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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2039


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (19:59): I stand proudly to oppose the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 which would, if passed, provide for a divisive, unnecessary and harmful plebiscite. I say 'harmful' because we know the experience of the people of Ireland, who were in a totally different situation in terms of their constitution and their political and legislative frameworks. They needed to go through a plebiscite in order to deliver this reform. History will show you that, ultimately, the Irish people voted for the reform, and I have to say it was one of the most joyous times that I have had in my over decades-long contribution to this debate in Australia, watching the Irish people celebrate marriage equality in their country. But we do know the harm that was caused not only to LGBTIQ people in Ireland but also to the children of LGBTIQ people in Ireland. People are saying, 'Won't someone think of the children?' Well, we are thinking of the children in opposing this plebiscite, and we are thinking of the children in supporting a free vote on marriage equality. My party, the Australian Greens, are thinking of the children in our long-held and uniquely consistent support of marriage equality in this country. We are thinking of the children of LGBTIQ people, and we are thinking of LGBTIQ people.

What we know from the quite frankly horrendous statistics on suicide, is that LGBTIQ people are, as a cohort, very vulnerable people. Why would you want to subject vulnerable people to what you know is going to be a harmful and hate-filled debate? There are people who, as the Prime Minister does, say, 'I've got greater faith in the Australian people than those who make these comments,' and, 'I have confidence in the capacity of Australia to have a respectful debate'. Well, regrettably, I do not share that confidence because I have seen this debate firsthand, not as a gay or lesbian person but as someone who has participated in this debate for over a decade. I have seen the hate and I have seen the harm, and, tragically, that is exactly what we would be voting for if we were to pass this legislation this evening. Why would we subject people to almost certain harm just because a few of us, and I will come to the identity of that few in a minute, lack the courage to actually have a free vote in this place? Make no mistake, it is well within the capacity of this parliament to deliver marriage equality this year if it wants to, and the only person standing in the way is Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who still refuses to give his party a free vote on this issue.

I want to say something about discrimination, because members who have bothered to inform themselves and educate themselves will know that there is still discrimination that is being faced by LGBTIQ people in our community. I want to say very clearly to members of this parliament that we cannot hope to end discrimination in our schools, in our hospitals, in our other sporting clubs or anywhere else in our community while we still preside over discriminatory laws. The Marriage Act, as it is currently drafted, is discriminatory, so if we want to show some leadership here—if we want to be able to look our community, the people who we represent, in the face and say, 'Don't discriminate in your schools, in your sports clubs or in your hospitals'—first we have to make sure that we are not discriminating in the laws that we create in this place. Shamefully, we are still discriminating in the Commonwealth Marriage Act, and shamefully, it was the big political wedge that was thrown by former Prime Minister John Howard's former Attorney-General Philip Ruddock. Unfortunately, the Labor Party supported that amendment to clarify that the Marriage Act related only to marriages between a man and a woman. We have to end the discrimination in our laws. Until we do, there will continue to be discrimination in our community. That discrimination will not end overnight should we pass a bill on marriage equality—it will not. But those who would discriminate—whether it be casual discrimination or more entrenched, systemic discrimination—would be sent a very clear message by the leaders of this country sitting in this place voting for marriage equality and voting to end marriage discrimination in this country.

There are lots of arguments that are put against marriage equality by many people, and I have to say I reckon I have heard most of them. I heard a few of them in Senator Hanson's contribution, and I just want to respond to a couple quickly. Senator Hanson claims that many gay couples do not want to get married. That is true. But, do you know what? I do not want to get married either. I have never been married, and I never will get married. But, do you know what? If someone tried to take my right to get married away from me, I would defend it to the death, because I want the right to marry. I do not want to get married; I want to have the right to marry. I want to have the right to marry, and that is what LGBTIQ people deserve in this country. They want the right to marry. The fact that some of them do not want to get married is completely irrelevant to this debate.

The other point I would like to make is that what this legislation is proposing to do is outsource a fundamental human right in this country to a popular vote. It is all very well for coalition senators in particular to come into this place and say that if their states or their constituencies vote for marriage equality then they will vote for marriage equality. But it sets an awfully dangerous precedent for this parliament in a representative democracy, which is what Australia is, to outsource fundamental human rights to a popular vote. It is a very dangerous precedent.

I have no doubt that a yes vote would win. I have no doubt in my mind. That is because I have seen this debate firsthand for over a decade. I remember in 2005 when I tabled in the Tasmanian parliament the first explicit same-sex marriage legislation in any Australian parliament. I remember we could not get a single non-Green vote to even refer it off to a parliamentary committee—not a vote on the issue but just on the question of whether we should have a parliamentary and community conversation about the issue of marriage equality. We could not get a single non-Green vote. Yet, if we fast-forward seven years from that day, I co-sponsored legislation with a Labor Premier, Lara Giddings, that actually passed through the Tasmanian House of Assembly. It was the first chamber of any Australian parliament to pass marriage equality. When people say to me that Tasmania is an inherently conservative state, I say, 'Go and have a look at that debate.'

While I am at it, I want to paraphrase something that a Labor Party member said in that debate. It was Graeme Sturges MP, the member for Denison, a longstanding unionist of very high regard in Tasmania. I did not always agree with Mr Sturges, but he said something in that debate that has never left me. He said: 'I've been married for nearly 50 years. It's been absolutely fantastic and I can thoroughly recommend it for everyone.' That is what he said before he cast his vote in the Tasmanian parliament in favour of marriage equality.

How else do we know what Australians think about this plebiscite? Shelley Argent at PFLAG and Rodney Croome at Australians For Equality have done a lot of work to try to discover what the Australian people think about a plebiscite. We know what Australians think from a Galaxy poll from July this year. When respondents were asked whether or not they supported a plebiscite, less than half—not a majority—supported a plebiscite. A minority supported a plebiscite. But then when the poll followed that question up by revealing that in fact the proposed plebiscite would not be binding, that support dropped to 35 per cent in support of a plebiscite. Then when respondents were asked the subsequent question that revealed the cost to the Australian taxpayer of a plebiscite, support dropped to 25 per cent. One in four Australians support the plebiscite that this legislation seeks to enshrine. One in four only in this country support it, based on that poll.

A survey has also been conducted of nearly 5,500 LGBTIQ Australians. I am advised that it is the biggest survey of LGBTIQ people in Australia's history. Eighty-five per cent of the people surveyed oppose a plebiscite. Many high-profile community LGBTIQ leaders have said very clearly and very explicitly, 'We would prefer to wait to get marriage equality if it means we don't have to put up with a plebiscite.' They would be prepared to wait.

And they may have to wait, because this legislation is not going to pass when the vote is held either tonight or tomorrow. But they will not have to wait long, because the Senate rejecting this legislation puts the ball fairly and squarely back in the court of our Prime Minister, a man who we all know supports the reform and supports marriage equality but a man who, to date, has not found it within himself to offer his MPs a free vote on this issue.

What sort of Prime Minister does not have a plan B in these circumstances? You can say what you like about Malcolm Turnbull, but he is not silly. He is not. He is a very intelligent man. I have no doubt at all that he has a plan B up his sleeve. I hope that when this Senate knocks off this legislation, which it will, that we see Mr Turnbull fulfilling a part of his destiny as Prime Minister and revealing his plan B, which can only be to walk into his party room, open his arms, open his heart and tell his members they will be given a free, or conscience, vote on this issue. When he does that and when we see a cross-party sponsored piece of legislation, I have no doubt that the Commonwealth parliament will vote for marriage equality and we will end the discrimination that still exists in our laws.

So here we are today, about to knock off the plebiscite. For all we know, Mr Turnbull will not take the obvious step of revealing his plan B. If he does not reveal a plan B, we will be left in a situation where the majority of Australians support marriage equality, a majority of members of parliament support marriage equality, the Leader of the Opposition supports marriage equality, the Prime Minister supports marriage equality and numerous community leaders support marriage equality. Yet, we just have that one person, our Prime Minister, who will be standing in the way of this important, in fact, crucial reform. We have to end the discrimination in our laws if we are serious about ending it in our schools, in our hospitals, in our sporting clubs and in our community.

I was reflecting earlier about the journey that many of us have come on. I want to pay particular credit to someone who I would proudly describe as a friend of mine, and that is Rodney Croome AM. He is an awesome Tasmanian, a man who is dedicated, and who is in the gallery this evening. I am very pleased that he and his colleagues are in the gallery. Rodney is but one of a large number of people, including Shelley Argent from PFLAG and many others, who have worked on this reform. Rodney has been on this for well over a decade. He has paid personal sacrifices for his support of marriage equality and his opposition to the plebiscite. I want to acknowledge him today as a champion of the LGBTI community in this country and someone who has selflessly worked, for goodness knows how many hours, to deliver this reform of marriage equality.

I want to say through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Ketter, to Rodney and all of the other people who have worked so hard on this campaign: it is not long now. You can feel it. It is so important that we do it the right way. The right way is not a harmful, divisive and expensive non-binding plebiscite, because we know that is not what the Australian people want. We know that is not what the LGBTIQ community wants in this country. They want the reform and quite understandably they want it now. That is why when this legislation is defeated by the Senate, with every fibre of our being the Australian Greens, as the only party that have consistently—since the start of the marriage equality debate—supported marriage equality in his parliament and in this country, we will be seeking to work constructively and collaboratively with other members and other parties who support this reform. It is why we will do everything we can to put the acid where it needs to be put, and that, of course, is on Malcolm Turnbull, our Prime Minister. Rarely in a country's history do you get a situation where one person, by one action, can change the course of a crucial debate, but that is where the Prime Minister finds himself at the moment. This legislation will go down, and he has the capacity to deliver the reform this year if he wants to do it.

We stand ready in the Greens. I know there are members from the Labor Party and from the Liberal Party who stand ready to work cooperatively to make this reform happen, but it needs the Prime Minister to give a free vote to his members. So I urge the Prime Minister, in fact, I beg the Prime Minister, to give us a free vote. Give your party room a free vote, because you are the one, Prime Minister, who can make this reform happen by one simple action. With one scintilla of courage he can deliver a really crucial reform to this country without the harm and without the expense that a plebiscite will guarantee.

I am proud to stand here as someone who has worked nowhere near as hard as Rodney Croome and many other people on this issue but who has worked hard on marriage equality for well over a decade now. I stand here proudly in opposition to this legislation. I stand here proudly as a member of the Australian Greens saying, 'We stand ready to work with other members right across the political boundaries of this parliament to deliver the urgently needed reform of marriage equality.'