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Tuesday, 11 September 2018
Page: 6064

Senator DEAN SMITH (Western AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (16:53): I am a man of mixed emotions this afternoon because I think we can do better. There is no doubt that, as the weeks and the months proceed to Christmas and the first half of next year when we will be confronted with a general election, all of the optimism and all that was great in the Australian Senate and, indeed, the House of Representatives that we all witnessed and some of us participated in, Senator Rice, at the end of last year could be lost.

I've only been in the Australian Senate for six years. Others have been here for a much longer period of time, and others in our parliament for shorter periods of time. But I think that the universal view, even for those who disagreed with marriage equality and the success of the private senator's bill that we shaped, was that it was a moment where our parliamentary democracy worked well. Indeed, it's probably one of the very few moments when our parliamentary democracy received so much attention.

We witnessed a Senate committee process that worked well. Senator Fawcett chaired that, and he has reflected on that. We saw a parliamentary debate that was robust and, at times, a bit unpleasant for someone like myself. We saw an unamended bill leave this place and go to the House of Representatives, and we saw many, many members of the House of Representatives do a number of things. Some of them reflected the views of their electorates—many of them reflected the views of their electorates and the outcome of the postal survey, and they voted yes. Some of them—men, as they were—also demonstrated great courage and said, 'On this issue, my conscience says I cannot support it, and I'm going to vote against it.' And then some people abstained. Whether or not people should or shouldn't have abstained after having supported a postal survey is still a very open question, and one that I am not completely reconciled to.

Senator Polley interjecting

Senator DEAN SMITH: Indeed, Senator Polley, some people in this Senate chamber exercised their conscience on various amendments. But we saw a triumph of parliament over politics and we saw a triumph of community over cynicism, and I think it was a moment that we could all be very proud of.

By coincidence, today, 11 September, marks the day that the postal survey form itself—the ballot—was first revealed.

An honourable senator interjecting

Senator DEAN SMITH: Thank you, Senator Hume, for being in the chamber, and Senator Reynolds. For those of us who genuinely care about LGBTIQ Australians, who care about our brothers and sisters and who care about the confusion that our parents and grandparents must endure, I think their ask of us would be to avoid the politics on this—to avoid the politics! I don't doubt for one moment everyone's right to bring motions to this Senate, but let me be very clear—

Senator Rice interjecting

Senator DEAN SMITH: Senator Rice, let me be very clear: the government's position was enunciated by Senator Fifield a few moments ago in the Senate chamber. You heard it as well as I did.

Senator McKim: We heard what the Prime Minister said!

Senator DEAN SMITH: You heard it as well as I did. I argue that the best way to protect the growing pains, the challenges, of LGBTIQ Australians—and I was one of them; I was a young person and am now a middle-aged LGBTIQ Australian—is to deal responsibly with these sorts of issues and to avoid the temptation to play politics. This is because there is a consensus on the issue of conversion therapy in our country. Greg Hunt has made his position very clear as the Commonwealth Minister for Health. And the alternative minister for health, Catherine King, has made her position clear.

Senator Rice: The Prime Minister needs to speak out on it! Talk to your Prime Minister!

Senator DEAN SMITH: Let's be very clear about this. Let's be very clear about what the Prime Minister has and has not said, because it's not right to argue or even to present the idea that because people are people of faith—and even of strong faith—it automatically means that they are against LGBTIQ Australians. It's just not true.

Senator Rice: That's not what I said!

Senator DEAN SMITH: We know that, Senator Rice, because the yes people—the yes campaign, the marriage equality people—talked about, identified and highlighted the fact that Christian Australians, and I count myself as a Christian Australian, can be very sympathetic and do have a willingness and an interest in making sure that the personal journey of young LGBTIQ people in our country is as painless as it can possibly be. It will never be painless: we know that.

Surely, what we should be doing as parliamentarians is talking about and concentrating on those things that unite us and that give us a common sense of purpose so that Senator Rice, Senator Pratt, Senator Smith and Senator Wong can walk out of this place as a united voice for the concerns of LGBTIQ Australians. I want our national leaders to be the best that they can be in understanding the importance of these issues. I absolutely do. As a modest coalition backbench senator, I will continue to be a strong, sensible voice for these issues when they are raised in the government. Our country has come a long way and if we are to learn anything from the events of last year surely it is that we can rise above the temptation.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator DEAN SMITH: Well, the conduct of my party is probably my responsibility, first and foremost. I like to think that I, with Senator Hume and others, have made my party the best it can possibly be. That doesn't mean it doesn't disappoint me and other Liberals in the community, but many of us are doing the best we can possibly do, sometimes in very challenging circumstances.

I think it's worth sharing with the Senate what it was that Mr Morrison, the Prime Minister now, the Treasurer then, said in the House of Representatives when the House was debating the marriage bill. I think this is very instructive. I'll let Mr Morrison's words speak for themselves, and people are free to find this quote for themselves. On Monday, 4 December of last year, Mr Morrison made his contribution to the Marriage Amendment Definition of Religious Freedoms Bill of 2017:

As Christians we do not lay claim to perfection or moral precedence; in fact it is the opposite: conscious of our own frailties and vanities, of our human condition, Christians should be more conscious of the same in those around us. That is why faith encourages social responsibility, the bedrock of faith in action.

What was important about the marriage debate last year was that we were part of a very significant and important social reform. I have argued privately in the last few days that if the postal survey were to be held again perhaps we should have two. We should have a postal survey 12 months after the passage of the bill and ask people who voted no if they have changed their minds. I think we know the answer to that. We got a very good outcome in the postal survey. If the postal survey were to be conducted again, we would get a better outcome. I'm opposed to the postal survey as a matter of principle—everyone knows that—but you know what I'm trying to say.

What's important here is that we have to accept the fact that even in our own parties—even in our own parties, Senator Dodson—there would be people with different points of view. I would rather someone be honest about their hesitation, honest about their concerns, if they have them, than hide them or pretend to be the person they're not. And we lost the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, because, to my mind, he pretended to be the person he was not.

These are important issues and the record is very clear. We have just seen in this Senate chamber a very clear enunciation of what the government's position is. It's worth reading it into the Senate Hansard. Senator Fifield made this contribution only a few moments ago:

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 provides protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status in areas of public life. Conversion therapies aim to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity, and there is no scientific or medical evidence to support their use.

That is the government's position. Senator Fifield continued:

This issue is one for states and territories—

That is a constitutional reality—

to monitor and take appropriate action.

And I am someone who agrees they should take appropriate action. He continues:

For example, the Victorian Health Complaints Commissioner can investigate unregistered doctors and health service providers making unethical representations—including conversion therapists. Queensland and Western Australia are also considering whether law reform is needed to outlaw this therapy.

I argue that very few people in this country believe that conversion therapy is right, good or necessary.