Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

Mr Deputy Speaker, 50.9 per cent of the constituents in my electorate voted no to the question that the government put in the postal survey on marriage. I want to say to the constituents of Mitchell that I'll be voting to respect the national outcome, but also the majority of the people in Mitchell who voted no. I will not be opposing the passage of this bill but instead will be seeking amendments—moving an amendment myself, and joining with colleagues to support other amendments—to secure what I regard as vital freedoms for religion, conscience and thought in Australia. It's true that Australia voted yes. But the views of the people of the electorate of Mitchell should not be ignored, and the views of people in Western Sydney also should not be ignored. As someone who was raised in Western Sydney and lived most of my life there, it's sad to me that the views of significant parts of Western Sydney are being completely unrepresented by their Labor Party representatives.

I want to step the House through some of the statistics that just highlight and underscore this, because Western Sydney emphatically voted no in the postal marriage survey. You start in my electorate at just 51 per cent voting no, but you can go to Greenway, 53.6, through to Parramatta, 61 per cent voted no, you can go to Fowler, 63.7 per cent no. 63.7 per cent in Werriwa, 64 per cent in McMahon, 69 per cent in Watson, and getting to 73 per cent of people voting no in Blaxland. I was always a no campaigner and advocate. I believe in a traditional view of marriage, not because I think the state should deny same-sex couples the ability to form unions that are equivalent marriage, that we should allow and provide for it. I was a no advocate because I believe in the traditional view of marriage. It is a view held obviously by almost three-quarters of people in Western Sydney and, yet, there is not one no advocate or campaigner in any of the Labor movements of parliament coming from Western Sydney. (INTERJECTIONS) They are unrepresented in - well, I have said it several times. I have said it -voted no. So, we have in Western Sydney a no vote. Here, again, from the Labor Party today, it is disappointing that they think that the views of 5 million Australians -5 million people who voted no -should go unrepresented. I wanted to address that briefly today, because it is vital in a democracy that the rights of the minorities are protected as much as the rights of the majority. 5 million people voting no is a substantial minority. A substantial minority who voted no. (INTERJECTIONS) When you look at what has happened over the last few years I remind the house to the rank hypocrisy we have had on the debate. I have been here for the last 10 years. Some of you opposite here have not. We have voted to deny same-sex marriage seven times in this House since I have been here. Seven times in this chamber. When John Howard inserted the definition of 'marriage' as a traditional definition, between a man and a woman, it was unanimously supported in this chamber by every single person in this chamber at that time.

Since then, the House has voted to deny a vote on this over seven times. Since then, we've had the Labor Party change its position so that it would not be possible to be a Labor member of parliament and hold a 'no' position on same-sex marriage. You will not be allowed to be preselected in a few years in the Labor Party. In this very same debate here that we're having now, the biggest and most shameful part of the debate is that we are not genuinely having a conscience vote on this parliament, not in the Senate, not in the House of Representatives.

(INTERJECTIONS)

The Labor Party is not free to vote on religious freedom amendments—

 

Members of the Labor Party are not free to exercise their conscience. I want to record for this House, without naming any individuals, there are members of the Labor Party in this House today—

(INTERJECTIONS)

There are members of the Labor Party in the Senate today who do oppose same-sex marriage. Who do have a different view, who are concerned for religious freedom. And do hold those concerns, yet they are not free to exercise their conscience. They exist. They are there. Out of respect for them I will not name them. But they are not free. That is not leadership. That is not leadership from the Leader of the Opposition.

(INTERJECTIONS)

I want to praise the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for the decision he's taken. It takes courage.

(INTERJECTIONS)

It takes courage to allow your members a free vote when you know they disagree with you.

(INTERJECTIONS)

Order.

There is courage in the Liberal—

The Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister allow us the freedom to exercise our conscience—

(INTERJECTIONS)

The Labor Party under the leadership of the Leader of the Opposition denies a free vote. So we will not actually have a conscience vote of this parliament. It is to the shame and discredit of the parliament that a genuine conscience vote on an important question like this will not be conducted. It hasn't been conducted in the Senate. We know members of the Labor Party will be bound on these amendments that we are proposing. I will speak to the amendments that may be foreshadowed shortly. I believe it is a failure of parliamentary process when we can't have a conscience vote.

(INTERJECTIONS)

I thank again the Prime Minister for bringing forward also an additional process that will take stock of religious legislation in Australia, led by a former member of this place Philip Ruddock. It will give us another layer of protection, given that the Labor Party will not allow their members to consider religious freedom amendments. When actually the consideration of those amendments is vital to the construction of the bill. Rather than being so concerned with emotion—we have let our reason give way to our emotion in this debate—whereby be concerned with the construction of the law. We should be concerned with the rights of individuals, we should be concerned with the rights of the minority, and that is the role of legislators in this place, to not allow our reason to give way to our emotion in this debate. We must apply our reason to ensure that the rights of the 5 million are respected as much as the rights of the 8 million who voted yes. It is as has been said, if you have unchecked political power, it leads to tyranny. The tyranny of the majority, the greatest danger that he saw was the public opinion would be become an all-power force that the majority could Nan rise unpopular may juniors. One of the most powerful discussions of democracy that has ever been had. And the concept of the tyranny of the majority is one that we must resist in this parliament. It is why members of the Liberal and National Party will bring forward amendments in this House, as they did in the Senate, to ensure that we have protections for religious freedom at the same time that we provide for same-sex marriage. It is what our reason must consider as we pass a law of this nature. To not allow a free vote, to not allow an exercise of conscience when are having a conscious debate on religious freedoms, again, allows the Labor Party to be ruled by the tyranny of the majority. It's the Coalition that respects religious freedoms. It's the Coalition in the Senate, Liberal and National senators, along with some independent senator, who voted to protect religious freedoms. I suspect when the vote comes to a head and the amendments are considered it will be Liberal and National members of the parliament who are on the side of protecting religious freedom and ensuring that we have those important protections by way of amendments to this bill. There is no doubt that this bill has not sufficiently addressed the matters of protection of religious freedoms and freedom of conscious and thought. There is need for vital amendments. There is nothing wrong with considering those amendments if a free debate. I would say to the Labor Party again—why won't you allow your members the freedom to consider in good conscience amendments to protect religious freedom in Australia? There are 5 million people who voted no. Most of those No voters come from Labor electorates in Western Sydney. Why wouldn't we respect them? And allow for a free debate on this important topic? It's the coalition that is religious freedom. It is the coalition that will be moving amendments, individual coalition members moving

There are 5 million people who voted no. Most of those No voters come from Labor electorates in Western Sydney. Why wouldn't we respect them? And allow for a free debate on this important topic? It's the coalition that is religious freedom. It is the coalition that will be moving amendments, individual coalition members moving those amendments to respect religious freedoms. It's a triumph politics over the whole process which will not allow a genuine conscience debate on those amendments. I would say again to members, we have to be aware that while we pass laws and when we do pass laws, we take into account all of the things that the Australian people are telling us and in this postal survey they very clearly told us that they have no problem with same sex marriage in Australia. But they've also said in many surveys since then and before then, at the same rate of support for same sex marriage, that they are also concerned with protecting religious freedom in Australia. It ought to be a fundamental concern for Australians and members of this parliament that if we hear so much from the Labor Party about the results of opinion polls that people supported same sex marriage constantly for a long time, they've also supported respect for religious freedoms at that rate for the same amount of time and it would be good to see Labor coming forward and genuinery entering into negotiation to ensure that those freedoms were protected while we legislate for this historic change in our society. I have to say I have been a consistent supporter of traditional marriage and in this respect I intend to move an amendment and I foreshadow that amendment which I will speak to later in this debate. I believe these amendments will support and help preserve the freedoms of thought, the speech, conscience and religion we have in Australia and whenever we do pass laws of this nature, we must have these as primary concerns. Our reason must not give way to our emotion and our role as a parliament is to find in this debate the balance of freedoms to ensure that one right does not override another right and that we do prevent and seek to prevent any abuse of rights as we change our society. We do not want to come back here in years ahead and attempt to repair matters that we could indeed prevent by the way of substantive amendments to this bill. I do say to this house that we can now have same sex marriage and we can also have important protections for religious freedom in Australia. The rights and the concerns of the five million Australians who voted no are just as important as the eight million people who voted yes. We can and we should engage our reason in this debate, not our emotion, we should not allow group think or collectivism in the Labor Party to prevent us from having a genuine conscience vote on important protections for freedoms of thought, freedoms of conscience and freedom of religion. We need to amend this bill. I'll make the case for the amendments when I speak to those amendments. I say to the house, we should get this right now. We should legislate religious freedom and protections now and we should not let our reason give way to our emotion.

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