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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26492

Senator GREIG (1:11 PM) —There are two or three key points I want to make. The first picks up on that which Senator Cherry has raised and which I was going to speak to as well, and that is that there is a fundamental difference between guillotining a very long debate at its end to progress business and bringing in a guillotine on a bill which you have not yet debated.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McLucas)—Senator Campbell! Senator Cherry!

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator McLucas)—Senator Campbell, your interjections are being unhelpful.

Senator GREIG —Minister Vanstone made the point that we ought not to be talking to this motion but, rather, shutting up, sitting down and getting on with the business, if that is what we want to get to. But that ignores a really important point, which is that in that situation the amendments that will be moved to the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004—there are nine of them—will not be debated, because the speakers list is stacked with speeches on the second reading which will consume the 3½ hours dedicated to the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004 under the guillotine motion.

Where the parties stand on these amendments—not just how they vote on them but how they speak to them—is very important to me and my party and very important to lesbian and gay people following this debate. That will not be shown, and I believe that is a part of the hidden agenda here. Some of these amendments which we have drafted and others have put forward call on the parties to articulate where they really stand on this stuff.

I have been invited to speak on this issue at a rally in Sydney tomorrow. Initially, I was disinclined to go as I really want to get home and get on with the business of campaigning back in WA, as I think we all do, in our home electorates. When the gay marriage debate was first raised, I was intrigued by it because in my 16 years of being involved with the gay and lesbian community and advocating on their behalf I have never found any particular interest in, or desire for, marriage. It is very low on the list of the community's expectations and aspirations. I am not suggesting that some lesbian and gay people do not want it—they do. It is not a priority but—my God!—how offended they were when the government came along and kicked them in the head and said, `Too bad, you can't have it anyway.' How much more offended they were when Labor said, `Me too.'

There was some concession made to that by Labor when they said, `We have committed to this. We will be snuffing out civil marriage for lesbian and gay couples. But as a concession we will agree to have a committee inquiry into this bill so we can explore some of the broader areas.' Point 5 of the terms of reference of that committee stated:

the consequences of the Bill becoming law—

that is, if the bill is passed and agreed to—

... and those remaining avenues available to the Commonwealth for legally recognising inter-personal relationships including same-sex relationships ...

So there was an olive branch, if you like, handed out by the Labor Party, and called on and initiated by the Democrats, so that there could be an inquiry into some other forms of partnership recognition that the Commonwealth could extend in the event that civil marriage were denied. For reasons that still bewilder me, shadow Attorney-General Nicola Roxon, when standing before a huge antigay rally in this place last week, suddenly announced, apparently unilaterally, that that was now being withdrawn.

Senator Boswell —That was not an antigay rally; that was a pro marriage rally.

Senator GREIG —Senator Boswell interjects that it was not an antigay rally. I heard speakers say at that rally that homosexual people were shameful, vile moral terrorists and that their relationships were unnatural, harmful to children, inherently promiscuous and eternally unstable. Had those speakers said that about Jewish people they would have been condemned. Had they said that about Aborigines they would have been condemned. But you can say it in this place and suddenly it is acceptable because you have the cloak of religion. You say, `That's my religious viewpoint. It's not vilification. It's hatred but it's not vilification.' I heard speakers say that children being raised by same-sex couples suffer from shame and guilt. Imagine saying that about children being raised by people with disabilities. It is disgraceful that Senator Boswell so eagerly perched himself in the front row of that rally so that he could get on the television supporting traditional marriage.

The bill is not about supporting traditional marriage; it is about supporting traditional prejudice. That is why we need a comprehensive and sensible debate about it. That is why I am so keen to get on the public record the very real hatreds that lie behind these front groups which claim to speak on behalf of families. One of these groups—the key group which organised the rally last Wednesday, the Australian Family Association—is a front group for the National Civic Council. But, more importantly, that group's Western Australian branch was found guilty of vilification in Western Australia by the Advertising Standards Board when it distributed leaflets and displayed billboards around Perth saying that gay men were paedophiles.

One of the speakers at the rally last Wednesday was Digger James. I did not hear his speech. I have not seen a transcript of that speech. But I have seen a transcript of a speech he gave in Perth in December 2001 in which he argued that gay and lesbian people were mentally ill, molested children and spread disease. Imagine if anybody had been invited into this place to say that of Jews. You cannot underestimate the very real anger in the gay and lesbian community, not because gay marriage is being banned but because hate groups are being accepted and embraced by the government and the opposition and are being legitimised and endorsed, and because, for no explicable reason, the government and the opposition have now gone out of their way to kick these people in the guts—not the hate groups but lesbian and gay people.

All that the lesbian and gay community are asking for is that these issues be dealt with properly and sensitively. They want to give voice to their concerns, their fears and their aspirations. I will be going to the rally in Sydney tomorrow, part of which will be held outside the Labor offices in Surry Hills. I invite Senator Ludwig and Acting Deputy President McLucas to be there if they can make it, not to explain their position on gay marriage—I do not think many people in the lesbian and gay community really care—but to explain why they are now sucking up to these appalling evangelical Christians who claim to speak for families. They do not speak for mine. My parents are mortified by the hatred they hear coming from these groups. So are all parents of lesbian and gay children.

It is utterly ridiculous for the Labor Party and the government to now say that the marriage bill is urgent and must be guillotined and that there must be censorship of the debate on it when only a few months ago the position of the Labor Party was that it could wait until 7 October because there ought to be a full and thorough committee inquiry. There is no excuse for this haste. I know that antigay groups and fundamentalist Christian groups are running around in their state of moral panic saying that parliament must precede the court. I understand there are two court cases in Victoria where same-sex couples who have lawfully married in Canada are seeking recognition for their partnerships here in Australia. There is this myth, this rumour, this lie running around that, unless parliament acts now to extinguish that, if the courts should decide in the next few weeks or months that same-sex marriages are to be accepted, there is nothing the parliament can do. That is utterly untrue.

I believe that the courts are not going to find in favour of same-sex marriages. I think there is enough common law that suggests that that is highly unlikely. But I really want that human rights case to have its day. I really want those citizens to have their day in court. I would really like our parliament to sit back and say, `We'll look at the transcripts of the court proceedings and look at the rulings that the judges make but, whatever the outcome—whether it is positive or negative—parliament will still decide on that at the end of the day.' To rush ahead with this now is appalling.

I agree with Senator Vanstone when she says that the marriage bill before us is not vilification. I have never suggested that. I do not think any of my colleagues have. But scratch the surface and look at the hidden meanings. What are we saying to the broader community when we say that lesbian and gay relationships are lesser and second class and not the same? In the same breath, we sometimes hear—only from the Labor Party, not from the coalition—that there might be some alternative form of partnership recognition. But they have advanced none. They have suggested none. I understand their caucus has stomped on the prospect of civil unions and registered partnerships, despite labour parties in other countries having happily gone down that path. I note with supreme irony that the Conservative Party in Britain is calling for civil unions for same-sex couples, yet in Australia the best we can do is allow hate groups to spew out their hate speeches in our parliament, say that it is traditional values, excuse it as a religion and then rush through a bill to extinguish the opportunity for solemnisation of same-sex relationships in this country.

I will never stand in this place and argue for haste on that kind of human rights legislation. Ironically, I probably would have supported a guillotine on the free trade agreement, not because I wanted to rush that debate but because a lot of that debate was unnecessary and a lot of it was filibustering because the government and the opposition had not got their act together. Their time could have been far better managed. I cannot and will not support this guillotine but I call on Labor members in this place to address the rally in Sydney tomorrow and tell the gay and lesbian people not only why their rights are being extinguished but also why Labor believe it has to be done in such appalling haste.