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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7084

Senator KAKOSCHKE-MOORE (South Australia) (10:11): I rise to speak in support of the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Bill 2017. Imagine being a same-sex couple, whose ability to marry one another is being determined by a mass mail-out—by a survey. I say 'imagine' because for well over the majority of people in this place that is all we can do. We can't truly understand what it feels like to have our equal right to marry the person we want to spend the rest of our life with questioned and subjected to a process like this. Yet here we are having to vote on a piece of legislation that will try to afford some protection to those people whose very rights are being questioned, to try to implement a law to stop people from spewing venom over a question of love. How sad this debate, the state of our nation, has become. This bill is necessary because of the government's refusal to allow a free vote in the parliament to change the Marriage Act. It has arisen because, instead, the government is proceeding with its proposal to hold a national optional survey on whether the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry.

The legal challenge to this postal survey was dismissed by the High Court last week. While the Nick Xenophon Team respects the decision of the High Court, we do not believe that this survey is necessary. We oppose the proposal to hold a plebiscite on the issue, and while the cost of the survey comes in at slightly less than a plebiscite we maintain that this, too, is a waste of money.

In the August sitting period I identified an opportunity to amend the Marriage Act through the Civil Law and Justice Amendment Bill. This entire survey could have been averted, yet it seems there are some in this place who refuse to declare their hand so that the numbers can be counted and a marriage equality bill can be brought on. That opportunity has passed, just like those that came before it. The fact that marriage equality has not occurred under previous Labor governments or under the coalition government says more about the vagaries of navigating a minority government during the Gillard years and conducting the slim majority under the current Turnbull government than it does about the very issue Australians are now being asked to determine via the optional survey, the result of which is non-binding.

The bill before us should be a bill for marriage equality. Instead, we have before us a bill that aims to ensure that a postal survey has a suite of safeguards in place to allow the expression of free and informed views, while protecting people from being vilified for expressing those views. That the Marriage Law Survey (Additional Safeguards) Bill 2017 is even before us speaks volumes about the nature of the debate already, and the need for added protections.

I'm deeply disturbed by the examples of malicious material that seek to pass judgement on LGBTIQ families which have already been circulated in the community and are designed to mislead and misinform, creating fear, doubt and mistrust. I can only imagine the hurt, humiliation and despair that this material is causing the LGBTIQ community, their children and their families. Indeed, even members of the Australian parliament have contributed to the very low standard of the debate. When suggesting we stop being delicate little flowers and have a proper debate, one wonders if any consideration was given to the distressing mental health statistics for many LGBTIQ people.

The examples I have seen since the survey was announced only serve to drag the debate about marriage equality into the gutter and are less about free speech and more about hate speech. This bill requires authorisations on advertisements and a reasonable opportunity to have opposing views broadcast. It creates offences against bribery and threats, and it prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct in relation to the completion of survey forms. So-called safeguards against vilification, intimidation and threats to cause harm because of the views expressed or believed to be held in relation to the survey, religious conviction, sexual orientation or gender identity of a person or group are also included.

Will these measures be enough to truly safeguard some of the most vulnerable members of our community? The Nick Xenophon Team hopes so. We want there to be a balance between free speech and protecting vulnerable people from vilification, but the law is not the only answer. In fact, these laws will only apply up until the survey result is declared. Attorney-General George Brandis is also the gatekeeper for complaints before they make it to the court. Once the words leave the mouth of the offender, the harm is done. What we need is for Australians to not only respect each other but also respect that what we are voting on here is a matter of equality.

For Australians who are concerned and not sure about voting yes, I ask you to please take the time to be fully informed on the issue and try to understand it from the perspective of the LGBTIQ community. Antoun Issa, a political commentator and journalist, said:

To be gay is to accept an imposed identity, forever seen in the eyes of society as a "gay" man or woman, regardless of your attempts to minimise it or highlight other attributes of your personality. To be gay is to pursue a lonely road, beginning at that moment you discover as a child that you're an outcast and will never truly fit in. The battle is exhausting; the constant need to explain and defend your very being is exhausting. Marriage equality is not simply a matter of allowing same-sex couples to wed. It's to achieve full equality so the battle—the conversations, the debates, the questions, the taunts, the explanations—will finally end, and we can live in peace.

I have met children of LGBTIQ parents who have told me that they do not want to be weaponised in this debate. These articulate children spoke freely about wanting their parents to have the right to marry. They spoke with more clarity, compassion and insight than many adults in this debate.

Sixteen million survey forms will soon be mailed out. I beg you: please do not vote no to protest this survey because you disagree with it being held. Instead, for those children, their parents, their families and their friends and for the young people who are watching this survey with their fingers crossed, vote yes and vote for equality.