Senator BERNARDI ( South Australia ) ( 16:48 ): I’m happy to stand corrected, but I think I’m the first person who openly campaigned against redefining marriage to actually speak in this debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. I want to extend my congratulations to the ‘yes’ campaign. What matters in the end is how the Australian people voted, and you had an overwhelming victory. I congratulate you on the campaign. It was generally played out in good spirits, and I hope you recognise that, from our end of the campaign—the official ‘no’ campaign—we also sought to do the same thing.
A couple of years ago in a debate with Senator Wong at the National Press Club I said that if a majority of people in a majority of states voted to redefine marriage then who was I to stand in the way, and I stand by those words today. I’ve been called many things in this place, but a hypocrite is not one of them. I stand by those things and I accept that this bill is going to pass and that there are going to be many thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of people who will be very happy at the transition from marriage being what it is today to being open to same-sex couples.
It’s hard to argue with the joy that I’ve seen in people who I sometimes don’t agree with—or who I don’t agree with quite a lot. They’re obviously very happy. It’s a very personal experience. There’s a sense of happiness in me that they’re happy, notwithstanding I would have preferred a different result. But, having said that, I do want to just put on the record the genuineness of the concerns amongst many in the no-voting fraternity.
We’ve had this wonderful circumstance in Australia where our freedoms have often been taken for granted, and we’ve legislated to remove discrimination, which is also the right thing to do in many respects. But rarely have we had this great transgression on our traditional freedoms. I spoke about this in my maiden speech to this place, which was about how we’re forced to choose between whose rights should prevail in an era of competing rights. In other places around the world, they have had legislated freedoms, whether freedom of speech or freedom of religion or other freedoms, and they’ve sought to get the balance right between anti-discrimination legislation and the freedoms that we need.
I acknowledge that the numbers are against us. You guys have the numbers to do whatever you want with this bill—to go forward. I would only ask that you consider some of our concerns. We don’t want to rain on your parade. And it was a pretty big parade last night, I can tell you! So we don’t want to rain on your parade, but we do want to protect religious liberty in this place—not to offend you and not to upset those who think that it’s somehow an infringement on their rights, but to protect or codify the significant rights that have evolved over a very long time in this country.
You know that I’m a defender of freedom of speech, and I think that 18C is an obnoxious infringement upon that. It’s the same sort of thing that I would argue in this case as well. We’ve had circumstances internationally where people’s freedoms have been curtailed by activists in the same-sex marriage lobby, as they have by others. We’ve seen it in this debate as well, with Archbishop Julian Porteous. They are very real concerns, and I hope that in some way they can be addressed.
I also express the concern of many parents. It is not perhaps a place directly for the federal parliament, because education is a state-based issue, and that’s a principle of federation. but I do think there are things going on within our education system that parents feel uncomfortable about and feel are somewhat out of their control. Give some accommodation or consideration to the rights of parents—if they conscientiously object, whether for religious reasons or other reasons—to say, without making a fuss about it: ‘I’d rather my child not be exposed to some of these teachings,’ or to have some input into it. I think that would be a positive step forward.
I stand by my stance. I’m rarely for changing—though that might bring a smile to your face!—but I stand by the stance that I think there are unforeseen consequences in this. I’m happy to be proved wrong, to be perfectly frank. I’m struggling with the idea already, because, despite what Karl Stefanovic said, I’ve had two invitations to same-sex weddings already, both from people for whom I have enormous respect, one from someone with whom I’ve had a very longstanding friendship for many, many years. I’m not sure whether he really has been proposed to three times in one day, because he’s not that handsome—that’s how I would describe it! Anyway, I’m not going to mention his name, lest someone Google him! Look, it is what it is. I accept that I’m on the losing side of this argument—
Senator Dastyari interjecting—
Senator BERNARDI: That’s why I didn’t mention his name, Senator Dastyari. It’s like why no-one says that you’re anyone’s friend! It is what it is. You guys have won an extraordinary victory. I ask, just simply, from the humble no voter, that you be mindful of their genuine concerns. They’re not motivated by malice. They’re not motivated by loathing or hatred. They’re motivated by a desire to ensure that Australia can preserve and protect some of the things that make us really, really good. For 10 years in this place I’ve said that there are encroachments along the way, and I’ve been trying to push back against some of them. I can’t push back against this one. I can only say: let’s think of the principles, of the freedoms, that have built our country and made it fantastic. I have nothing but goodwill towards you, I am sure. To the same sex couples who want to get married: get married; have fun; do what you want to do. I hope you all have at least as happy a time as I’ve had in my 21 years of marriage. So, with that, I say thanks to the Senate.
Chamber Senate on 16/11/2017 Item BILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Second ReadingSpeaker: Bernardi, Sen Cory