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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7083


Senator McALLISTER (New South WalesDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (10:06): I rise today principally to express solidarity with the gay and lesbian people in my own state and also around the country who are subjected to this process, which Labor has argued against consistently because of its divisive nature and its wasteful characteristics. I'm going to keep my remarks brief in the interest of expediting the debate, but people in this place will know that the Senate has referred the conduct of the postal survey to the committee that I chair for examination. In the course of our committee hearings, much of the material that's been circulating has been drawn to my attention. In drawing it to my attention, people speak to me of their hurt and distress at being exposed to material which incites violence, is untruthful, is deeply personal and generally seeks to demean gay and lesbian people, their families and the people who love them.

In our discussions with the agencies that are running this postal survey, in particular the AEC, we have talked to them about the kind of legislation that might be put in place that would protect against public comment of this kind, and they've been very clear with us about the limits of regulatory activity during elections and processes that are a little bit like elections, whatever they're actually called. There are real limitations in the regulatory response. When material is circulated anonymously, it's very difficult to prosecute people or hold them to account for circulating it anonymously. I understand that the bill before us would prohibit that, but I make the observation that some of the actors in this process to date have indicated their willingness already to flout the law with the kind of material that they have circulated. There have been reports that some of the actors circulating the most hateful material have been associated with neo-fascist groups in this country. I raise these issues because I think that we all ought to be clear that, whilst this is an important step forward, we have been advised by the AEC that there are real limits in what you can legislate for in a process of this kind.

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody on the other side of the chamber. In contemplating first the plebiscite and then the postal survey the government was repeatedly warned by a range of experts that if they went down this path it would unleash a range of hateful speech that would be extremely damaging to gay and lesbian people and particularly to the children in gay and lesbian families. The government was warned and they proceeded anyway. The blame for the campaign materials that have already been distributed lies squarely at the feet of those who proceeded in the face of such a warning.

I want to conclude by acknowledging my friends in this place and in the other place, gay and lesbian parliamentarians, who have shown enormous courage in recent years as their own choices have been placed under enormous scrutiny. They've shown great courage in this place in speaking about their own stories and presenting their own stories to the parliament in their efforts to speak on behalf of so many others who have less of a voice than we have here. I also want to acknowledge gay and lesbian friends, gay and lesbian people in my community, who go about their everyday lives with a quiet dignity. I want to say to these people that we will stand by you through this process. We will seek to win. But we will play our part also in setting the tone of the debate so that it is respectful and I would call on everybody in this place to do the same.