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Thursday, 12 August 2004
Page: 26544

Senator BROWN (4:06 PM) —Along with my colleague Senator Nettle I oppose this marriage discrimination bill, the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004. One of the things that is not talked about in this parliament very much is love. But love is the highest human value and it is in the heart of everybody. It is everybody's right to express it. Any sensible liberal society, besides practising acceptance, will promote love. This legislation is about hate. In any liberal society it is important that we try to minimise this negative human expression—this antithesis to love—corral it where we can and in any way possible remove it. Today the government of this country and the alternative government, the Labor Party, are promoting hate, the most negative of human values, over love, the most positive and wonderful of human values.

It comes from the Prime Minister, although it has been endorsed by the Leader of the Opposition, that there should be some special prerogative for people who love each other. If they want to have that love recognised by society then they must be of the opposite sex; if they are not of the opposite sex then the hate of difference that is in society should be expressed in legislation. In a plural society we might not wonder that such an extraordinary thing might express itself, even through representatives in a many-numbered place like this. But when it is not just the majority of but the leaders of both the big parties who are putting hate in front of love in the expression of legislation then one does indeed worry for one's country, not just for the parliamentary system.

The Prime Minister, in his extraordinary way, has said:

I don't seek in any way to discriminate against them.

He was meaning, and he says in a following sentence, homosexual people. It is a classic prodromal statement to the following discrimination: `I have friends, but,' or, `I don't want to hurt them, but,' or, `You have to be cruel to be kind, so.' To the Prime Minister's words `I don't seek in any way to discriminate against them' add `but I am going to anyway.' From the debate triggered by George W. Bush, the extreme right-wing fundamentalist currently empowered in the United States, John Howard has said, `I will follow suit and discriminate against Australians.' This is the man who said he would be Prime Minister for all of us. But he has in the past held off. When Pauline Hanson came into this place and introduced racism into the debate of this great parliament, the Prime Minister said nothing for five months. We know the story; I will not repeat it. It is about small-mindedness, narrow-mindedness and vilification—by innuendo or even failure to speak up—of boat people, Indigenous people and people who may have different points of view.

Today the Prime Minister takes that a step further. He says:

I support marriage because I believe it provides stability in relationships, because it is a public expression of commitment ...

No, he does not. He only supports that if you size up to his assessment of what is okay. If you do not, he does not support marriage providing stability and being a public expression of commitment. If you happen to be a same-sex couple, he not only does not support it but is also going to legislate so you cannot have it. He wants you to be unstable, he wants you not to be committed and he does not want you to go public with it. It is all the old repression: set them aside, make them in some way different. Will we next have a Prime Minister saying, `Put a patch, a triangle, on their coat'? That is where the politics of hate can take you. The words of the Prime Minister are very subtle. He says:

... I think the overwhelming majority of the Australian people support this change.

I think the overwhelming majority of Australian people have always taken for granted what we propose and would share the view that it should be put beyond argument so far as the law of this country is concerned. `They', he said, speaking for this fictional overwhelming majority, `don't see it as discriminatory.' That is the next problem when you have a leader who is narrow-minded, who is divisive, who hates people of a certain category, but who says, `Most of the rest of the people do, so I can justify that.'

Senator Coonan —Mr Acting Deputy President Chapman, I rise on a point of order. I know that the constraints of time are putting people under great pressure this afternoon, but I would ask Senator Brown to withdraw the imputation that the Prime Minister hates certain people.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Chapman)—I would deem that as an unparliamentary expression, Senator Brown, and I ask you to withdraw.

Senator BROWN —No, I will not, because that is the truth. That is what is being expressed here today. This is hate legislation.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, I ask you to comply with the ruling of the chair.

Senator BROWN —I will not, because I am stating the situation as I see it. I have been cogently developing this argument. This is not a Prime Minister who loves everybody regardless—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, I have asked you to withdraw.

Senator BROWN —Yes, you have.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Are you going to withdraw?

Senator BROWN —No, I will not withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —In that case, Senator Brown, I have no option but to name you and would ask you, in that context, to either apologise or give an explanation for your refusal to withdraw.

Senator BROWN —I will take the second course. I have been explaining that you cannot be on one or the other side of a divide with discriminatory legislation like this. The people who are on the receiving end of this discriminatory legislation will find it hateful. It impacts on them. It is not a loving message coming from the Prime Minister; it is the opposite. I have said that this is legislation of hate. I have said that this is a message of hate coming from the Prime Minister. It came from George W. Bush initially. It is not going to be changed by me saying, `Well, I shouldn't make that statement.' The Prime Minister brought the legislation in. I did not. The Prime Minister is discriminating. I am not. Discrimination is hate in this circumstance and it is not unparliamentary for me to say so. It is quite proper for other people to argue that that is not the case. The Prime Minister can do that for himself. He has argued that this is not discriminatory. I say it is. When you discriminate against people, they feel they are being hated. If the Prime Minister feels that that is not the case then let him argue it. But that was what happened in the past with discriminatory laws against people of other races. They were based on hate and fear. This legislation has those same components but it is aimed in a different direction.

The Prime Minister could well have left this legislation off the agenda. He brought it forward to put it in the face of the Australian people on the eve of an election. Sadly, the opposition have felt that the Australian people would not be mature enough to see it for what it is and dismiss it. That is their decision, but the motivator here is the Prime Minister. I am not going to do other than call a spade a spade and say it as I see it. The Prime Minister can speak for himself; I can do likewise.

Senator Coonan —I think it is a matter of great regret, given the time, the hour and the day on which the Senate is sitting, that we have to have this kind of debate. It is clearly not appropriate to be reflecting on another member, particularly the Prime Minister in the sense of saying that the Prime Minister hates. Senator Brown has given an explanation as to why he has not withdrawn.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Minister, you have to simply move the motion or determine that you are not going to move the motion. You cannot speak to the motion.

Senator Coonan —I cannot speak to the motion? At least, I have to move it first, obviously. In those circumstances, I do not propose to move a motion that Senator Brown be removed.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, I invite you to continue your speech on the second reading.

Senator BROWN —Thank you. In that wise move by Senator Coonan, she said that we ought not reflect on other people in this parliament. If only the Prime Minister would set the example. What a reflection on same-sex couples this awful, nasty legislation is. What a reflection it is that they should be shut out, that they should be discriminated against—that the law should be not for people who love each other but for people who are heterosexual, and not for couples who are of the same sex.

There was an SBS Newspoll on this matter quite recently. Rather than this overwhelming majority the Prime Minister talks about, it showed that, with a majority of 44 to 38, people were opposed to same-sex marriages in Australia—but that was with the leader of the country advocating that point of view. I have been around long enough to see the enlightening of times. These are the sorts of figures we used to see with regard to same-sex people not even being allowed to live together only 20 years ago. Now it is 90 per cent to 10 per cent or 80 per cent to 20 per cent. It will be the same with same-sex marriages a little further down the line. If we had leadership of quality in this country—if we had a Prime Minister and a Leader of the Opposition in this country who were prepared to lead on important community values—those figures would turn around and we would see people feeling comfortable with instead of fearful of difference and variety.

Finally, because I know there will be debate in committee and since we have been guillotined by the big parties, I ask: how can they do this to the young people of Australia who are just finding their sexuality—these numberless young people, quietly finding their own sexuality and feeling that they may be left out? This is a message from both the parties to thousands of wonderful young people who happen to be homosexual—gay or lesbian—that they are different and that they are substandard.

What a message from the Prime Minister of the day to those lovely young Australians! How dare he. How dare the Leader of the Opposition follow suit. How dare members say that to young people in that position when we should be saying: `Be proud of yourselves. Celebrate yourselves.' This society celebrates difference. Shouldn't that be the message from this parliament? Isn't this the great Australia that celebrates difference—nature's own difference? Of course it is and of course that day will come. But here again on black Friday it is not to be. The big parties have fallen under the thrall of negativity.

The legislation will get through and will do untold harm to many people who will suffer the waves of discrimination coming from Capital Hill, wherever they are in Australia. More enlightened times will come, though, and this will be turned around.