This motion is not about giving Australians a say. This motion is about weakness and division on that side of the parliament. This motion is about a government so divided and so legalist that they have to handball a hard decision to the community to make it because they can’t make it in their party room. That’s what this is about. And no amount of words from my colleague can hide us from the fact that this is one big massive handball, because this is a government without a leader and that is utterly divided on this issue. That is what this vote is about. I will come back to the substantive motion in a moment, but let’s just talk about the procedural issue.

This is a government that is so weak, it won’t even bring the bill back. Do you know what the motion before you is? It’s saying: ‘Oh, you know that second reading vote we had? Well, we did not like the outcome, so can we have it again?’ That’s what this motion is. Those opposite don’t even have the guts to bring it back through the lower house, probably because they don’t know if they can hold all their people. So they put a motion on the Notice Paper saying, ‘Oh, we just want to restart the second reading, even though you all voted against it.’ That’s what they’re doing. It’s a motion to overturn a clear decision made last year by this Senate, where 33 senators voted against and only 29 in favour, and the second reading was defeated. The matter was settled—comprehensively. But, because the Liberal Party room cannot accept that, now we’ve got to come in here and deal with a procedural motion to try and bring the second reading debate back on, instead of reintroducing the bill here or in the House, and instead of going through the normal process.

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The reality is that this is all a stunt. And everybody knows that. I have a lot of regard for Senator Cormann. He’s generally a very decent person to deal with, and he’s trying valiantly to create some logic around what is an utterly ridiculous position, which is: ‘We just want to keep not having a vote, and we can’t decide to have a vote, so we’re going to have all these mechanisms, even though the Senate said no. We want a plebiscite. If we can’t have that, we’ll have a postal ballot, because we can’t get to a decision inside our own party room.’ It’s a stunt. It’s a damaging stunt and it’s an expensive stunt. There are a lot of things you could do with 120 million bucks, aren’t there? It’s about three million GP visits or a couple of thousand teachers. I’m sure we could go through a whole range of things that $122 million could be spent on, far better than a vote that is not going to be binding. Let’s understand that.

We can talk a lot about democracy and Australians having their say. Eric Abetz is not going to change his vote if this is successful. Senator Bernardi is not going to change his vote. He and I have vehemently disagreed. He’s not going to change his position. It’s like one big opinion survey to get over the fact that the Liberal party room can’t make a decision because they’re so divided on this issue and because Malcolm Turnbull, regrettably, has not had the courage of his conviction.

This is a vote whose sole aim is to stop the members of this parliament being given a chance to do their job and vote. This is a vote because some in the coalition can never countenance equality, and they’re never going to change their minds. They simply cannot countenance people like me, and others, being equal. It is as simple as that. They’re not going to change their minds on this issue. If you would just bring on a vote, we could save the country $120 million and, frankly, put us all out of the misery of having to keep talking about this issue. Frankly, the country has moved on.

I’d also make this point: we live in a parliamentary democracy. We’re elected to do a job. Sometimes we do it well and sometimes we do it less well. We’re elected to come here to vote, to make decisions. This country did not have a plebiscite or a postal ballot on the Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, native title legislation, the scrapping of the White Australia policy or whether women should get equal pay. I don’t think Tony Abbott took to a people’s vote the cutting of billions of dollars out of health and education. I don’t think the government took to a people’s vote whether or not corporations should get a big tax cut. But on this they want us to say that we handball it to the community, and it is simply to do with their internal divisions.

I do want to respond to the comment by Senator Cormann that this could be a unifying moment and that people could be respectful. I hope that people watching me debate wouldn’t think I’m a shrinking violet. And I know what a hard debate’s like. But I tell you: have a read of some of the things that are said about us and our families and then come back here and tell us that this is a unifying moment. The Australian Christian Lobby described our children as ‘the stolen generation’. We love our children, and I object—as does every person who cares about children and as do all those same-sex couples in this country who have kids—to being told that our children are a ‘stolen generation’. You talk about unifying moments? That’s not a unifying moment. It’s exposing our children to that kind of hatred. I wouldn’t mind so much if you were prepared to speak out on it, if the Prime Minister were prepared to stand up and say, ‘That is wrong.’ But what does he do? He says it’s a dreadful reason, to not trust the Australian people. He says don’t be silly; of course we can have a sensible debate. Well, maybe he should stand up for some of the people who don’t have a voice, because we know the sort of debate that is already there. Let me say, for many children who are parented by same-sex couples and for many young LGBTI kids, this already ain’t a respectful debate.

Labor will be opposing this motion, and we do so because of our longstanding position, which has been considered by the party and our opposition to a plebiscite. And what I would say to the crossbench is that you made the right decision last time; please make the same decision on this occasion.

Source Parliment of Australia Chamber Senate on 9/08/2017 Item BUSINESS – Consideration of Legislation Speaker: Wong, Sen Penny Transcript used for News Reporting

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