Sen Hanson-YoungI rise today to speak to the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016, a bill to establish a plebiscite to test whether the Australian people want to see marriage equality achieved in our country. Of course, we do not need the plebiscite to understand that the majority of Australians, like the majority of parliamentarians in this place, want to see marriage equality achieved. They want to see Australia catch up with some of our other brothers and sisters around the world to embrace equality and to finally put behind us the nasty oppression of couples and individuals based on their sexuality and their ability to love and marry somebody of the same gender. This plebiscite is, of course, legally unnecessary. We are not faced with a need to put a question to the people to change our Constitution. Our Marriage Act in this country is overseen and governed by the parliament. We could have a free vote in this chamber and in the other place and we could achieve marriage equality here today.

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time. It is worth noting that my first private member’s bill in this place as a senator, when I first came into the parliament, was to achieve marriage equality and remove the discrimination that only allows a man and a woman to marry and not same-sex couples. I have been advocating for these changes in this place for a long time, as have many of my colleagues. I would like to acknowledge the former leaders of our party, Senator Bob Brown and Senator Christine Milne, for their dedication and their constant advocacy on the issue during their time in this place.

I have thought long and hard about the question of a plebiscite. On face value, when you have such staunch opposition in this place and in the other place to a free vote that would allow parliamentarians to vote with their hearts and their minds, not just on their parties’ ideology, a way forward and an opportunity to break the deadlock seems welcome. But as this debate has continued it is clear to me that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has not got the commitment to follow this issue through. I do not believe for a second that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, would ever put himself on the line to make sure marriage equality was achieved in this country, whether by a plebiscite or, indeed, an act of the parliament. It is that lack of conviction from our Prime Minister that casts huge doubt in my mind as to whether a plebiscite would be the best way forward.

I understand all of the arguments in relation to the negative campaigning that would be unleashed through a plebiscite, similar to the horrendous statements that we have heard from some of our colleagues in this place against people of the LGBTI community, simply because of their opposition to changes to the Marriage Act. This type of campaign happens already, and I can only concur with my colleagues that this would be turbocharged during a national public debate for a plebiscite. Without a conviction-led campaign from the Prime Minister of the day, it would be very hard to overcome the negativity and hate that would be spread. On reflection on this issue, the thing that strikes me most is how we got to a situation where in this place, despite the fact that I believe support is overwhelming in the Australian community and the numbers have grown significantly over the years to a majority of parliamentarians supporting these changes, we are today debating a piece of legislation that has been designed to derail the momentum towards marriage equality.

For far too long gay and lesbian Australians, members of the LGBTI community, have been forced to sit in silence and see the rest of us debate their fate and their dignity, and it is time that ended. For far too long this issue has been used as a political football. I would argue that no one side is immune from that criticism. But of course those who want to undermine this reform from happening have been the strongest in their opposition and their public commentary and most naked in their political tactics to undermine and overthrow the momentum to marriage equality. Sadly, blocking this plebiscite bill today will not achieve marriage equality. It definitely will not stop the nasty campaign that is run against equality by opponents. It will not stop people who continue with their hate. In saying that, we must confirm and ensure that neither will it stop the momentum and desire for this equality to finally be achieved. The people who do not want to see same-sex couples in this country being able to marry and have their love recognised will not stop hating today, whether this bill passes or fails. It is our job as supporters of equality to rise up, raise our voices and ensure that no longer are members of the LGBTI community in Australia left silent, sitting on the sidelines. It is our job to ensure that we use this as the turning point to achieve true equality in this nation before any more hate is unleashed.

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, is on notice to stand up, advocate his support and put himself on the line to prove that he stands for something other than his title and other than his own political survival. This is the moment the bill goes down. It does not have support in this place. This is the moment for Malcolm Turnbull to prove that he can stand for something during this term of leadership. He should grant a free vote to his members and ensure that marriage equality can pass, as it should, in this term of the parliament.

He must not be afraid of the ideologues and the haters who sit in his party room. He must not be afraid of those doubting voices who sit on the sidelines outside this place and continue to put pressure on both his party and, indeed, the Labor Party to frustrate this reform happening. This is an opportunity for Malcolm Turnbull to actually stand for something. I will not hold my breath, but I hope for the sake of the future of our country, for a step forward in achieving equality and for getting us to a respectful place in the eyes of the rest of the world, that the Prime Minister reflects on this issue properly and decides to take on that argument and debate in his own party room. We know the majority of his own members support this reform happening—they just need a champion. Many people thought the Prime Minister was that champion, and, to date, he has failed dismally.

Sadly, over the last few years of watching this debate unfold in this place, while the number of supporters across both sides of the chamber for marriage equality to be achieved has grown, I have seen very little evidence of genuine cooperation across party lines. If we are to vote down this plebiscite today, we must ensure that this is the turning point to achieving marriage equality with a vote in this place. That means some of us are going to have to put down our own bows and arrows and our own political pride and start working together to achieve what we know the Australian community desperately wants to see happen and needs to see passed.

I want to be very clear in saying that it is not that I do not believe a plebiscite would be supported by the Australian people, because the Australian people overwhelmingly want to see this reform happen. But without a champion from the Prime Minister’s office and down, with a system and the make-up of this plebiscite being non-bonding and with public funds going towards campaigns that we know will be designed to tell a particular section of the Australian community that they are second-class citizens, I cannot support this piece of legislation before us today. This bill going down will not achieve marriage equality, however. As I have said, it is now time to regroup, to cooperate and to band together to see this reform pass this place. It is time to end this sorry saga of politicking over marriage equality. It is time to put aside the idea that it is okay to use the love of other people and the respect of their relationships as political playthings. It is time for those of us who are supporters to stand up in our parliament, in the community and in our party rooms against those who are ideologically opposed because they believe it will impact on them and their religion.

We know that that is just simply not true. Australia is a secular society; we have a secular parliament. As somebody who subscribes to the Christian faith, I feel totally comfortable with the idea that two people who love each other, respect each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together should be able to do that. Their rights to have that love celebrated and respected in law does not diminish the rights of anybody else. We pass laws in this place all the time that allow some people a hand up when it is needed and support when it is needed to ensure that we have a society that bases itself on the notions of equality, justice and basic fairness, and that is what this issue is about. Yes, it is about love; yes, it is about respect in relationships and equality under the law. But, overarching all of that, it is a matter of human rights and ensuring that every Australian is treated equally. There are no second-class citizens in this country, and it is time that we amend the law to ensure that that is reflected in marriage, in law and in love.

Chamber Senate on Item BILLS – Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 – Second Reading Speaker: Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah Parliament Transcript used for News Reporting