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Monday, 7 November 2016
Page: 2029

Senator SIEWERT (Western AustraliaAustralian Greens Whip) (18:13): I stand to make my contribution to this debate on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 and will be joining my colleagues in, hopefully, voting down this divisive plebiscite. I have lost count of the number of my LGBTQI friends who have urged and begged us not to support this plebiscite, some of whom are the very same friends who have been nagging me with: 'What is the parliament going to do about making sure we have marriage equality so we can get married?'

Those same people are saying, 'Do not support this plebiscite', because it is divisive and they do not want to achieve marriage equality this way. They are deeply distressed about it. I have spoken to a number of people who are very distressed at the thought that this will go ahead in this way. Although they have been campaigning for years for marriage equality, they do not want to achieve it this way and they are prepared to wait. If it means waiting, they are prepared to wait. It is not just my friends who have said this to me. Across the board, people from the LGBTI community have been saying that they do not support the plebiscite and are urging us to vote no.

We have got to this situation because Mr Abbott needed a way out. He could not deal with his ultra conservatives—even though many, many people in the coalition now support marriage equality—so he came up with this brilliant plan of a plebiscite. Of course, the ultra conservatives, the hard right, thought it was great because they would get money to denigrate people. Fancy that! Not only did they put off marriage equality, but they would also get funding to go out and have a go at the LGBTI community. They must have thought they had hit the bonanza! But, as I said, overwhelmingly, people in the LGBTI community have said that they do not want this plebiscite. Rainbow families have been up here a number of times. I am sure a great many people in this place have met with those families and heard from them that they do not support this plebiscite. They have gone through with us some of their concerns about the impact a plebiscite will have on their families.

I have been looking at this issue specifically with regard to mental health impacts. I, along with many people, am convinced that this plebiscite will be damaging to the LGBTI community's mental health. Many people have been looking at the survey in Ireland, where people felt angry, distressed and anxious. Very clearly, many people thought that the campaign in Ireland had a negative impact on their mental health. Of the 1,657 Irish LGBTI people surveyed for the report Swimming with Sharks: The negative social and psychological impacts of Ireland's marriage equality referendum 'NO' campaign, by Dr Sharon Dane, Dr Liz Short and Dr Grainne Healy, only 23 per cent would go through that campaign again. Here we have the facts of a similar process—of course, theirs was about changing their constitution, which is different to the plebiscite—but the most recent evidence is that most people would not go through it again. Surely we should be learning from that experience, the most recent experience of its type. Seventy-one per cent of participants felt that they often or always felt negative, 63 per cent reported that they often or always felt sad and 57 per cent reported that they rarely or never felt happy. This shows a very significant impact on people's mental health.

The report shows that the two groups most negatively impacted by the no campaign in Ireland were the children of LGBTI parents, and young LGBTI people. In other words, it was the kids who felt particularly negatively impacted by the no campaign. That is exactly what would happen here with funding for the no campaign, funding that would be facilitating hate speech and the denigration of young children's families and of young LGBTI people who want to have families. Given the various attempts and comments about wanting to suspend certain elements of anti-discrimination laws, it is very obvious that those who will be campaigning for the no campaign will want to use that sort of denigrating speech.

Ireland had a referendum to change their constitution. We do not need to do that. We do not need a plebiscite. We can pass legislation in this parliament to make marriage equality a reality. There have been successive attempts, and we get closer and closer. Let's have the debate here. The Marriage Act was originally changed in this place and it can be changed again. Just the thought of the debate around the plebiscite has had a negative impact on people's mental health. Lifeline has now added a marriage plebiscite as a category to its services. The trauma that the LGBTI people are likely to experience if a plebiscite goes ahead will have an impact on their lives that will, in fact, be unquantifiable.

In the Swimming with Sharks report one of the LGBTI people surveyed said:

Definitely the hardest part for me. My Dad was campaigning for the no vote. I had to just make peace with it in the end and realise that I couldn't change him and that he wasn't going to be who I needed him to be. It hurt a lot though and I still don't think I've fully processed or recovered from that.

Another participant spoke of their grandparents and the approach they were taking and the impact it had on them. Their grandparents were just like other people they had met who were voting against them. This person said:

I can feel my heart rate increasing just typing this … I do not wish to speak ill of [my grandfather] but knowing that he was voting against me and my future was one of the most painful moments of my life …

LGBTI people will be the targets of negative campaigns that will try to legitimise prejudice and homophobia. We should be supporting the LGBTI community so that they can feel loved, safe and respected. But, in fact, what this process will do is denigrate and foster hate speech against the LGBTI community, and it will impact most significantly on families, on young children and on young people. That is not the future that we should be laying out for young people.

I agree with my colleague Senator Rice, who said that we should be breaking up from the plebiscite. We should have done it a long time ago. In fact, we should never have got together in the first place. We certainly should be breaking up with the plebiscite. There should be a free vote in this place on marriage equality. It is 2016. It is time that we had a free vote in this place and enabled marriage equality so that LGBTI people have the same rights that I had when I got married three years ago. Let's vote this down and get on with marriage equality.