Feb 25, 2014

Adjournment – Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (21:10): I rise tonight to acknowledge the fact that this Saturday will be one of many times—almost every year—out of the last 30 years that I have participated in the Mardi Gras march in Sydney.

It is a celebration of the diversity which makes Sydney a great global city. It is also a time to recognise that discrimination continues to occur against the gay and lesbian community in a range of areas, including the recognition of their relationships. I have always believed that equal rights for all people—regardless of sexuality, race or gender—are a fundamental right.

Through Labor governments we have seen significant advancement in this area. In every election since 1996 Labor has committed to removing important areas of legal discrimination against same-sex couples. This has included taxation, superannuation, social security, health, aged care, veterans’ entitlements, workers compensation and employment entitlements. Most recently, we successfully extended Labor’s Paid Parental Leave scheme to include same-sex couples. These are important steps forward, but we must recognise that there is still some way to go.

I am proud to be part of the Australian Labor Party, whose support through our platform for marriage equality is now entrenched. Labor’s national policy platform now reads:

Labor will amend the Marriage Act to ensure equal access to marriage under statute for all adult couples irrespective of sex who have a mutual commitment to a shared life.

It is important also that we have a conscience vote on this issue. I respect those who disagree with this position; I also, though, believe that by giving one group of Australians equal rights does not diminish the existing rights that people have.

I know that there are people, also, in the coalition who support equality for all, regardless of their sexual orientation. I believe that it is important that everyone in this parliament be allowed to participate in a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality. I recall when I moved the Superannuation (Entitlements of Same Sex Couples) Bill in this parliament—it was controversial. We could not even get debate in this chamber in terms of a vote. Today I do not believe that there is anyone in this chamber who does not believe that it is appropriate for people who are asking for access to their partner’s superannuation—that is, their own contributions—that that is not an appropriate reform. That shows that progress occurs.

I think that quite often, many of those, particularly on the progressive side of politics—to which I am proud to belong—often romanticise about the past. I believe that history does move forward, that support for tolerance does move forward, and that in terms of this reform we will see full equality very soon.

In recent times I have participated in Mardi Gras with people including New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell, which is important. There has been a message sent for Saturday from the leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, from the deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek, and from many other members of parliament.

What we see also in the celebration on Saturday is that it is a major tourism event for Sydney. It is a major economic activity that creates jobs and creates a sense of wellbeing in the community. At this time when on many unfortunate occasions there have been incidents that have caused violence on the streets of Sydney, one of the things that has always characterised Mardi Gras is a sense of community and a sense of respect for each other.

I assure my constituents in Grayndler, and many others who have written to me that I will continue to be a strong campaigner for equal rights, regardless of sexuality.