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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 1893

Senator LINES (Western AustraliaDeputy President and Chair of Committees) (11:09): I too rise to speak on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. It is an honour for me to stand in the Australian parliament today and once again publicly reaffirm my absolute commitment to marriage equality. I do that proudly, and I do that as a Western Australian senator. In reaffirming my support for marriage equality, I further state: it is the role of the Australian parliament to deal with this issue; it is our role as elected representatives. However, sadly, distressingly and against the will of many parliamentarians from all sides of politics, we as a parliament have steadfastly refused to make marriage equality a reality. In the last parliament, there was a very public six-hour debate held behind closed doors by the government to work out their position. Unfortunately, the extreme right wing of the Liberal and National parties held the day and the ridiculous, unnecessarily expensive and divisive plebiscite won the day. Initially, it won the day because the former Prime Minister Mr Abbott wanted to delay a vote in this parliament. Mr Abbott has made his views on opposing marriage equality very clear. Now the current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, is holding the line on a plebiscite simply to hold onto his own job.

I listened carefully to the arguments put by Senator Back. I have heard the government talk about a plebiscite and how respectful it will be. I can tell members of this place—and I am sure that, as a Labor senator, I am not alone in this—I have received many deeply offensive emails from people who are opposed to a change in the Marriage Act. So offensive are these emails that on my automatic reply I state that I am for marriage equality, and I further state that I will only respond to respectful emails. Unfortunately, many of these emails are deleted. If the government are trying to convince the Australian public that we can have a respectful debate, they either do not receive the emails that I receive or are completely denying the facts. I am more than happy to share these emails with the government. I am sure that many other Labor senators and, indeed, the Greens would get the same kinds of extremely hurtful emails that I get from people opposed to marriage equality. I know that if we were to proceed with this plebiscite we would give a strong voice to those people, because, at the end of the day, a plebiscite is an opinion poll where people give their opinion as to whether they are for or opposed to marriage equality. It is of course their right to have a view, but that divisive element, that hurtful element, that extremely offensive element in the emails that I get on this issue will be well and truly part of the discourse in the public arena. We know that that is extremely hurtful to the LGBTI community and their children, which is another reason why we do not want to go down the path of this divisive plebiscite. Senator Back would know, as I and other Western Australian senators know, that people in Western Australia largely support marriage equality. So Senator Back does not need the views of Western Australians expressed through an opinion poll, such as a very expensive plebiscite, to support marriage equality in this place. Labor has made its view on the plebiscite very clear. We are opposed to a plebiscite. We support a free vote in this parliament on the issue of marriage equality. We know from poll after poll that the majority of Australians support marriage equality. Young people, particularly our next leaders, the next generation, overwhelmingly support marriage equality.

Young people I speak to—whether it is young people in my own family or young people who are friends of people—just cannot understand why we in this place remain unable to move on the issue of marriage equality. The polls tell us that something like 97 per cent of young people support marriage equality. When I speak to my granddaughter, who is 12, her view is: 'Love is love. If people want to marry, why are we standing in their way?' Some people might be surprised that a 12-year-old has an opinion, but that is her opinion and she cannot see why we as a parliament continue to not be able to deal with this issue.

So it is inevitable, with young people coming up and becoming leaders, that we will get to marriage equality in this country. But I do hope that we are not still standing here in another 10 years denying people who love one another the opportunity to marry. I stand here as a person who can make that choice. I can make a choice about whether or not I marry the person I love. I want all of my friends to be able to have the choice that I have to make the same decision and to do so with the support of the Australian community. Certainly, as I have said, when I talk about marriage equality with the people I have contact with, they just cannot understand why we cannot get it done.

When we look around the world now, conservative countries have marriage equality. Australia was once seen as a progressive country. We embraced an eight-hour day and we gave women the vote. We have done a whole range of things in our history to make us proud that we are a progressive country. But on the issue of marriage equality we are no longer seen as a progressive country. Indeed, we are trailing behind many conservative countries who have been able to embrace the concept of marriage equality. Many of us in here were proud when Ireland—a deeply religious country—moved to establish marriage equality. Australia does not have those strong religious traditions. Of course, there are people of the Christian faith in this country, but it is not as strong as it is in Ireland. Yet in Ireland they were able to embrace marriage equality.

What is really sad about this whole issue is that Australians support marriage equality. Young people overwhelmingly support marriage equality. Yet, as a country, we have not been able to deal with this issue in the parliament. Right now, Australia as a country is being held hostage by a handful of right wing conservative politicians in this parliament. Sadly, that is the truth of the matter. That is what it boils down to. A minority group—a rump, if you like—are holding to ransom not only their own party, whether it is the Liberal component or the National Party component of the government, but also the country. They are holding Australia back. Their continued refusal to move on this issue is very hurtful to LGBTI families, because it is saying to those families, to those couples and to those individuals: 'There is something not quite right about what you want.' Those who choose marriage equality simply want to have the rights that every other Australian has.

A plebiscite is absolutely unnecessary. We as a parliament have dealt with issues of greater complexity and issues far more contentious than the issue of enabling those who love one another to choose a married life. Labor knows that a plebiscite will be hurtful to the LGBTI community. As I said at the outset, as a Labor senator, I have received some very disturbing and unnecessary emails from constituents stating all sorts of things. I do not wish to go into the details of these emails in this parliament because I do not think they deserve to be aired publicly, but I can assure you that those emails are there.

We have also heard from our leading mental health specialists, respected professionals such as Professor Patrick McGorry. He has said publicly that a plebiscite will be harmful to the LGBTI community. Why are we not listening to those views? Why are we not listening to the views of respected mental health professionals? Why are we continuing to be held captive by a very small right-wing rump of the current government? Why are we not listening to the views of the two-thirds of Australians who support marriage equality? Why are we not now moving, as a parliament, on marriage equality? Let's have the debate. Let's give everybody a free vote. That is what Australians want to see.

This overwhelming support for marriage equality is higher in Australia than in many countries that currently have marriage equality. I think most Australians, even some people who oppose changing the Marriage Act, want the debate to be had in this place. As Senator Back alluded to, we have seen members of the government who have stated that, regardless of the views of Australians, even if we did have this unnecessary, expensive, divisive plebiscite, many in the government will still vote against marriage equality. Despite what we hear from the Prime Minister about a plebiscite and respecting the views of Australians, many in his own party and in the National Party will not support marriage equality, even after an expensive and unnecessary plebiscite. Surely, these public views by members of the government make a mockery of this facade of a plebiscite.

Ultimately, it is the job of the parliament, the job of politicians, as representatives of their electorates and states, to make this decision. Extraordinarily, at a time when, in the name of balancing the budget, the government is prepared to attack families, pensioners, the unemployed and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by slashing programs and taking money out of programs, at a time when the government is taking funds out of our health and education systems, at a time when women in this country have been referred to as 'double dippers' on parental leave, the government wants to go ahead and throw money at a plebiscite. It is inconceivable to me that the government could go after vulnerable groups in our community in the name of balancing the budget and yet, at the same time, be quite prepared to throw at least $160 million away—some people say it would be more than that—on an unnecessary, non-binding, hurtful, divisive opinion poll, because that, at the end of the day, is what the plebiscite is. It is nothing more than a government-run opinion poll.

To me, it is immoral that the Prime Minister would waste millions of dollars just to save his own skin. He continues to be a captive of what we assume to be a rump of minority right-wing backbenchers—and I do respect their point of view that disagrees. I do not understand it, but I certainly respect their point of view. But I certainly do not support the wasting of at least $160 million of government money, particularly when we are told daily by the government that money is tight and we have to balance the budget. I certainly do not support the expenditure of such moneys in this way, and I certainly am very concerned about the impact of such a vote on the LGBTI community. The real truth behind the government's dogged plebiscite agenda is that it is really about the Prime Minister saving his own skin.

We already know the answer. We know that two-thirds of Australians support marriage equality. We know that the government's own research company, Crosby Textor, has found 72 per cent of the public already support marriage equality. We know that where referendums have been held in other countries it has been a hurtful experience. In the US, where there have been state referendums on marriage equality, there has been a 37 per cent increase in mood disorders in the LGBTI community; a 42 per cent increase in alcohol use disorders; and a massive increase in generalised anxiety disorders.

Personally, I am really uncomfortable with ticking a ballot that says, 'Do I give my permission for someone else to marry?' because marriage is a deeply personal commitment. It is a decision that couples take—those who love one another and who want to choose marriage. Who am I to stand in the way of that personal decision? Who am I? I do not believe I have the right to make that decision. I certainly believe, as a senator and as a member of the Labor Party, that it is absolutely my job to enable that choice to be made. It is not my job as an Australian citizen to tick 'yes' or 'no' on a public opinion about someone else's rights. That is a step too far for me. I am deeply uncomfortable with the concept of doing that. I am absolutely up to my responsibility as a Labor senator in this place to ensure that we enable people to make that deeply personal decision for themselves, regardless of who they are. If people want to make that public commitment, it is my job to enable that choice to be made.

Even if we look down at the political level, we know 80 per cent of Labor voters support marriage equality, 78 per cent of coalition voters support marriage equality, and 88 per cent of Greens voters support marriage equality. We know that of people of religious faith, 75 per cent of people who are religious but not Christian support marriage equality. We know that 67 per cent of Catholics support marriage equality, and almost 60 per cent—59 per cent—of Christians support marriage equality. So why is this parliament standing in the way of marriage equality? Why are we all being held captive to a minority rump of the right wing of the Liberal and National Parties? It is time that we stood up to those folk. It is time Mr Turnbull stood back and said, 'No, we are putting marriage equality forward in this parliament.'

We have certainly seen lots of changes to the Marriage Act, none of which have ever gone to a plebiscite; we have just made those amendments right throughout the recent history of this parliament. And yet, on this issue we are simply being held captive by the views of a very small minority.

In the last parliament I met with a range of LGBTI families and I heard from the children of those families, who were saying that they would find it extremely hurtful to have their families up in the public spotlight. We should respect the views of those children who spoke out about their families. They are their families. They are loving families, like most Australian families, and we should respect the views of those children and not allow them to be vilified.

I would urge us here in this place to get on with marriage equality, to not support this expensive, divisive and hurtful plebiscite the government wants to go through to save its own skin. The time for marriage equality is now. Let's respect the views of Australians, the majority of whom want marriage equality. Let's get on and let's just do it. Let's get marriage equality ticked off now.