BILLS – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 – Second Reading

Mr PASIN (Barker) (23:40): Mr Deputy Speaker, it will come as no surprise to you that my view of marriage is a traditional one. In fact, that’s a view shared by nearly five million Australians. My view is informed by my faith. Having said that, I indicated early in this debate that I would respect the outcome of the national vote, and I will. As important as social change is, the method of achieving that change, in my view, is much more important. That’s why I argued for a plebiscite to resolve this issue, this issue that was troubling our national conscience. I wanted to see 24 million Australians making this decision, not 226 politicians. I congratulate former Prime Minister Abbott for having the courage to adopt this policy position. I equally congratulate the current Prime Minister for having the courage to stick with that policy position and take that policy position to the 2016 federal election. While I’m congratulating people, I think it remiss to not congratulate Minister Cormann and Minister Dutton, who I think we can all accept were the architects of what ultimately became a mechanism whereby close to 80 per cent of Australians cast their vote. They did that against a background whereby those opposite and members of the commentariat said the High Court would strike down this mechanism. Well, the High Court didn’t strike down that mechanism, and I’m grateful for that. As I said, what that did was facilitate this decision being made by those eligible Australians.

Sitting in my room and preparing to speak tonight, I have tried to leave the partisanship to one side, but I really do need to point out a couple of things. The first is that those opposite, who seem to be so celebrating this victory of democracy, had six years, between 2007 and 2013, and they couldn’t bring themselves to get this job done. Equally, those opposite fought tooth and nail against the process which ultimately has delivered this change. They fought tooth and nail despite this process having obtained a mandate at the federal election of 2016. Enough of the partisanship. As I have said, I made it clear, just like I made it clear to my preselectors in early 2013, that I supported the traditional definition of marriage. I made it clear to the electorate of Barker in 2013 that I did. I confirmed that position in 2016 in the lead-up to the election of that year.

I also made it clear, as I’ve said previously, that I would respect the outcome of the national vote. The majority of Australians cast their vote in favour of same-sex marriage; we know that. Accordingly, same-sex marriage must now be recognised. Indeed, same-sex marriage will be recognised, and I will vote according to my commitment. Barker, whilst recording South Australia’s lowest vote in favour of same-sex marriage, still returned a majority. Indeed, 52.3 per cent of residents in Barker voted in favour of change. Prior to this debate, I was concerned about what we may have seen during this national conversation. I must say I was pleased that the national debate, whilst robust, was conducted largely without rancour. There were occasions which disappointed me and I think offended our national consciousness. Those came from both sides of the debate, but what particularly sticks in my mind is the young girl whose employment was terminated as a result of her expression of her free speech and also a placard which was, effectively, calling on people to burn churches. Both of those things deeply disappointed me, but I’m pleased to say that they were very much on the fringes. As I’ve said, the debate was largely conducted without rancour—and I think that was fair enough—because, after all, I’ve long maintained that this was an issue on which decent people could differ.

My hope is that this national exercise, one which saw nearly eight of every 10 eligible Australians express a view, will operate as a unifying moment for our nation. Indeed, my hope is that parliament will see fit to legislate for same-sex marriage in a way that strengthens freedoms and protects freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of parental choice. It should be noted at this point that contemporaneous polling during the course of the postal ballot made it clear that the overwhelming majority of Australians supported the protection of these important freedoms. After all, no Australian, in my view, should be discriminated against because of their conscientiously-held view of marriage. It would be, of course, a crying shame to see new forms of intolerance replacing old ones. Let’s hope that those in this debate—whom I must congratulate on their victory—who have won the right to celebrate their relationships, if they wish, as married couples, respect that not all Australians share their view on this question of marriage. I truly hope that, if we fail to protect these important freedoms, we will not see the litigious behaviours that we have seen in other jurisdictions—but only time will tell.

When I first spoke in this place, I indicated to the chamber that I believed in the conservation of important institutions. In my view, the most fundamental of all institutions is the family unit. If through this exercise we can deliver stronger families across this nation then we will have achieved a good thing. In line with my commitment, I will vote in favour of this bill, and I will do so in a way that I hope improves on the freedoms that we enjoy today, irrespective of the fate of those amendments. As I’ve made clear, I’ll vote in favour of the bill.