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Monday, 24 November 2008
Page: 19

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (5:54 PM) —I will take this opportunity to, firstly, congratulate the government for putting to this parliament, within 12 months of its election, legislation to remove a great swathe of discriminatory laws against same-sex couples in Australia. This is indeed historic legislation and the government is to be congratulated for it. It means that same-sex couples who love each other and are in a committed relationship will in the main not be denied the opportunities, including those for raising children in Australia, that all other couples who love and are committed to each other have.

The matter of marriage remains at arm’s length for both the government and the opposition, and it will therefore remain some time before the injustice of the direct and inexcusable discrimination on the matter of marriage against same-sex couples is removed from the statute books. It was the Labor Party that first moved for a legislated ban on marriages for same-sex couples. That was taken up by the Howard government and put through this parliament with the support of the Labor Party. It is something that the Greens and, before us, the Democrats were opposed to. We remain very much opposed to it, and it is a matter that we will continue to attempt to correct in the parliament. There are some other areas of discrimination—for example, potentially in the area of private superannuation—but we will know that discrimination against same-sex couples has come to an end in this country when discrimination on the matter of marriage, which is a Commonwealth matter under the Constitution, is removed from the statute books.

There has been talk today about leadership. Here is a classic case of a failure of nerve by leadership. The polls clearly show that the majority of Australian people want to end the discriminatory practice of saying to same-sex couples, ‘You are equal under the law now, but not when it comes to a public declaration of your love for each other and a wish to register that through a marriage ceremony which has all the same advantages that we know and honour in our society for couples of opposite sex.’ Leadership here would have had these bills include an end to that discrimination, and it is quite remarkable that the Labor government has not taken up that leadership. The people are leading and the politicians are behind. Both the older parties have a task to undertake: to communicate better with the Australian community and to understand that the pressure coming from sectional groups, minority groups, to sanction marriage for all couples regardless has great public support.

So there it is: this challenge remains. The Greens will continue to be advocates for the end of discrimination in all matters, including marriage, against same-sex couples. That position of course fits in with international laws and moves. It follows up the innovative work of a number of countries overseas, including Catholic countries like Spain, and societies not too dissimilar from ourselves like Canada. It is high time this change was made in this great nation of Australia, which has led the world in so many social innovations but which under the Howard government, and now under the Rudd government, still lags behind in this innovation. The question is: why? The answer is that there is still a bigoted minority in our society which frightens the government and the opposition. This matter, by the way, should always be a matter for a free vote, and the Greens will be challenging on that matter again in the future.

I am not rising on an inconsequential matter. Marriage is and always has been the hallowing and the recognition by the public and by those who commit to each other of a special relationship by loving people, which is a stabilising factor in society. And if you leave people outside it then society is the lesser because of that. We have seen Senator Hanson-Young’s motion to amend this legislation to remove this discrimination voted down by the big parties. It is time that ended. It is not as though this matter rests here tonight. It does not. It is one of those issues that will come back to this parliament until the representatives of the parliament catch up with the public aspiration of the people of Australia in 2008, which is only going to become stronger, to remove this discrimination in the years ahead.