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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 3511

Senator BACK (Western AustraliaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (10:58): I rise to oppose the Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill 2013 and want to put before the chamber my reasons for my opposition to it. It was only in September of 2012, some nine months ago, that the Senate dealt with a very similar matter to the one we are dealing with today. Whilst this one is a variation on a theme, that is all it is. It is yet another attempt to bring in through the back door a capacity that this parliament voted in September last year to not allow. I want to go back and revisit some of that, if I can. At that time it was the Marriage Amendment Bill (No. 2) 2012.

I wish to repeat and place on the record what the coalition supports as the definition of marriage. It is prescribed in the Marriage Act 1961 and it states that marriage is the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others voluntarily entered into for life. That is the position of the coalition. It is the position the coalition took to the last election as the definition of marriage, it is the definition and the platform we will take to the next election on 14 September this year and I believe it was the position the Labor Party took to the 2007 and 2010 elections.

The coalition made an undertaking to the Australian people in the 2010 election that we would support the existing definition of marriage. Having made that undertaking, we are not going to vary it. The people of Australia can be very clear about where the coalition stands. It is disappointing that the Labor Party appear to have changed their position for what they perceive to be some electoral advantage. Ms Gillard, the Prime Minister of Australia, gave a similar undertaking to the Australian people at the 2010 election but has subsequently facilitated a retreat from that position.

Why are we debating this bill? The Senate's bill list, prior to the commencement of this week, comprised some 236 bills, and we have seen the Greens join with the government in applying the gag and the guillotine. The carpet is not quite red enough yet, but based on previous experience—and we all know that past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour—by the end of next week the blood on the carpet, as a result of the use of the guillotine, will necessitate it being replaced.

There is very important legislation to be addressed and it is not going to be. A matter which you and I, Acting Deputy President Marshall, have a great interest in is the Australian Education Bill, loosely referred to as 'Gonski'. It is a bill which involves billions and billions of dollars and will affect the education of children now and into the future. However, while it has been referred to the Senate committee of which you and I are both members, only three days are being allowed for interested parties to put in submissions, there will be no hearing and the secretariat will prepare their report over the weekend. Next Monday, without any inquiry and without any hearings, the Senate will be asked to accept the report of that committee.

That is what causes my anger. There is important legislation to be addressed, but instead today we are addressing a matter which was the subject of robust discussion in September last year. It is only a very minor change we are looking at.

It has been disappointing to hear previous speakers today—people for whom I have a high regard, having listened to them over the time I have been in this place—arguing that, somehow or other, this bill is removing discrimination. I will make the same points I made the last time we were caused to waste, from my point of view, the time of the Senate in debating a similar matter. I will distinguish between the terms 'discrimination', 'deprivation', 'disadvantage', 'difference' and 'equality'.

The principle of equality requires treating all similar cases alike, but the judgement that same-sex and opposite-sex unions are alike with respect to marriage and should therefore be treated alike by marriage laws is of itself a false proposition. The fact that they are not treated alike by marriage laws does not mean there is discrimination. In 2009, this parliament removed discrimination against same-sex couples. There were four bills, the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—Superannuation) Bill 2008, the Family Law Amendment (De Facto Financial Matters and Other Measures) Bill 2008, the Evidence Amendment Bill 2008 and the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Bill 2008. Those bills went through this parliament, as indeed they should have, with bipartisan support. They were designed to remove discrimination against same-sex couples from a raft of legislation. Matters associated with superannuation, trustees, same-sex couples and their children, and eligibility for superannuation revisionary benefits—these were addressed.

It is surprising and disappointing to me that here we are in this place on this day, with an absolute plethora of legislation important to this country to deal with—important for good governance as we move towards the end of this financial year and the commencement of the next—and this bill is being given precedence and priority. Hopefully on 14 September the people of Australia will have the common sense to replace this government with a government which will actually know how to manage the country, its economy and its people.

In my contribution last year, I reflected on the term 'propaganda' and how it relates to what we have seen in this debate. We have seen it again in the debate today and we saw it in the debate prior to the parliament last year voting down the previous incarnation of this legislation—as, I believe, the legislation before us today should also be voted down. What are the elements of propaganda to which I refer? The first is attacking one's opponents as opposed to attacking their arguments. Once again we have seen that in this chamber today. The second is the tireless repetition of an idea, a slogan or a variation of it.

I say again that this Marriage Act Amendment (Recognition of Foreign Marriages for Same-Sex Couples) Bill is merely a reincarnation of the bill we debated and voted down last year, the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. This points straight at the issues which propagandists have used for so long. The third element of propaganda is appealing to fear, or seeking to build support by instilling anxieties and panic. The fourth is using loaded or emotive terms to attach value or moral goodness to the proposition. We hear again this morning reference to people buying their wedding dress, rushing off to New Zealand and coming home deeply disappointed because when they get back they have to leave their marriage certificate with customs. What is the logic of all that in this argument?

The fifth pillar of propaganda is inviting those who are not already on the bandwagon to join it so that those who are on the road to certain victory can be part of it and make a contribution. I find that offensive. In less than nine months since both houses of the parliament made a decision on these issues we have them back again. The sixth principle is presenting only two choices—with of course one idea being propagated as the better choice. It is not convincing to me that this legislation is the better choice. We have dealt with the question of discrimination—it has been dealt with by this parliament in the laws of this land. That argument is not one upon which this issue turns.

The seventh principle is making individuals with opposing viewpoints appear to be out of touch with the reality of today. We have heard statements about the comments that have been made in email traffic—that the majority of Australians support marriage equality, and that this majority includes Australian Christians. There is reference to a Premier of New South Wales who has changed his views and therefore so should we. I do not find this to be in any way relevant and I find it grossly objectionable that, because Mr Abbott is apparently required to change his position, I can change my position. I have to tell those in this chamber and people listening beyond that I am not in any way dictated to by that argument. I will hold my views, I will express my views and I will vote according to my own views on issues such as this.

The eighth principle of propaganda is using euphemisms, including suggestions of perceived quality or credibility or credence. In the time available I will go to some of the issues associated with other countries, because that is the invitation that has been given to us—because you can go to Paris and you can be married in your wedding dress to a person of the same gender under the Eiffel Tower, that in some way diminishes Australia. It does not diminish Australia in my view, or New Zealand or any other country. I find insulting the argument that Australia in some ways is deficient. The last of the principles of propaganda about which I will comment is using generalities which are deliberately vague with the intention of moving an audience by undefined phrases. I find this to be a circumstance which is unacceptable.

Let me look at some laws in other countries that are not laws in this country. There is no good reason to believe that because they are the law of the land in another country somehow we should bend or change or turn our laws in this country, especially on a matter that has been the subject of so much recent debate and decision. Let me speak about women's voting rights in other countries—Saudi Arabia, other Middle Eastern countries and other countries around the world. Is anyone suggesting that because they are the laws of those countries they should somehow or other be transmitted to Australia? Nobody would find that to be an acceptable argument.

Look at gun laws in the United States of America—a close friend and ally of this country. Following the horrific events in 1996 at Port Arthur in Tasmania, and after strong debate and bipartisan support, as I understand it, Australia brought in the gun laws that we have today. Yet we have seen in the United States of America a lamentable reluctance and inability to enact laws in any way similar to our laws, despite the horrific events that have taken place in recent times. Our former Prime Minister Mr Howard went to the United States earlier this year I understand not to lecture to the Americans but to put the Australian case for why we did what we did and to outline how successful our gun laws have been in reducing homicides due to weapons. There is no suggestion at all that because gun ownership is legal in America it should be here, or that if Americans came to this country and wanted to continue to have the legal rights that they enjoy or experience in their country, or in my view have the disadvantage of, they should be able to apply those rights here in Australia. There is no case for that. This is our country, this is our sovereign state and we will determine these issues.

Another example is speeding laws. They vary considerably. In Europe there is no speed limit on the autobahns. Are we suggesting for a minute that people who come from Europe, who are used to driving on roads without upper limits on their speed, should be able to do so in this country? Of course we are not. The proposition is a nonsense. The drinking age in other countries also varies significantly from the drinking age in Australia.

The Senate should be dealing with far more important legislation in the next five sitting days before we rise on Thursday or Friday of next week. There are 226 items on the Senate bills list, most of which are not going to see the light of day. There are critically important issues that require robust debate today and particularly next week. We know what is going to happen.

Let me just preface my remarks by saying that the Senate is also debating at this time, and on which I am in continuation, the proposal to conduct a referendum at the election on the recognition of local government. If, for any reason at all, the capacity of people to speak—their time and their voice—on that issue associated with the change to the Constitution of Australia were removed by that particular debate being gagged by the Labor Party, with the associated support of the Australian Greens, that would be the worst travesty that could be visited upon this place.

This is a proposed change to the Constitution. Whether people support it or oppose it, they have the right in this place for their voice to be heard. I note that we are going to see the gagging of other legislation that should have been brought on earlier and that should be allowed to have its full prosecution, but I say now: the Australian people will not accept the use of the guillotine in a debate affecting a possible change to the Constitution of Australia.

I oppose this amendment. It should not be here on the Dynamic Red. It should not have been given the aeration that it has been given today and I oppose it.