5 December 2017, Parliament House, Canberra, Australia
There would be no greater contrast than me speaking immediately after the member for Melbourne. While his electorate had the highest 'yes' vote in the country, mine had the second highest 'no' vote in the country.
A few things have astonished me since then—first of all, the number of people who were surprised that that was the case. I have always had the understanding that, in my electorate, the opinion polls are roughly the reverse of what they are nationally. Secondly, I was astonished by the number of people who have said, as a democratic principle, I was obliged to break an election commitment as a result of the postal ballot. It's the first time I've ever heard the breaking of an election commitment being described as a democratic principle, but that's how a number of people have sought to put it.
Last time this issue was raised in the Parliament, I did vote no. Last time this issue was raised in the Parliament, I did not speak. In fact, in the many hours of debate we've had on marriage equality, this is the first time I've come to the dispatch box. When we first dealt with a marriage equality bill, there had been a resolution that the member for Melbourne just referred to in his speech, where we were told, and it was resolved, that we should consult with our electorates and, having consulted, we should vote accordingly. That meant a very different thing in my part of Sydney to what it meant in many parts of Australia. But, after that vote had taken place, we had a discussion within the cabinet room about marriage equality, and different people were putting their views as to why they'd voted particular ways.
I've checked with Senator Penny Wong that she's okay with me saying this. I would never give up something that was said in the cabinet room, but, only yesterday, she let me know that she is okay with it being repeated. At the end of that discussion in the cabinet room, where different people had put different views, we were about to move to the next item on the agenda and, in a very soft, gentle but clearly audible voice, Penny just uttered the words, 'Say black instead of gay and hear how it sounds.'
I can't think of a single sentence that has had a deeper effect on me than the words that Penny Wong said in the cabinet room—'Say black instead of gay and hear how it sounds'—not only because of the emotion of hearing those words but also because, when you think about my electorate, my part of Sydney does know discrimination.
The people in my part of Sydney don't know terribly well the discrimination that this legislation seeks to fix, but they know discrimination. When discrimination on the basis of race is happening, including from some prominent people at the other end of this building, my electorate gets targeted full-on. When there's discrimination against people on the basis of their faith, my electorate gets targeted absolutely.
They need someone who will fight discrimination and will win. They don't need someone who will run some sort of argument that some forms of discrimination are okay and others aren't. If I'm going to be true to the needs of my electorate, of my part of Sydney, of my neighbours and of that little three-kilometre circle that I've lived inside all my life, where most of the rest of the people have travelled around the world to be there, they need someone who will fight discrimination fearlessly because, on national polls, in my part of Sydney, the people who get discriminated against are never in the majority. So, if I'm willing to defend them as minorities, I can't pick and choose.
Within my part of Sydney, there are census figures which can't be true. In my suburb of Punchbowl, there are something like 4,000 coupled households and yet only eight identify as same-sex. You look at the statistics around the rest of the country and you think, 'What could that mean?' It means a whole lot of people move out, it means a whole lot of people just don't identify and it also means a lot of people, no doubt, find themselves in terribly unhappy heterosexual relationships.
It would manifest itself in a number of ways. But, ultimately, it also means that there are young people in my part of Sydney who, on top of the religious discrimination and on top of the discrimination on the basis of their race and ethnic origin, cop this one too. For heaven's sake, I'm not going to leave them on their own. We can't have a situation where there is a credible argument that says, 'Because you represent a multicultural community, there is a form of discrimination that you must endorse.' I can't be party to that.
On the amendments that have been put forward and that have been flagged: I indicated before any amendments were proposed in any way that I would be opposing them. That includes amendments that the member for Melbourne will put, which will come from one direction, and the amendments that the member for Warringah will put, which come from another. I indicated that I would oppose them for a very simple principle: if this House approves marriage equality in a different form to the Senate we run a very real likelihood that we will get a dispute between the houses, and where we are dealing with conscience votes we have no way of resolving that.
If we go through the entire process that the postal ballot was about and we get to the end of this year—after the public have been forced through what they've been forced through and after the affected community have gone through what they've gone through—and we still don't get it done, the Australian people will have every right to be deeply frustrated and sick to death of this place. There will be some amendments that will have a level of merit, I have no doubt, from one side or the other, but to contemplate this not getting done I think is truly unthinkable.
It's also the case that some of the amendments that have been put to me by some people locally, who I deeply respect, are amendments that defend principles which I agree with. They are principles which I do not believe are in the slightest way put at risk by this legislation. This legislation is not the first time that the Marriage Act has presented different definitions to those of the Christian faith, or the Buddhist faith or the Muslim faith.
In fact, for the entire history of this act, it has never been an exact match to any form of religious marriage. Therefore, I don't for the life of me see how people will suddenly be able to stop observing their religious beliefs. I don't see how charities will suddenly have a problem when they already have a view of marriage that doesn't match the Marriage Act. I can't for the life of me see how these problems will arise and, therefore, I can only form the view that there are some people, whether they are inside the Parliament or without it and have been part of the 'no' lobby, are simply trying to play a game of messaging. I don't see why the Parliament should be part of that.
So, if we ended up with a clear question and I thought there were a threat to people being able to preach their religion in their temples, in their synagogues, in their prayer rooms or in their mosques—if I thought that was going to be at threat—then I would support legislation that dealt with that. If there is ever legislation that puts that at threat, I'll be speaking pretty loudly against it. This legislation doesn't; it absolutely doesn't. It is disingenuous for people in this House, who deal with legislation as the core business of what we do, to pretend for a minute that those issues are at threat.
I have always been conscious of the fact that the forms of discrimination and hate speech that I have dedicated most of my political career to opposing are forms of discrimination I will never experience. I'll never know what it's like to travel on the train and be abused by a stranger for what I wear. I'll never know what it's like to be in the playground and to be pushed around by other kids because of the colour of my skin. Nor will I know in my life what it's like to be considered different from other people, and less than other people, because of who I love.
But how can I defend the person who gets abused on the train and defend the child in the school playground, and not also defend the person who is discriminated against on the basis of who they love?
My electorate, my part of Sydney, needs someone who can. My part of Sydney needs someone who can fight discrimination fearlessly and win.
I'll be voting yes. There will be plenty of people in my electorate who are disappointed by that, but no-one will be surprised and no-one will see it as anything other than me being completely consistent with the person who presented to them and who they chose to elect.