Matters of Public Importance - Marriage

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:50): At the start of this debate I express my sympathy for and understanding of those members of the Labor Party who I know hold deeply religious convictions—not many of them, I concede, but there are some. I have some concern about and understanding of their conflict over this whole debate and the fact that they are being ramrodded by the Labor Party into promoting a particular view. Having said that, at the beginning of my contribution perhaps I should indicate my position. I, like most Australians, hold no discrimination against people—be they gay or whatever their agenda or situation in life is. In fact, over the years this parliament has legislated to remove all forms of discrimination against gay people or people who, because of their gender, would have otherwise, earlier in their lives, been disadvantaged economically or otherwise. There is no discrimination within Australia, and I have not seen the sort of harm that Labor speakers have spoken about. I suspect that they are issues far removed from the topic of this debate.

My own belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. It is a Christian ceremony and it should stay that way. When the plebiscite occurs I will be voting 'no'. But I do indicate that if the majority of the Australian public vote yes then I will vote yes in this chamber when the bill comes before us, because that is what democracy is about—that is what we are having a plebiscite for. And I challenge every other senator to say the same thing: will they commit today to voting to legislate the decision of the Australian public in the plebiscite? So that is my position. It is pretty simple; I do not need a great campaign. I do not think most Australians have a view on this issue and I do not think their view is going to change between now and the time of the plebiscite. I simply say to those that are so much in its favour of it: if you are so convinced that it is going to be successful then why not have the plebiscite and get rid of the issue once and for all by the highest possible authority—that is, a plebiscite of the Australian people? Why not? I cannot understand the argument against it.

There has been, today in question time, raised the issue of whether either side should be funded. Labor speakers have made a big thing about the Bishop of Sydney saying one thing and the Prime Minister having a different version. What the heck is that all about? Quite frankly, my own personal view is we do not need to fund it. I think most people understand the issues and can vote without any major campaign. But if there is a greater decision to fund them then I am easy with that, providing it is equally funded.

I pause here to emphasise the difference between the Labor Party and the Liberal Party. You see, in the Liberal Party, we are allowed to have different views. We are allowed to have our own views. We are not regimented to have the view of the unions, who control the Labor Party. So I can say, quite frankly, today I have not heard the arguments, I must say, for having the 'no' and 'yes' cases funded so perhaps I am speaking a little bit out of turn. I will hear the arguments once cabinet has had its determinations and when the matter comes before the coalition party room tomorrow. In the coalition party room, we are entitled to say what we think and make our points and we will do that. At the end of the coalition party room process, the government will come to a conclusion. But whichever way it is, I am relatively relaxed about it.

What this whole point is about is that for years our side of politics, the coalition, has had a policy that marriage was between a man and a woman. In fact, the Marriage Act was changed a few years ago to provide for that and that has been the policy of our party. We went to the 2013 election with that policy and that commitment. Because we made that promise, I know, a lot of Australians voted for us. In fact—I do not like to admit too much family political discussion—I have a nephew who has never voted Liberal in this life. He says he always votes for me but I am not 'Liberal'; I am a 'relative'. But other than that, he always voted Labor. At the last election he voted Liberal because he has a very strong view on this particular issue.

The coalition went to the 2013 election with a commitment to the Australian people that marriage would be between a man and a woman. After the 2013 election, the coalition had a big discussion about it. There was a lot of comment, there were different arguments put forward, and the ABC ran its relentless campaign as it has done from day one on this—it is a pity the ABC did not run the same campaign on homelessness or help for our neighbours or whatever. But as a result of that and many other things, the coalition then decided that we would go to the next election and we would do the fairest thing that could be done; we would leave it to the Australian people to decide what it should be.

So prior to that 2016 election, we said to the Australian people: you elect us as a government and we will not have a conscience vote in parliament. What we will do is put it to you at a plebiscite to determine what you, the Australian public, think about this. There could not have been an Australian, who was interested in this subject—I might add that qualifier—that did not know where the coalition stood. I am not sure the Australian people, in a democracy, knew what the Labor Party stood for because that seemed to change as we approached the last election. First of all Labor had one view then they had another view, then they smelt the way the wind was blowing and then they consulted with the unions. But they did go to the election, I think, with a firm commitment to a parliamentary vote.

The Greens have always had that position and, whilst I do not have a great regard for any policy of the Greens, at least on this issue they have been consistent—consistently wrong, I think—so we knew where they stood. The Australian people knew that if you voted Labor or if you voted for the Greens, you would get perhaps a conscience vote in the parliament. But if you voted for the coalition, you knew what you would get: you would get a plebiscite where everybody, every single Australian could express their view. It does not need me to tell the chamber what the result of the election was. We are sitting on this side so clearly we won the election, which means the majority of Australians believed in most of our policies but this was one of them and they accepted our version that when or if we won the election, there would be a plebiscite.

Unlike the Labor Party, which makes promises before the election and completely disregards them afterwards, we are not of that ilk. We make a commitment, we make a promise prior to an election and we intend to stick by it. I do not need to remind too many listeners that there was an election where Labor promised 'there would be no carbon tax under the government I lead'—remember that? Hand on heart, hand on the Bible—well, I do not think it would have been the Bible—'there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. Do you remember that? It was a firm promise just before the election. In fact, three days before the election, two days before the election and one day before the election there was this commitment that 'there will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'. And remember, as soon as the Labor Party leader did lead that government, what the first bit of legislation they brought in was? The introduction of a carbon tax.

For the Labor Party, you can make promises before the election and, afterwards, you can treat them with disdain, you can ignore them. It is like, as I often mention—not many people remember this, but I was around then—the L-A-W law tax cuts. Mr Keating, the Labor Prime Minister, not only promised but actually legislated for tax cuts, before the election he did not expect to win, and promised that they were there forever. When he unexpectedly won the election, what was the first thing he did? He reneged on that commitment for tax cuts for hardworking Australians. The Labor Party will make any promise they like. It does not really matter—'We're not going to honour it, should we win the election.' That is the real difference between the Liberal Party and the Labor Party. That is why we, on this side—even those who vocally support same-sex marriage and those who are committed to it—make a promise and stick by it.

Again, I raise the question: if, as Labor and Green speakers have said, everybody in Australia supports this, why not have the plebiscite? Why not go ahead and put it beyond doubt, once and for all? Let the Australian people have a say on this issue which, for many people, is very, very troubling. I do not feel, as an elected parliamentarian of some years now, that I can commit to the people who voted for me to a particular position on this. I can commit to them on an economic issue. I can commit to them on infrastructure issue. I can commit to them on a border protection issue. But I do not want to commit to my fellow Australians on an issue that, for many, is as sensitive as this.

For many, it is a matter of deep religious conviction—not for me, I might say, but for many it is. If the majority of the Australian people are so overwhelmingly in favour of this, what is wrong with the plebiscite? Let's have it. As I said, I commit myself and I again challenge people—there are a few more here now—to do as I will do and commit, to voting the way the Australian people will vote at the plebiscite. I do not know how they are going to vote. I am going to vote no in the plebiscite but I will vote yes in the parliament, if the Australian public say that that is their view.

For me, it is a pretty simple matter. It is a matter of trust, keeping your promises and keeping your commitments. The Labor Party find that foreign. I am proud as a Liberal to abide by this underlying principle: when you make commitments prior to an election, you honour them.

Senator Kim Carr interjecting

Senator Carr, from the Mal Colston faction of the Labor Party, would not understand what that was about. Keeping your word and honouring your promises is something foreign to the Labor Party but something that I am proud, as a Liberal, my party always adheres to.

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