Sep 19, 2012

Transcript of doorstop, Senate Courtyard

Issues:  Marriage Equality Bill; Cory Bernardi’s comments  

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  Thanks for joining us.

I want to make some comments about the debate that has just occurred and concluded on Stephen Jones’s Marriage Equality Bill before the Parliament.

The vote, in the end, was 42 votes in favour and 98 against. Some people chose to abstain and some people are away from the Parliament.

What is the case is that just a few years ago there wouldn’t have been the support of anything like 42 votes on the floor of the National Parliament for a Marriage Equality Bill.

It is important that those people who support marriage equality continue to engage in the debate which is inclusive in its nature, that we show by the way that we conduct ourselves that we have respect and tolerance for those who have different views.

I’m of the view that in liberal democracies such as Australia, and indeed throughout the Western world, that where there are areas of discrimination, be it on the basis of age, gender, race or sexuality, that over a period of time we’re seeing those barriers torn down.

Giving one section of the community rights that they currently don’t enjoy does nothing to take away the existing rights of that section of the community that currently can get married. I’m also of the view, and remain of the view, that the institution of marriage is not weakened by more Australians having the right to participate in it.

It was important that the debate be concluded. We allowed for more than five and a half hours of debate. There were many dozens of Members of Parliament who spoke and participated in that debate. At some stage there had to be a vote after everyone who wanted to speak had the opportunity to speak, so I was disappointed by Adam Bandt not granting leave for the vote to occur today.

QUESTION: [Indistinct] vote against in Parliament, do you think that Parliament is now out of step with community feeling on this, and what do you think the proportion would be in the community supporting gay marriage?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:   I think all the figures show that there is majority community support on this issue.

I’ve argued that there should be a conscience vote across the Parliament on this issue. I think at some future time Parliament will catch up with the community’s opinion, just as it has on other issues.

We passed 84 pieces of legislation in our first term that removed discrimination, and there was no fuss about that. Eventually, when marriage equality occurs, people will wonder what the fuss was about.

QUESTION: Would you support a Civil Unions Bill which I believe [indistinct] is drafting at the moment? And should that come on quickly, given that there’s a little bit of momentum there in the Parliament?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The feedback I have from members of the community is that they want equal rights, not a second best solution. That’s the feedback that I have but my mind is open to other issues.

I can’t comment on bills I haven’t seen, but the feedback from the community is now very different.

I’ve been in this Parliament since 1996. Not a single member of the community raised with me, in private, in public or in correspondence, a demand for marriage equality before John Howard put it on the agenda as a wedge issue in the latter years of his prime ministership. Before then it wasn’t raised with me.

I think the community has moved substantially and it’s moved much faster than I think people could have anticipated.

QUESTION: Mr Albanese, if there is a disconnect between Parliament and the public here, what do you think explains that disconnect?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: It’s for others to explain themselves, I’m here to argue for my own position.

I’m here also to argue that advocates of change need to continue to be inclusive in the way that the debate is conducted. That contrasts with some comments that we’ve seen in the other Chamber last night that are so offensive.

QUESTION: What would have happened to Cory Bernardi if he were a Labor member uttering those views?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I would hope that no Labor member would ever utter those sorts of views. I find those views just abhorrent.

Having seen Mr Abbott’s comments, I think he just doesn’t get it. He doesn’t get the need for respect. Mr Abbott has said that these comments were ill-disciplined. That’s not the point. The point is they were bigoted comments and every member of the Australian Parliament should disassociate themselves from them.

QUESTION: Do you support civil unions? Isn’t that a logical next step for you?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  I do support civil unions, but I also support marriage equality, and it’s a matter for the community, what they will support. There will obviously be a debate in the Parliament.

With regard to some of the tactical considerations, before the ALP National Conference, there were some people who argued against a conscience vote, including some of the Green Political Party members who were critical of Labor for moving to a conscience vote, and at the time that was seen as the second-best outcome.

Today, Adam Bandt argued that we shouldn’t have a vote in the Parliament until there’s a conscience vote across the Parliament. They can’t have it both ways.

The fact is Tony Abbott should allow a conscience vote on the floor of the Parliament. A conscience vote has been good enough for Barry O’Farrell in New South Wales, for example, to his credit.

So Tony Abbott should allow a conscience vote, but frankly we’re talking about adults here. The adults shouldn’t put their hand up like they’re in school and ask for permission on issues like this. They should demand a conscience vote. This is the Liberal Party – the party of the individual.  They should have the courage of their convictions. They should demand the right to have a conscience vote.

It’s clear from the vote that has been held today that the numbers simply aren’t there in this Parliament for change. Regardless of whether there’s a conscience vote or not, I can’t identify more than 30 members of the other side of politics on the floor of the House of Representatives, who will vote for marriage equality.

That’s one of the reasons why we had to have a vote, to stop some of the game-playing.

We’d had the debate, we had it from February. At one stage, there was a suggestion that Labor was trying to bring on this vote early, during the Budget session. We didn’t do that, we were never going to do that. We wanted everyone to have a right to speak to the legislation.

People have consulted their community. As Leader of House, I assure you that we don’t sit other pieces of legislation on the notice paper from February through to September.

QUESTION:  What did you think of Kevin Rudd’s position, he’s attended Rainbow Labor events, including during the ALP Conference, and he’s voted against it today?

ANTHONY ALBANESE:  You can support the rights of gay and lesbian people, and have a different view on this issue, as does the Prime Minister. I think we’ve just got to be inclusive about this.

This has got to be a debate that’s conducted in a mature way. I’ve tried to do that, and I go back to my superannuation same sex couples bill, in my first term of Parliament. When it was introduced, it was a controversial issue within the Labor Party and then we had 84 pieces of anti-discrimination legislation go through the Parliament during our first term of office.

QUESTION: Mr Albanese, you say that gay marriage eventually will get through the Parliament; do you have a time frame in mind? What’s acceptable?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: Discrimination isn’t acceptable, but what we have to do is continue to argue the case, and the community will argue the case.

The community won’t say, ‘oh, there’s been a vote, so we’ll stop arguing the case to remove this discrimination’, so it will occur, I think over a period of time.

If you take the views of any group, you know, change is difficult for people to deal with. I note Rob Oakeshott’s speech in the Parliament, who spoke after me, and spoke about his marriage to an indigenous woman and how that would have been difficult decades ago. That would now seem absurd that there’s something unacceptable about that.

We move forward.

If this was a press gallery 40 years ago, then most of the senior people around here would be wearing suits, not skirts. It’s a different world, the world moves on in liberal democracies over a period of time.

One of the things that I find frustrating sometimes about being a progressive, is sometimes the progressives romanticise the past a bit too much. The fact is, society is moving forward, and progressives have to be about hope, have to be about a positive agenda, that’s what I’m about. I’ll continue to be about that.

And now Stephen Jones I think, the sponsor of the bill, is going to have something to say as well.

Thanks very much.