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Tuesday, 28 November 2017
Page: 8944

Senator FARRELL (South AustraliaDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (11:51): I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I'm a supporter of the traditional definition of marriage, and I continue to be so. When this vote is taken in the next day or two, I shall be voting no to this legislative change.

At the time I was first elected to the parliament, in 2007, it was the policy of the Australian Labor Party to support the traditional definition and traditional view of marriage, that it be between a man and a woman. While the policy was subsequently changed at a national conference of the Australian Labor Party following the 2010 election, that policy significantly, as you would be aware, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle, provided a conscience vote to members of parliament on this issue. The question was again considered at the last national conference of the Australian Labor Party before the 2016 election, and, again, the conscience vote was re-endorsed by the Labor Party. This will be the second time that I have voted on this issue. The last time I voted on this issue, I voted with the majority and, of course, on that occasion, it led to the defeat of this legislation. On this occasion, of course, the vote will be different. When the vote is taken in this parliament, same-sex marriage will be legalised in Australia.

I have thought deeply about this issue since both the last time I voted and, in particular, the so-called survey that was conducted over recent months in this country. I've discussed the issue quite extensively with my family, my friends and members of my religious belief, the Catholic Church. While it's true that the Australian population voted by a roughly 60-to-40 margin in favour of same-sex marriage, the issue that I've considered since that vote was determined is: should that be determinative of the view I should take in this place in terms of voting on this legislation?

The conclusion I've come to is no, it should not be determinative. There are a range of reasons for that. The first reason is, of course, that the ALP opposed what was originally proposed, which was the plebiscite, and then opposed the survey. I believe we opposed it on good grounds, namely, the cost of the survey. The ALP was, at all times since the last election, prepared to vote on this issue and have it determined by the parliament, and would have done so so that this vote would have been taken very much earlier had the ALP's position been accepted by the government.

Secondly, almost five million Australians voted no and, included in that vote, of course, were many ALP voters. Lots of those people would have voted no for reasons of faith. I don't believe it's an unreasonable position for me to adopt, that I should reflect the views of those no voters and, in particular, those people who support the Labor Party who voted no. The vote was not a unanimous vote, and I believe that my no vote in this place reflects the view of those people who voted no in this most recent survey.

Finally, on that issue, I fought for the conscience vote in my party, and my conscience, on this occasion, tells me that I should vote no and support the traditional definition of marriage. I know that some people will be very disappointed in this decision. Some people who are very close to me will be very disappointed. But I believe I must vote according to my conscience, and I will do so.

I listened with interest to the contribution that Senator Collins made about the issue of religious freedoms, and I'm aware that there are going to be a number of amendments to this legislation linking the issue of same-sex marriage with religious freedoms. I think Senator Collins explained the process that the Labor Party has set-up that deals with this issue internally, and I can indicate to you, Mr President, that I am on the committee in the Labor Party that has dealt with this issue. We have determined that we will be voting no to the additional amendments to the religious freedom issue. That's not because we're not interested in the issue of religious freedom—in fact, far from it. The Labor Party is deeply concerned about this issue, but the Prime Minister has now set up a committee to look at this issue more generally and how the issues of religious freedom should be dealt with in this country. I certainly look forward to participating—as other members of the Labor Party will surely do—and dealing with that issue in the new year. This appreciates that there are concerns in our community about how religious freedoms are being reflected and, of course, the need to ensure that those issues are dealt with properly and in a timely fashion but not be linked to this bill because the issues of religious freedom are wider than simply the issue of same-sex marriage and, therefore, should have their own respectful debate.

Also on the issue of respect, I'd like to thank the members of my own political party on the respectful way in which they have conducted this debate. It had the potential to be a difficult debate, but I'd like to thank, in particular, my Senate leader, Senator Wong, and my parliamentary leader, Mr Bill Shorten, both of whom have been actively involved in this discussion and have ensured that, within the Labor Party, this has been a respectful vote.