Dec 3, 2011

Address to ALP National Conference on Marriage Equality

Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre, Darling Harbour 

For 120 years, the Australian Labor Party has been a party formed by working people to advance the causes of equality and social justice. But if we are honest with ourselves, we also have to acknowledge that for a long time that fight for equality was based upon Anglo Saxon white men.  This party had a policy that supported a White Australia.  This party had a policy that supported discrimination on the basis of gender.

This party has always been prepared though, to examine itself and move forward and be part of history moving forward – and there is no one we exclude from that.  We’ve done it on race.  We’ve done it on gender.  We’ve done it on class through the trade union movement.  We also need to do it on the basis of sexuality, and that is what the Barr/Wong amendment before you here today is all about.

It was Labor governments that decriminalised homosexuality.

It was Labor governments that had the courage to confront the scourge of HIV AIDS, and save hundreds of thousands of lives as a world leader.

It was Labor governments that advanced the cause on issues such as same sex adoption.

It was Labor that passed 84 bills in our first term of office.

And just last week it was Labor under Premier Bligh that advanced the cause of same sex equality in Queensland.

I respect the views of others who disagree with me on this issue, and I respect their right to say it.  We need to be inclusive in the way we conduct ourselves in this debate.  We are about inclusion and tolerance, and we need to be tolerant in the way we conduct ourselves – not just here today, but in the way we take this issue to the federal parliament.

And I say this: there’s a simple principle which is that by giving one group of people rights that they’ve been denied, you don’t take away the existing rights of another section in our community.

The Australian people understand that.  We’re a tolerant people.  We’re people who throughout the community have neighbours, friends, work colleagues who happen to be gay or lesbian, and in the way that Australians deal with each other through their lives, they don’t discriminate.

We need however to do more as a political party.  We need to show leadership on this issue.

I do not support the view that it is working class or suburban or regional Australians holding back marriage equality.  I do not support the view that Australians will not support change.  I believe we must face up to the realities of modern Australia.

Let’s have faith in our fellow Australians wherever they might live.  Let’s have faith that Australians can overcome prejudice, intolerance, and injustice.  Most of all, as a party in adopting the Barr/Wong amendment to our platform, let’s have faith in ourselves.