Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 - Second Reading


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:36): It is always a pleasure to follow Senator Leyonhjelm, and that was a refreshingly direct and honest contribution to the debate on the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016. Before I deal with the matters at hand, I just want to mention a couple of personal issues. Firstly, I want to thank all of those from both sides of the argument who have approached me and had very rational and mature discussions with me. I do not think I have left anyone in any doubt as to my position, but I was very pleased to listen to all points of view. I thank those who made the effort to speak with me for their courtesy in the approaches they made.

The second comment I want to make is that I have not been in a fight. I look like I look today because I had a misspent youth in the sun. This is perhaps a lesson to young people: always wear a hat and your sunscreen. They cut something out of my forehead and the blood has fallen down into my eyes and I look like I have done a few rounds with some boxers—but I have not. I wanted to say that once, so that I do not have to keep repeating myself.

My position on this question is one of almost ambivalence. All I want is to get it over and done with. As a member of my branch, who is quite a strong Catholic lady, said the other day: 'For goodness sake, get it over and done with, because we're sick of hearing about it.' If you have listened to the ABC any time in the last five years, you could not have heard a news bulletin go by without this issue being raised by the ABC. I will be, as I have said publicly a number of times, voting against the question in the plebiscite. I do this for several reasons—although, as I say, I am fairly easy on the whole subject.

Clearly, there is no discrimination against same-sex couples, and there has not been discrimination in Australia for many, many years now. I do not see same-sex couples in any way discriminated against or disadvantaged. In fact, I say to some of my same-sex couple friends: 'How are you disadvantaged? If you want to have a celebration of your union, let me know and I will come along, bring you a nice present and drink your grog and you can tell the world that you are together, you are married—call it what you like.' I just cannot understand this five-year campaign by the ultra-left of society to waste the time of the parliament in this ongoing debate.

There are a number of people—I suspect more in my own constituency of the state of Queensland than elsewhere and certainly a lot of friends and people I have associated with—who have deeply religious feelings and understandings about what marriage means and how marriage is defined. I am conscious that there are many members of the Labor Party with the same view. Taking away a conscience vote for members of the Labor Party and forcing them to adopt the left-wing union line is going to be very difficult for the Labor Party following the next election. That aside, there are people who have very deeply held views on the religious significance of marriage, and they are people who, over time, we have listened to and have supported. I was part of the coalition that, over the last two elections, made a commitment to these groups of people that we would not deal with the matter in the parliament but would ask the people of Australia to make their decision.

For those reasons, I will obviously be voting in favour of this bill. I will be voting no at the plebiscite, but, whatever the result of the plebiscite is, that is how I will vote in parliament. I have made this known publicly a number of times. If the Australian people decide to vote yes to the question, then that is how I will be voting in the subsequent legislation. If they vote no, then that is how I will be voting when the bill is brought before the parliament.

In opening this debate, Senator Ryan again showed the hypocrisy of the Labor Party and the Greens. I will not repeat exactly what Senator Ryan said. In fact, he was quoting Mr Shorten, Dr Di Natale, Senator Rice and Senator Xenophon who themselves have called for a plebiscite. Only a short time ago, it was foremost in their minds that they must have a plebiscite. Why are they now taking a completely hypocritical approach and saying the exact opposite? Where were all the arguments they used today against this bill when Mr Shorten publicly called for a plebiscite? Where were all those arguments when Senator Di Natale and Senator Rice actually proposed a plebiscite? Where were they when Senator Xenophon joined them in proposing a plebiscite? Today, it is the worst thing, it is the devil incarnate, if you have a plebiscite, and yet only a short time ago those politicians were calling for it. It makes you wonder just how serious they are and what their underlying agenda is.

I hope that, by February next year, this decision will be taken and over and done with and that life will move on. The distraction that this issue has caused in this parliament and in certain sections of the community will be done once and for all. February is four months away. I cannot understand why anybody, unless they have ulterior motives, would not get on board and have the plebiscite. By March next year, it would be not an issue for the Australian public.

I also raise an issue which is foreign to the Labor Party and the Greens: we are a government made up of political parties who want the trust of the Australian people. When we promise something at an election, we ask the Australian people to trust us and to believe us. In the last election, we said there would be a plebiscite on this subject. The people of Australia said: 'Okay. We understand what you want. We're going to vote for you on the understanding that, as well as doing other good things, you will have a plebiscite.' We are unlike the Labor Party, who, as you might recall, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, promised that there would be no carbon tax under a government led by the then Labor Prime Minister. When the election was won by the Labor Party, the first thing that happened was that they introduced a carbon tax. Why are politicians and political parties held in such low esteem?

It is simply that—political parties like the Labor Party get up and promise on their heart that there will be no carbon tax and, immediately, when they get there they do the exact opposite thing. We are not like that. We made a commitment to the Australian people. We said to the Australian people, 'Trust us; this is what we stand for in the election. If you vote for us, that is what you will get.' Well, people voted for us, and this is what they are going to get. It is what they asked us to do—that is, to have a plebiscite on same-sex marriage so that it will be over and done with once and for all by March next year.

The cost issue has been raised. It is an absolute furphy, particularly when it is raised by members of the Greens political party and the Labor Party. They were members of a government that ran up a debt which is currently about $400-odd billion. If there had not been a change in government, all of the things that are Labor Party and the Green said they would do with taxpayers money would have led to a debt of about $700 billion. And do you know, Mr Acting Deputy President, that in the time that I have been speaking the Australian taxpayers have probably paid $1 million in interest? Certainly, by the end of today the Australian taxpayers would have paid $44 million in interest on the debt that the Labor Party and the Greens ran up in their six awful years of government. By the end of the week there would have been $300 million of taxpayers money spent on paying interest—mainly to overseas lenders—on the debt run up bythe Labor Party and the Greens. So when the Labor Party says, 'Good heavens; we can't afford $180 million for a plebiscite,' you know the hypocrisy just flows out of their mouth.

I have to say—and not necessarily because of a funding issue—that I disagree with the government's position of providing funding for the yes and the no case. It seems to me to be a very complicated bureaucratic process of having five politicians and five people from the groups to run these cases and oversight by the government on the arguments. It is just, I think, the worst thing that could happen. Let me say to others who are thinking of moving an amendment along that line: do not bother. It is not something worth going to the wall over, but I was disappointed the government decided to do that. I do not usually say what happens in our party room but I spoke against it in the party room. I think that is $15 million that is not necessary and not needed.

As I said before, if you have listened to the ABC any time in the last five years you would have heard all of the arguments on one side. And, certainly, the other side have not been reticent and not been tardy in getting their view out to the parliamentarians and to everyone else on their side of the argument. So I do not think anyone in Australia needs a $15 million advertising campaign to make up their minds on how they will vote. I think most Australians are like me—thoroughly sick and tired of it. They know what they want to do, they are happy to go ahead and have the plebiscite tomorrow and have their say.

If the figures that Senator Lines quoted on how many people in all the parties support it, then why won't the Labor Party and the Greens have the plebiscite? With all those figures it is going to get passed and, come April, it will not be anything that anyone talks about. I suspect—it is my own view—that the Australian people, in the privacy of the ballot box, will probably vote against it. I have no particular reason for saying that. I have just seen the Australian public at plebiscites and referendums. I know there is throughout Australia a deep conservatism that will make them think twice about that. But if Senator Lines is right and all of those people—82 percent, 72 percent or 65 percent—support it, then why oppose the plebiscite?

Get on with it, and by March it will be all over and done with. It is an argument that I simply cannot understand.

Senator Lines said that young people in particular are in favour of same-sex marriage. I see quite a number of young people these days—mainly through the Young LNP—and I suspect Senator Lines is probably right. But I do not think there is anything deep and meaningful about it. I just think they say, 'Oh, well. If people want to do that, let's let them do it.' Maybe young people will vote 'yes'. But I will tell you what is more important for young people, Mr Acting Deputy President, and that is that they should have some trust in their government—some trust in the politicians they elect. They expect, and they should expect, politicians to do what they say. We promised to have a plebiscite, and we intend to do it. I hope young people will respect us for that and then will be very happy to have the vote, as will every other member of the Australian public in making their decision on how they should vote.

Young people will look with disdain at Mr Shorten, Senator Di Natale and Senator Rice—I am not sure where Senator Xenophon is on this issue—three politicians who just a little while ago were advocating for a plebiscite and yet today are totally opposed to it because, as I said before, it will bring the devil incarnate into Australian society. That is what young people do not like, and it is little wonder that politicians and political parties are held in such poor regard.

Again, it is a matter of debate—it does not really add to the debate—but Senator Lines spoke about the plebiscite in Ireland. That is not a bad example to raise. She of course never raises—and neither does anyone else—that Austria, also a deeply religious country, had a plebiscite, and the Austrians decided the other way. Using Ireland as an example is, to me, a bit of political rhetoric, a one-sided political debate that really means nothing.

I say to Senator Lines and to other people from Labor and the Greens party: it is typical of the Left. They try to intimidate and bully people by attributing names to them. I will be called part of the right-wing rump because I support the plebiscite. Most people who know me know well know that I am anything but right wing and that my rump is not big—perhaps my stomach is, but not my rump! These accusations, this bullying and this name-calling in relation to people who do not happen to agree with them are another unfortunate part of the Australian political psyche that really leads to the poor regard in which we are all held. It is because of attributing names, making accusations, belittling people, demeaning people and intimidating people by calling them names. Most of the people from outside whom I have heard in this debate have a serious contribution to make, and they make it because that is what they believe, not because they are a part of any right-wing, left-wing, moderate or Callithumpian group on one side of politics.

Finally, I repeat that by March this question will be beyond us. For those who passionately believe in it—and I know there are many people who genuinely do—come March, the decision will be made in accordance with the opinion polls. For those who are opposed, they will have had their say. And we as a government will have discharged our commitment and our promise to hold a plebiscite, and allow the Australian public to make their decision. I cannot see a simpler and easier way—a more honest and straightforward way—of dealing with this subject that has very sensitive connotations for certain sections of our community on both sides. It can all be over and done with by March, and I look forward to that time.

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