Mr ABBOTT (Warringah): I should begin by acknowledging the tireless efforts of the member for Leichhardt to bring about the change that we debate today. I should also note the passion and the commitment of the members for Brisbane, Goldstein and North Sydney and, indeed, of Senator Smith in the other place. I admire the commitment that they have brought to this long campaign and I accept that what they have fought for so long should now come about.
Yet almost four million Australians voted no in the recent plebiscite and their voices should be heard in this chamber, and their views should also be respected. They are not bigots. They are simply people who are respectful of traditions handed down from time immemorial and slow to change them. It’s no secret that I haven’t been a supporter of same-sex marriage. I won’t be opposing this bill, though, because I respect the verdict of the Australian people as expressed in the postal plebiscite.
When it comes to same-sex marriage, some countries have introduced it via the courts, some via the parliament, and others, Ireland and now Australia, by vote of the people—and that is the best way because it resolves this matter beyond doubt or quibble. To have a plebiscite was in fact an Abbott government decision. We opened the door to change but ensured that change would not lightly be made. I’m pleased that the plebiscite has been continued by the Turnbull government, and I’m also pleased that eventually all sides of this parliament participated fully in it.
There were strong views expressed in the course of the campaign. Some of those strong views were mine. I’m proud of my fellow ‘no’ campaigners because they gave marriage the good defence that it deserved, but I do congratulate the ‘yes’ campaign on their victory. There was a lot said beforehand about how divisive this debate would be, but, from where I stood, there was little rancour, no hysteria and no abuse. Certainly there was none from the ‘no’ campaign.
The overwhelming support for same-sex marriage that the plebiscite showed is a sign of the warm acceptance that Australians have for gay people. There may indeed be a few homophobic individuals lurking amongst us, but no-one should ever again claim that Australia is a bigoted or intolerant country. As the plebiscite abundantly demonstrated, we are as easygoing as any country on Earth, and, whatever your race, your creed, your gender or your sexuality, to be an Australian is well and truly to have won the lottery of life. And, if indeed same-sex marriage does turn out to mean that there are more stable and more lasting relationships in this country, gay as well as straight, then it will have strengthened our social fabric and become something that, once established, a conservative won’t just accept but will actually support. So gay people, their parents, their siblings, their children, their wider families and their friends should savour this success, and again I congratulate the ‘yes’ campaign for its victory.
Now, I would like this to be a unifying moment for our country, and the best way to make this a unifying moment for our country would be to acknowledge the continuing concerns that many decent Australians have about freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion and parental rights. The best way to make this a unifying moment for our country would be to ensure that the anti-gay prejudice of the past is not replaced by a new politically correct bigotry. We certainly don’t want new forms of division to replace old ones. And we did see, on the fringes of this recent campaign, some worrying signs of a new intolerance. There was the attempted prosecution of the Archbishop of Hobart for a booklet on the traditional Christian teaching. There was the sacking of a Canberra teenager for supporting marriage on her Facebook page, and there was the persecution of Coopers Brewery merely for hosting a Bible Society debate on the nature of marriage.
More thought should have been given prior to the plebiscite to protecting rights, and that’s why I’ll be moving the amendment that’s been circulated, not to stop this bill but to assert the principle that people should never be discriminated against because of their conscientious views about the nature of marriage. That’s why there should be further amendments in the committee stage to protect freedom of conscience, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and parental rights, and I’m pleased that the Prime Minister has indicated that he will support moves to better protect these rights. I hope these amendments will be supported, because surely these are rights and freedoms that all of us in this place believe in. And it should happen now, in the course of passing the same-sex marriage bill, because there should be no gaps in the protections of our fundamental freedoms. And I believe that the passage of the bill, as amended, will enable our country to go forward together, united in decency and in respect for the rights of all.
Now I certainly don’t pretend to be an overnight convert supporting same-sex marriage, but I am pledged to respect and to facilitate the verdict of the Australian people. Same-sex marriage should now be recognised. It will now be recognised. There should be a clear distinction between marriage as understood by the church and marriage as recognised by the state. On that basis, I am looking forward to attending the marriage of my sister, Christine, to her partner, Virginia, sometime early in the new year. I move:
That all the words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:
“whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House notes that it is vital that individuals and entities are not disadvantaged nor suffer any adverse effects as a result of conscientiously holding a particular view of the nature of marriage”.
The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr S Georganas ): Is the amendment seconded?
Mr Andrews: I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.