Senator IAN MACDONALD ( Queensland ) ( 11:13 ): In my long time in this chamber I have heard a number of speeches that were dripping with hypocrisy and insincerity, but the one I heard this morning from the Leader of the Opposition on a formal motion—a procedural motion relating to the same subject—just about took the cake. I want to explain to those who might be listening to the debate what the coalition's position is. It starts from the premise that, if you are a member of the Liberal and National parties, you go to an election and make a promise, and you make the promise intending that promise to be kept. This subject of same-sex marriage is one that I know raises a lot of emotions on both sides of the debate, and I understand the emotion that is engendered on both sides of the debate.
But this is an issue that has been around for some time and the coalition have a policy on it. We went to the last election saying that the definition of marriage would stay the same as it is in the Marriage Act for this term of parliament, and that is the commitment we took to the Australian people. I remember that, at the time, the coalition thought long and hard about that policy. We were petitioned by the church groups, if I can loosely label them as that. They had very, very strong views on it and they made a point which resonated with the coalition as a whole. We decided to go to the last election with this commitment to retain the definition of marriage as it is in the Marriage Act.
I know Labor senators find it hard to believe that a political party would make a promise, intending to keep it, and then actually keep it. I know that is foreign to the Australian Labor Party. We all remember the promise by the Labor Party: 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead.' Having been elected on that promise, what was the first thing that an Australian Labor government did when it took the reins? It introduced a carbon tax—the direct opposite of what they had promised before the election. That is not a one-off.
In the last few days, I have raised a number of times the Keating Labor Party's l-a-w law tax reductions. Remember that? Some senators might have been around then, as I was. Thinking they were going to lose the next election, Mr Keating and the Labor Party actually legislated for tax cuts before the election. It was passed and Mr Keating said: 'It's l-a-w law. These tax cuts will happen. They have been legislated.' Low and behold, unexpectedly, Mr Keating and the Labor Party won that election. What was the first thing that they did, the first legislative program that they indulged in on being returned to government? It was to renege, to cancel, to abolish that bill giving what was then called the l-a-w law tax cuts.
The Labor Party have form when it comes to making promises and then doing the exact opposite when they come to power. Take the current issue of electoral reform. Two years ago, I sat on the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters and we looked at the issue of the rort—the dishonesty of the Senate voting system at the time. That committee travelled all around Australia. It took evidence from everybody who wanted to have a say and it took evidence from some very clever academic people, people who understand the voting system.
The committee deliberated long and hard and it came to a unanimous conclusion. Firstly, I will just explain that the committee comprised Liberal, National, Labor, Greens, Xenophon and anyone else who wanted to go along. I was not a formal member of that committee but, under the rules we have in the Senate, any senator can become a participating member, with all the powers and privileges of the committee. I put myself onto that committee because I was interested in the issues. As a senator who has been around for a while and as a Queenslander, I wanted to make sure that when the people of Queensland cast a vote for the Senate, they were actually making the choice themselves, not putting 1 in a box and then letting the various political parties to determine where the preferences go.
I well recall at the time Mr Katter, the member for Kennedy—who had been a member of the National Party but had left the National Party and become an Independent—telling people that he was still our way inclined, that he did not like some of the things that were happening so he had left the party to became an Independent. But he indicated to people, 'If you vote for me, I'll be okay and my preferences will go to my old party'—by then the Liberal National Party of Queensland. We then looked at the Katter Party voting ticket that he had registered and, low and behold, who got the preferences?
Senator Williams: Labor.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Yes, Labor got the preferences. In good faith, people said: 'We'll vote for Mr Katter for old time's sake. He's not very effective but at least we know him. He's a nice enough guy. We'll vote for him and we'll vote for him in the Senate because our preferences will flow on to the LNP'—because that is what he had indicated to them. But when you looked at his card which is registered and locked up in the AEC vaults in Brisbane, you found that the preferenced the Labor Party before he preferenced the coalition.
Now, we do not want that sort of thing to happen, not because we did not get the vote—and he did not get many anyhow, so it did not have a great impact—but people should be given the chance to make their own decisions on where their preferences go. If people want to vote for Mr Katter's party in the Senate, fine, that is great. But if they want to give a No. 2 preference to the Labor Party, that is fine; they can put a 2 next to Labor.
If they want to give their preferences to the LNP then are able to do it themselves, making a conscience vote when they go to fill in their ballot paper, and it will not be very hard anymore when this legislation comes in. People will be able to vote 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 above the line, if they are the political parties they want, or they will be able to vote 1 to 12 below the line. It is simple, anyone will be able to do it. I have always voted below the line. But I can tell you that when you get up to 103, you start to wonder whether you have left out a number or not.
The committee that looked at this voting came to the conclusion that the voting system in the Senate, for various reasons, one of which I have mentioned, had to be changed. Who voted for that?
It was a unanimous decision of senators from all parties; that is, senators from the Liberal Party, senators from the National Party, senators from the ALP, senators from the Greens and Senator Xenophon. I emphasise: senators and members from the Labor Party were there. I remember that Senator Tillem was there, and I remember that the respected Labor Senator John Faulkner was there and—as you would imagine—took a leading part in the debate. He signed off on changes to the Senate electoral voting system, as did Mr Gary Gray. Whatever you think about Mr Gary Gray, he is recognised as an honest, fair and sensible leader of the Labor Party. He signed off on it, because he understood, as did everyone on the committee, that the system that was in place was being rorted. I find it hard to understand how the Labor Party continue this process of saying one thing—
Senator Cameron: Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: we are debating the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2013. I have been extremely patient. I have waited 10 minutes. Halfway through Senator Macdonald's contribution to this bill, I do not think he has mentioned the bill. His attention should be drawn to the issue before the Senate.
Senator Seselja: Thank you, Senator Cameron. I will rule on that. Senator Macdonald did mention it earlier. He is straying into other areas—which is not uncommon, might I say, in these debates. I would simply remind Senator Macdonald that we are debating the Marriage Equality Amendment Bill.
Senator IAN MACDONALD: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. I thank Senator Cameron. He has been patient, particularly when the examples I am using in relation to this bill—which I will come back to shortly—are things that I know the Labor Party do not want to hear about. Particularly as we seem to be on broadcast today, I am sure the Labor Party do not want me reinforcing to those people listening just what hypocrisy abounds in the Australian Labor Party when it comes to promising one thing before the election and doing another thing after the election.
I must confess that I am not absolutely confident of what the Labor Party's position is on same-sex marriage, but it seems to change quite a bit—
Australian Greens senators interjecting—
Senator IAN MACDONALD: You are not clear either. Then I do not feel so badly that I cannot work it out. I know there are a number of people in the Australian Labor Party who have very, very strong views on both sides of this argument. But my understanding of the Labor policy—and perhaps Senator Cameron, who is speaking next, can elaborate on this for me. I understand that the Labor Party have now decided that this will be a party policy vote. So you will not be able to have a conscience vote in the future, you will not be able to vote on this very complex and difficult issue as you might believe, in all sincerity, that your conscience demands that you do. The Labor Party will regiment you into voting in a particular way. And, if you dare cross the Labor Party, you know the consequences. You are out on your ear, and we have seen a couple of times over the last couple of decades where Labor senators and members have dared to have their own view and they have been expelled from the party for doing that.
I am a member of the coalition and so I went to the last election promising, as all of my colleagues did, that the definition of marriage would stay the same in this term of parliament. Because we are a party that keeps its promises, that is what we are going to do. We know that there are has very, very strong and genuine views on both sides of this matter and so, after a very long, full and involved debate in the coalition party room, we decided by a good majority: why not ask the Australian people what they think on this very complex, difficult, sensitive subject? So that is what the coalition have done. We have said that we will ask the Australian people—and what could be fairer than that? Frankly, I am gobsmacked that anyone could think that asking the Australian people what they think on this rather different matter could be wrong. What could be better in a democracy than going to the Australian public and asking, 'What is your view on this?' I genuinely believe that asking the Australian public what they think is the right way to go about it. And I say here and now that, whatever the result of the referendum, that is what I will be implementing in parliament in the years ahead.
If the Australian people say, 'Yes, this is a good idea', then, in a democracy, having been told by my constituents across Australia, that is what I will be doing. I simply cannot understand why anyone would think that is a bad idea. Ask the Australian people in a democracy. People will say, 'We don't ask them to pass the budget', 'We don't ask them to pass road traffic laws'; we do that in parliament. That is what parliament is about, and that is all true and correct. But I think everyone would agree that this is an issue beyond the normal rules of government and it does involve people's very personal beliefs, opinions and emotions, and it is something that I think the Australian people should be given an opportunity to have a say on.
I know the churches have a view, and it is a genuine view, but I know other people—a lot of my gay friends—have a quite different view, and I respect that view as well. But I do think in an issue like this the right way to do it is to ask the Australian public. Isn't that what a democracy is about? If I were in the Labor Party and asking people to vote for me because I had a policy on this, I would not know which member of the Labor Party I was supporting, because I know some on the other side have very strong, deeply held, reasonable views against same-sex marriage, and I know that there are members of the Labor Party, similarly, who have very strong views in favour of same-sex marriage. If you vote for the Labor Party, which one are you voting for?
So there is that difficult question. It is an unusual question in that it is not the normal sort of thing we debate here. I think the coalition has made the right decision, and certainly I was part of that decision that said, 'In issues like this, let's ask the people of Australia.' Mind you, I would not mind if we added to the referendum a question on medically assisted termination of life. That is another issue in that same category. I have made my views on that known very clearly, but I think that is another decision that could well be put to the Australian public to ask the Australian public what they think about it. Again, those two issues are issues where people have very firm, very reasonable, very fixed, very deeply held and emotional views: the subject of same-sex marriage and, I might add, the subject of euthanasia. In a democracy, what better can you do than to ask the people of Australia what their view is? Frankly, I have never heard a real argument as to why asking our fellow Australians what they think is so wrong.
I think Senator Brandis indicated that the referendum would be held pretty soon. It does not matter to me whether it is by 31 December or by 31 January or whenever, but it will be pretty soon. Once the referendum is held, the results of the Australian view—the decision the Australian public give in that referendum—will if necessary be legislated very quickly and will become law very quickly—that is, assuming that the voters say yes. People tell me in debates, 'Everyone supports this.' Okay, if everyone supports this, why not have the referendum? Why not confirm it? You will never have any doubt about it if you ask the Australian people what their view is. If, as those in favour of this legislation before us say, it is a foregone conclusion and everybody wants this, let's just ask the Australian people. It is their right, and perhaps they do. Then they will have no fear from the plebiscite. The plebiscite will express the view of all Australians on this quite difficult and sensitive issue.
So that is the approach we have taken. The coalition parties are always open, transparent and honest about what we will promise at an election and then what we will deliver after it. We are not one of these parties—unlike, regrettably, our opponents in this chamber—who before an election say one thing, as I have demonstrated, and after the election do the exact opposite. We promised before the election the marriage definition would stay. We subsequently promised we will carry out our promise for this term, but we have said, for the next term, 'Let the people of Australia decide.' What could be fairer than that?(Time expired)