Bill's Speeches



Mr Deputy Speaker 

Labor wants to achieve marriage equality in the fastest, least expensive, least harmful way possible. 

That is why Labor is calling for free vote in this parliament. 

That is why we will oppose this ill-conceived, ill-thought-out plebiscite. 

Fundamentally, the inspiration of this plebiscite by the Government is at its core a delaying tactic, a divisive tactic – and we believe in immediate action. 

This plebiscite is an gross abdication of responsibility – and we believe parliament should simply do its job. 

Parliamentarians should do what they are paid to do, which is to debate and vote on the laws of this country. 

In the past weeks and months, my colleagues and I have taken the time to meet with community leaders. 

To listen to LGBTIQ Australians and their families, as well as religious leaders. 

To consult mental health experts and social workers. 

What struck me, first and foremost, was how often the person’s concern, the advocates of marriage equality, their first concern was for others. 

Parents, frustrated that the child they love as deeply as any one of us loves our son or daughter, is still denied equality. 

Proud Dads like Geoff Thomas, who the member for Sydney introduced me to, told us of how when he found out his son was gay: 

“The thing that hit me the most was that after having fought in Vietnam, my country sent me off to fight for a democracy that I believed in… 

I discovered that my son was not extended the same dignity, respect and equality before the law in his own country as other Australians.” 

And the challenge he laid down to all in this Parliament, asking us to get on with it: 

“Do the right thing by my son and other people's sons and daughters. 

Do the job you were elected to do.” 

Well Geoff, the Labor Party will do the job we were elected to do, we want to get on with it - we will not let you down. 

We heard from older Australians who are gay, remembering how tough it was for them growing up, not wishing to see a new generation bear the brunt of public judgment. 

A loving couple who’d been together 17 years – but would rather wait for the parliament to do its job, than inflict a ‘no’ campaign on gay teenagers. 

And young LGBTI Australians: resilient, confident, intelligent people, fearful of the prejudice that will be dredged up. 

Same-sex couples with children, wondering how they will protect their child from the harm and hatred unleashed by the worst elements of anti-marriage equality advertising. 

One Mum, Simone, with baby on her knee, repeated some of the vicious, awful things that had been said to her and her partner in the past – and as she was doing so, she put her hands over her child’s ears. 

If this legislation passes, there will not be enough hands to put over children's ears to save them from the dreadful debate which no conservative government can guarantee will not occur. 

And that is what we are doing here - we are going to make sure that the children in these relationships do not have to put up with the inevitable abuse, the heightened abuse, merely because the Government won't go down the fastest, least expensive, least harmful path. 

It’s true, in 2013 – after I had already voted for marriage equality in the parliament, I told a Christian forum I was ‘relaxed’ about a plebiscite.The Prime Minister is desperate to use that as a distraction, with no sense of irony. 

My preferred position is to have vote in Parliament. 

Unlike the Prime Minister, I didn’t change my mind because of some Faustian bargain, or at the instruction of anti-marriage equality advocates. 

The people of Australia were the ones who educated me, who reinforced my view. 

Because, what do you say to people who will be targeted by a ‘no’ campaign? 

How do you seriously, rationally, reasonably explain that one group of citizens have to submit their relationship to a $200 million taxpayer funded straw poll, whose result members of the government have already confirmed they will ignore. 

Why should their relationships be subject to a new, separate legal process never before inflicted upon any other group, on any other question?  

Why do gay Australians have to submit and metaphorically knock on the doors of 15 million of their fellow Australians to get permission to get married - no one else has had to do that.  

Why are we asking some Australians to endure a more onerous process than we ask of all Australians.  

How can we compel 15 million Australians to vote – and fine them if they don’t – when members of the government won’t be compelled to respect the outcome? 

And why, after so many backflips and backdowns – is this plebiscite the only election promise the Prime Minister is determined to keep? 

Make no mistake, this plebiscite is not about marriage equality, it is about two things and two things only: Tony Abbott’s ideology and Malcolm Turnbull’s job security. 

Mr Deputy Speaker 

Equality for minorities should not be conditional on the approval of majorities. 

You don’t have an opinion poll on rights – that’s why they are called rights. 

Imposing this plebiscite would not just be a waste of money, or a failure of leadership. 

It would also be a failure of basic decency, a glaring contradiction of our national ideal of the fair go for all. 

When he introduced this legislation a few weeks ago, the Prime Minister said of its $200 million cost: ‘What price democracy?’ 

But the price of this plebiscite goes far beyond the time, money and resources required to run a national opinion poll. 

It stretches further than the $7.5 million in funding for the ‘No’ campaign – government money spent arguing against the rights of Australians. 

And it is worth remembering that in the 1967 Referendum, the Liberal Government then did not provide any money for the ‘No’ case. 

This proposition of assumption of moral relativism that 'yes' and 'no' are equally weighted arguments blights the nature of the arguments against marriage equality. 

The true cost of this plebiscite can’t be counted on a spreadsheet alone.  

It’s a toll that will be borne by same-sex couples, being told their precious children are members of a ‘new stolen generation’. 

I’ve met and heard, as all my colleagues here have, from thousands of parents who are worried about people who can’t advocate for themselves. 

Children, watching government-funded ads which reject their parents’ love, telling them it’s not ‘normal’, that the family they live in isn’t ‘wanted’ or ‘valued’. 

And then, inevitably, having those same hateful slogans thrown back at them in the schoolyard, or slapped across their Facebook. 

Why should kids have to watch their parents’ relationship voted on by everyone else? 

This is about gay teenagers, yet to come out, fearful of rejection – being told there is something ‘wrong’ with who they are and how they feel. 

The cost of this plebiscite is measured in the arrogance of coded language which implies some families are more equal than others, that some kinds of love count for more. 

Members of this place should be honest about the blatant homophobia, the vile abuse we have already seen in emails and letters, a preview of this supposedly civil debate. 

We all receive this material, and what I cannot understand is, having received this material, why Government MPs pretend that this a debate without consequences. That this opinion poll is without victims, without the potential of great harm. 

I absolutely respect freedom of worship and freedom of religious expression. 

I understand that some good people of sincere faith do not support marriage equality. 

Do I think everyone opposed to marriage equality is homophobic?  No. Of couse not. 

But do I believe homophobic hate will be more widespread as a result of this debate? Yes, I do. 

No-one truly believes this debate will be civil - and the Prime Minister knows this. 

Despite his best intentions, he knows he cannot guarantee respect – even from within the ranks of his own government. 

I do not understand the nature of leadership which says that the harm to some people is a price worth paying for political deal within the Liberal Party. 

When we saw that in the legislation released at 11pm last night, which is more about carving out exemptions to please the hard-right than achieving equality under the law - we see they cannot guarantee respect. 

We know that when you release that sort of information at 11pm the night before debate is due to come back on, it smells like a deal with the hard-right.  

So when the Prime Minister asks us ‘what price democracy’.     

Demonising loving couples, victimising their children, inflicting emotional torment on young people - this is not a price Labor is willing to pay on behalf of the Coalition. 

I have been criticised by some, including members in this chamber, for drawing the link between this plebiscite and concerns about the mental health of LGBTIQ Australians. 

I say to them - I make no apologies for bringing attention to this most serious issue, especially when the evidence is so overwhelming. 

A recent study conducted by the Young and Well Institute found 16 per cent of young Australians who are gay had attempted suicide - and a third had harmed themselves. 

More than four in 10 had thought about self-harm or suicide – a rate six times greater than heterosexual Australians of the same age. 

Up to two out of every three of these young Australians have been bullied about their sexual orientation – at school, at work or on the sporting field. 

Last week in Sydney, the Member for Sydney and I met with Patrick McGorry and other mental health experts to discuss the mental health consequences of a plebiscite. 

He told us that LGBTIQ people have a five times increased risk of suicide. 

And – as he said - “this is caused by discrimination and homophobia.” 

“There is nothing intrinsically wrong with people in the LGBTIQ community in terms of mental ill health or mental illness, but their experiences cause this increased risk.”  

The reason Professor McGorry, like so many mental health experts, opposes a plebiscite is because, as he said: 

“We know when these campaigns are held in the public domain, like in the US and in Ireland, the risk does goes up.” 

What is it about the voice of practitioners and experts that the Government refuses to hear? 

What is it about the evidence that this government choices to ignore?  

What is it about this plebiscite which means that any price is worth paying according to the Government. 

Members of the Church also understand that the plebiscite will be a deeply divisive experience. 

The Anglican Bishop of Wangaratta, John Parkes, wrote to the Prime Minister and I last month, warning: 

“there are those who will engage in harmful, derogatory and damaging discourse, dividing communities and causing deep pain to our LGBTI brothers and sisters.” 

Following the Irish referendum – where there was no alternative to a national vote, no alternative. 

Please, do not give us the Irish referendum as the justification of the plebiscite. There was no choice in Ireland - there is a choice here.  

Even though, in Ireland the vote for marriage equality succeeded and our TV screens were full of joyous images, a recent survey found that just 23 per cent of LGBTIQ Irish people would be prepared to endure that vote again. 

Only 23 per cent. 

What is it about the evidence, the experience, that this government is determined to ignore in favour of a suboptimal, painful approach.  

Mr Deputy Speaker 

The most powerful argument against the Prime Minister’s plebiscite can be found in the streets of our suburbs and our towns. 

The most powerful argument against the plebiscite are LGBTIQ Australians, living their lives. 

Raising children, paying taxes, building communities, caring for our elderly, teaching in our schools, serving in our defence force, sitting in this parliament. 

People who have done everything this nation asks of its citizens. 

And – generation by generation – have worked to overturn the discrimination their own country levelled against them. 

Fifty years ago, homosexuality was a criminal offence in every Australian state and territory - we didn't need a plebiscite to recognise that. 

Thirty years ago, gay people were barred from serving in the Defence Force - we didn't need a plebiscite to fix that. 

As recently as eight years ago, same-sex couples were still subject to more than 80 different forms of legal and financial discrimination. 

Labor fixed that and Liberals fixed others. 

Inch by inch, clause by clause, those laws have been overturned. 

Change has been hard fought, hard argued and hard-won. 

And change has come because – on the floor of this parliament – MPs from both sides have summoned the courage and the basic human decency to extend equality, not diminish it. 

To end discrimination, not entrench it. 

Now, in this 45th parliament, it's our turn - we face our own test.  

Can we respect the national mood, and simply get on with a free vote on marriage equality? 

Can we prove we are big enough, prove that we are good enough, prove that we are generous enough, prove we understand that families come in all shapes and sizes and that they don't need the judgement of conservative politicians and opinion polls.  

Can we recognise families just want to get on with it - and they expect us to get on with it. 

Are we able to remove the last piece of discrimination against LGBTIQ people from our nation's laws? 

Our predecessors have been able to do this without resort to plebiscite. 

Why is it, when we have made so much progress that was so hard fought, this last act is too hard for the Parliament to do. 

Why did those who seek to have a plebiscite, who seek to abdicate their responsibility, why did they get elected? 

Can we find it in ourselves to say to our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, our friends and neighbours – ‘you deserve the right to marry the person you love’. 

All of us called to this place have the tremendous privilege of serving the people of Australia as their representatives. All of us are conscious of that. 

In this chamber we rise to speak on their behalf, we vote to make laws for their benefit. 

And we owe Australians not just our industry – but our judgement. 

We have before us now the opportunity to change a law that does not describe the generous, inclusive, egalitarian nation we love. 

There will come a time, even if it is not right now, when we pass a bill for marriage equality, people will say: 'Why did it take so long?' 

In the same way as we look back at discriminatory laws from the past, and say: 'Why didn't they change it then? Why did it take so long?'. 

But what we will not do on our side is we will not squib the challenge. 

The Parliament and the laws we pass should speak for what we want people to understand are Australian values. 

Our laws should be a mirror that reflect who we are as a country, the Australia we tell our children to believe in. 

We are lucky to have this opportunity to make Australia a more inclusive, more open and more generous nation - we are lucky to have this opportunity.  

Why on earth would people not want to take the opportunity to conduct ourselves in the manner which parliaments have done for more than 100 years in Australia? 

Why not bring new a measure of happiness to the lives of a great number of our fellow Australians? 

Marriage equality is not a responsibility we should delegate, it’s not a job we can contract out - you cannot contract out your conscience. 

You cannot contract out our responsibility to our fellow Australians - that is the complete opposite of representative democracy. 

This argument that marriage equality, that marriage laws are in a special category and create special circumstances - we don't buy that.  

We have amended the Marriage Act on 20 occasions – with no need for a plebiscite. 

We have dealt with complex issues in this parliament that go to morality.  

This is a chance to serve the people, for parliament to prove its worth, to fulfil its purpose, to reflect our values, to make our country a better place. 

A free vote in this parliament saves the Australian taxpayer $200 million. 

And it saves our country from a divisive argument about the identity and worth of our citizens’ love. 

All around the world, citizens do not feel like partners with their politicians in the democratic process. 

Today we have a chance to be partners with them - not to follow them but to lead them. To listen to their voice, as we do. 

We have a chance to say to our fellow Australians that the democratic system is not broken - that we can still make decisions in this place. 

It is the failure of decision making and the willingness to put a group of our fellow Australians down a path of law making that we don't ask of anyone else - that is the failure here.  

A free vote on marriage equality means we could be attending the spring weddings of people who have waited long enough. 

And a free vote is the cheapest, fastest and least harmful way to achieve marriage equality. 

That’s why, I move as a second reading amendment, that all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: 

“this bill be withdrawn and redrafted to legislate for marriage equality and this House calls on the Government to afford all members of parliament a free vote”. 

Let’s just get on with it.    

Let’s make marriage equality, a reality.


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