on 2 July, and the coalition, led by the Prime Minister, indicated that should the coalition win the 2016 election there would be a plebiscite to determine the issue associated with same-sex marriage. The people of Australia, knowing that that was the circumstance and knowing that that was the position of the coalition—

Senator McKim interjecting

Senator BACK: Acting Deputy President, before I go any further, can I just make the point that I listened with respect and quietly to the contributions of Senator Rice and Senator Wong, and I for one will not appreciate any interjection from the Greens and Senator McKim in my contribution. Senator Rice sought respect, and I gave Senator Rice respect. I seek that same level of respect from Senator McKim.

I have spoken many times in this chamber supporting marriage as being between a man and a woman. Today's debate does not centre on that particular issue, but those who are interested in my views can go back to Hansard, and they can read them. Never once in the years that I have spoken on this issue have I mentioned the topic of religion—never once—and I do not propose to do so today.

I am probably going to disappoint Senator Wong when she speaks of Senator Abetz and Senator Bernardi—and perhaps I will break confidentiality about the coalition party room—because it was not Senator Abetz or Senator Bernardi who suggested a plebiscite in the first place; it was me. It was my contention that if we could not resolve this issue then we should go to the people of Australia, and that was the overwhelming view.

So it is terribly disappointing for Senator Wong on the one hand to criticise the Prime Minister and yet on the other hand deny herself and her colleagues the right of a free vote on this issue. The Prime Minister has simply honoured the commitment given in the coalition party room, and that was that we would go to the people of Australia on the topic of the intense interest that exists around this question of same-sex marriage.

We have heard from others—today, we have heard twice—about the overwhelming view, apparently, of the Australian people on this particular topic and their support for it. If that is the case then surely those who are so strongly of that view would be keen to see it tested in a plebiscite of the Australian people. Why do I say that Senator Wong has been duplicitous in her criticism of the coalition on the question of a free vote? It is simply because the Labor Party under the leadership of Mr Shorten have been committed to one particular situation, and that is to oppose the plebiscite. For anybody who says, 'Oh, no, the Labor Party have a free vote,' all they need do is go back and speak to my Western Australian colleague, the now recently ex-senator Joe Bullock. As we know, Joe Bullock made the statement that he could not support the position of the Labor Party, and so he resigned as a senator representing the state of Western Australia.

It is the case that the Greens political party have been consistent. Nevertheless, I would not determine it to be a free vote when the circumstances are that their leader has already said how they will vote. Indeed, in this 45th Parliament, Senator Xenophon has made the statement that those of the Xenophon team will vote a certain way. The last time I was involved in discussion and debate et cetera, I was of the view that people could come into a debate openly, wanting to consider the views of others, and vote accordingly. But that is not the circumstance in this parliament—either the House of Representatives or the Senate—because we already know that the Labor Party, the Greens party and the Xenophon party will commit their people to vote in a certain way.

I am disappointed. I listened very carefully and I certainly respect Senator Wong and Senator Rice for their advice in relation to how people are likely to behave. I have a lot more faith in the Australian people than our colleagues who spoke before me. As I reflect on these comments associated with intolerance and hate speech, I go to three instances which show the reverse. The first was the trashing of Senator Bernardi's office in Adelaide by those opposed to his view. The second was the incident at the Mercure Sydney International Airport Hotel recently when activists became aware that there was a Christian group planning to meet to discuss these issues. As we know, there were threats of violence, there were feral social media posts, there were questions of staff of the Mercure hotel such as, 'Are your children safe at Mercure?' and there were calls showing disdain. If there has been evidence of intolerance and hate speech, it has not come from those who would support marriage as it is currently defined. In Tasmania, when the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart apparently had the audacity to put to the Catholic community of Tasmania a position in relation to preserving marriage as that between a man and a woman, the man was dragged before the antidiscrimination commission in Tasmania, until such time as common sense prevailed and, after a long period of time, the charge was dropped.

I certainly hope that Australians would treat this issue seriously and courteously. Senator Wong is correct when she said that we passed antidiscrimination legislation in this parliament years ago. I am not aware of there having been an outburst of hate speech as a result of that legislation making it illegal to discriminate against same-sex couples in a whole range of areas, in the same way it made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race.

The comment has been made that those supporting marriage as being between a man and a woman will somehow have the financial advantage over others. I would say that the publicly funded broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, has taken one position—that of supporting same-sex marriage—unilaterally for the last period of time. Therefore, I would question whether or not that allegation or that charge is valid.

It is a question of cost. I accept that. But let me remind those in this chamber and inform those in the public gallery that, as a result of the debt incurred during the six years of the Labor government, taxpayers are paying $1.2 billion every month not to repay the debt but just to pay the interest on the debt—$40 million a day, seven days a week. You, Mr Acting Deputy President, and I, and others in this chamber who pay tax, are forking out 40 million bucks a day just to pay the interest. And interest rates at the moment are one and a half percent; imagine if they went to four. So, yes, it is a cost. It is four days interest on the national debt to give the people of Australia the opportunity to have their say on 11 February—four days interest on our debt. I do not reckon that is a bad debt for a population of people who went to the election on 2 July knowing that, should we win government, the Prime Minister would move towards a plebiscite. Where has it changed in this parliament that democracy gets thrown out because one group does not want to accede to the decision of the Australian people? That is what we went to the election on.

Although I support marriage as it is currently constructed—as being between a man and a woman—if in the plebiscite, if it is held on 11 February next year, the people of Western Australia vote to support same-sex marriage I will vote to support, in a subsequent debate on legislation, same-sex marriage, because I represent the people of Western Australia. I challenge everyone else in this parliament—all of those in the reps and all of us in the Senate—to do the same thing. I have heard there are people from our side saying, 'I don't care what the outcome of the plebiscite is, I will go my own way.' I am putting on the record again that if the people of WA, who I represent, support same-sex marriage I will support it. But if I do so, everyone else—every one of the 225 of us—should commit. That is why we are here—those in the House of Representatives by an electorate and those of us in the Senate by the state from which we come. If the people from that state in my case—or, in the House of Representatives, if the people of an electorate—vote 50 percent plus one, then that will be my position.

I do say this: 11 February is three months away. I would urge all of you who want to see this matter resolved more quickly to support the plebiscite to have confidence in the Australian people as to the common sense, integrity and decency of the Australian people. We should support the plebiscite. It is what the electors of Australia did when they voted the coalition into government. If indeed it is so overwhelming that same-sex marriage is the mood and the will of the Australian people, it will be determined on 11 February. If it is not, then I challenge everyone in this parliament to vote according to their constituency.