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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26489

Senator VANSTONE (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) (1:02 PM) —I thank Senator Cherry. Rather unwisely, I was not expecting the good senator to finish before his allotted time. So I thank you, Senator Cherry; you were on your feet before me. There are just a few things I would like to say in this debate. I have been thinking for some time, since I am in my 20th year, about just what it is that deceives the demos and what diminishes democracy. I am absolutely certain of one thing that does not deceive them and that does not diminish democracy, and that is articulate and focused debate.

What can deceive the people, the demos, and what certainly does diminish democracy is the bandying about of wild allegations, allegedly to support your cause. There is a suggestion that a majority of the Senate—and it will only happen with the support of the majority of the Senate—deciding to order its debate and allocate what it believes is appropriate time for something is somehow a curtailment of free speech. Anybody in here is free to say as much as they like outside the parliament as well. There is no curtailment of free speech whatsoever. There is no sell-out of democracy when people properly elected in a democratic system come together in the chamber and decide how they would like to conduct their affairs. To somehow label that as a sell-out of democracy defies belief.

As I said, I am not going to take up much time, because it may be that the more time we spend on this process issue the less time there is to spend on the substantive arguments. Those who feel so strongly about these issues might like to consider that and spend more time on the substantive issues than on the process issues. It sometimes just has to be the case that, if you are in the minority, you lose. Sometimes the government loses because minority senators join with the opposition. We do not say, `Hold on, our free speech has been curtailed because minority senators have joined with the opposition.' Frankly, I do not hear the Labor Party behaving like wimps when they lose because minority senators join with the government. The only people who appear to be complaining when they lose, when they are not in the majority or with the majority, are the minority senators.

I want to make a couple of points, because it is quite important to look back at the history of the Australian Democrats, who now wish to complain about an effective guillotine being put in place. As I was here prior to 1996, I remember rolling guillotines regularly being endorsed by the Australian Democrats with the then government, the Australian Labor Party, regarding it as efficient management of Senate business. There were many of them. In 1991 the political broadcasting bill was guillotined—except by Senator Sowada, and, incidentally, you have been diminished since her loss—in 1990 there were 52 bills guillotined, in 1993 the Native Title Bill was guillotined, and in 1999 about 30 bills were guillotined—all with the support of the Australian Democrats.

When you look back at that history, you say to yourself: `Heavens above! I would have thought that the Australian Democrats' record indicates that they believe it is appropriate for the minor parties to sit down with the government or the opposition of the day and decide how Senate business should be run.' So, when anyone wants to look at a hypocritical approach, when anyone wants to look at whether it is one view today and another view tomorrow, we know exactly where to look. The Labor Party has had the same view on these things as we have for some time. So let us put that protestation to one side and put it against the Democrats' record. Let us drag it out next time we hear the Democrats saying, `We just want to keep them honest.' Here is a party which has supported rolling guillotines time after time, year after year, and now does not like it when it happens to them.

The second point I want to make is about the suggestion put by a number of speakers—and this can be dealt with in the substance of the debate, so I will not talk about it much—that somehow the amendments to the Marriage Act are vilification of the gays; that is what the major parties are seeking to do.

Senator Cherry —Which they are!

Senator VANSTONE —This can be debated in the substance of the bill. It happens to be the case at the moment that a marriage in Australia is between a man and a woman. That will be the case after the passage of these amendments. There is a lot of huff and puff going on down the other end, which is quite unreasonable. To suggest that to people who have been longstanding supporters of people in the gay community—in their friendships and in employment—on this side and that side of the chamber is in itself a vilification that I reject on my behalf and on behalf of many others. If these issues are so important—and I believe they are—let us get on with the Senate, properly elected people, deciding its process and then let us go to the substantive debate.