Sep 19, 2012

Motion to Suspend Standing Orders

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler—Leader of the House and Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (12:10):  Let us be very clear about what this motion is. This is a motion to suspend standing orders so we can have a vote on the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012. That is what is before the House.

I say, with due respect to the member for Melbourne, that he knows full well that I, as Leader of the House, engage in proper consultation over issues—including with him on this one. I reject completely the suggestion that somehow this is a surprise. He knows that is not the case. I spoke to him yesterday, I spoke to him last week, I spoke to him last month and I have spoken to him about these issues throughout this year—just as I speak with the Manager of Opposition Business, treating both him and his position with respect. I am not going to leave unchallenged the suggestion that I, as Leader of the House, just spring things on the chamber without proper consultation. That is not how I have approached things—not only in this parliament but in the previous parliament, when I was also Leader of the House.

Inside the caucus, inside the parliament and publicly, I have stated a number of times that there would be a vote on this legislation sometime this year. Earlier in the year, during the previous session of parliament, there was a suggestion that somehow we were bringing the vote on. I made it very clear that there would be no pre-emptive conclusion to this debate—that everyone would have an opportunity to speak. And every single member of this House has had an opportunity to speak on this legislation. In fact, there have been some 41 contributions to the debate on the member for Throsby’s private member’s bill.

There are different views on this legislation. I am a supporter of this legislation. I have publicly advocated it and I have put my contribution on the record—it is in the Hansard of the House of Representatives. As part of that contribution, I stated that those of us who are arguing for inclusion need to be inclusive in the way we conduct ourselves in this debate. With respect to the member for Melbourne, I say to him that his denial of leave is not an inclusive action. It is an exclusive action. It is not an action which advances the cause in which we have a common interest.

I came into this House for the first time in March 1996. In my first term of office, I was the first person to move a private member’s bill—it was on superannuation—relating to equality for same-sex couples. When I did it, people questioned my motives, asking, ‘Why is he doing that?’ It was a controversial issue.

We could not get debate on the issue, so it lapsed. We then had to move it again. I moved it three times without it being brought to a conclusion. I say to the member for Melbourne that there is nothing positive about being able to move a bill that never reaches conclusion. There needs to be a determination in which people are on the record as voting for, against or abstaining on, as is their choice, this legislation.

The member for Melbourne also suggests that we should hold off any conclusion to this debate until such time as those on the coalition benches are granted a conscience vote. I say this to the member for Melbourne: whilst the Leader of the Opposition holds that office I cannot see the coalition changing their view. But that is a matter for them. It is also a matter for them whether they stand up and vote according to their conscience if they disagree with that position.

We need to be inclusive about the way we conduct ourselves in this debate: it should be a debate in which people participate and the debate is exhausted and concluded. We had the summing up from the member for Throsby in the Federation Chamber earlier today, and all members have had an opportunity to participate in this debate. I said as part of my contribution that I believed that this reform and change would occur. This is a last area of discrimination. It is one in which I expect there not to be a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives today. That does not mean it changes my position and I am sure it will not change the position of the member for Throsby or the member for Melbourne or other advocates who have argued the case on this issue.

History does move forward when it comes to removing discrimination—whether on the basis of age, gender, ethnicity or indeed sexual preference—in a liberal democracy such as ours. In our first term of office we removed discrimination from 84 pieces of legislation. We did in that a way that was bipartisan across the parliament. It happened without rancour. It happened in a way that was consensus driven and was constructive. That change has made a real difference to people’s lives in areas such as migration, social security and health. The reform that will come before the parliament today will also make a real difference to people’s lives when it occurs because it will say that society regards as being of equal value a loving relationship, a committed relationship, between two people who wish to make a lifelong commitment to each other, regardless of whether it is a heterosexual relationship or a relationship between a man and a man or a woman and a woman. Giving rights to a group of people who currently do not have the same rights as others does not take away rights from those who currently have access to marriage. That is the basis of my support for this legislation.

We need to be disciplined, if I can use that term, about the language and about the way in which the debate is conducted. We need to respect the fact that on this issue there are different views that are deeply held. I too think this should be a conscience vote. I argued within my political party that it should be a conscience vote and I continue to have that view. Not everyone does. There was some criticism of me for having that view. My view is that a conscience vote across the parliament is the way that this reform will occur at some time in the future. But opposing the bringing on of this vote today does nothing to advance that cause. That is why I argue that the parliament should support the motion that I have moved to bring the bill before the chamber. We should have this determination. We should recognise that it does not conclude the debate. People who are discriminated against and want equal rights argue for it.

(Time expired)