I have to agree with many of the speakers that have gone before me that this debate on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017 is an extremely important one; it’s a historic one. And there is no denying that the Australian people have been absolutely clear in their verdict on this issue. That is something that cannot be disputed whatsoever. Having said that, though, I don’t intend to take up a great deal of the Senate’s time today. I think there’s been much said out in the greater community but also in this building over many number of years, and so I will get straight to the point about my views on this issue.
Like many others in this chamber, I spend a great deal of time out on the ground in the community working with and for Tasmanians on issues that they feel are important to them, and this issue was no exception, especially when the matter of the postal survey was out on the ground and in people’s mailboxes. It certainly piqued people’s minds as to how they felt about this issue, and it was something that many people in small communities and in large towns right across the state wanted to discuss with me. For the most part, I have to say it was a respectful debate that took place in Tasmania. Sadly, of course, we’re always going to see elements on either side of the spectrum who go a little bit further than common sense would dictate and conduct themselves in an unbecoming way. People were able to raise their concerns and express their views in a very civil way. People came to me and said they were for it or they were against it and told me the reasons they held those views.
During my conduct of community consultation on this issue, I came across two people I wanted to make mention of in this debate—a same-sex couple I met. I toured a farm in the picturesque Derwent Valley in the southern part of Tasmania run by a young same-sex couple by the name of Bec Tudor and Bec Lynd. I went to tour their farm, see their works and listen to their proposals for the future to provide opportunities for further education for young Tasmanians who wanted to get into field of primary production, particularly in beef grazing and butchery. It was great having a look around Bec and Bec’s farm. I should also mention that Bec Lynd was the Tasmanian Rural Woman of the Year and the Tasmanian finalist in the Australian Farmer of the Year. Looking around their farm and hearing about their great ideas for the future was a wonderful thing to do. At the end of the tour, though, the item that they wanted to discuss was, of course, marriage equality—something that was incredibly important to them, something that they felt very strongly about for obvious reasons. We were able to have a very, very respectful discussion about an issue that, as I say, was very clearly important to them.
The reason that I mention Bec and Bec, people I’ve come to know fairly well through the activities they’re pursuing in our community, is that I think they typify what is good about Australia—something I have consistently said in this place and publicly about how Australians will conduct themselves, for the most part, in a public debate on an issue as sensitive and important as this one. Bec and Bec were very respectful. They heard where I was coming from and we were able to exchange views, and I was able to take home, from a very moving conversation, exactly how they felt and why they felt that way. I think they typify Australia as an innately good country, a mature country, a tolerant country and an inclusive nation.
Sadly, though, it’s not always the case that people do conduct themselves in a mature and becoming way. We have our keyboard warriors who, in the time of social media, like to use the anonymity of the keyboard, internet and all sorts of social media platforms to have their say, to be spiteful and to be not at all constructive in the debate. But, thankfully, they are very much the minority. It is sad, though, that in this country some people don’t want to front up and have their say face-to-face.
I made my position clear on this issue early in the debate. It’s one that I held not because of fear, not because of hate—as some have characterised it—but out of love for my God and my faith. That’s something I feel very strongly about. But I’ve also said from the outset of the debate that, if my home state of Tasmania were to vote in favour of changing the laws around the definition of marriage, we should obey the will of the Tasmanian people. So that’s what I intend to do: to give effect to what the Tasmanian people clearly said they wanted done right here in the Senate.
Of course, this debate is going to be a long and involved one. It’s one that’s going to be canvassing a great many changes that have been proposed by various senators in this chamber. I do believe, as is the case with every piece of legislation that we consider in this place, that it’s our job to ensure that the end result is the best piece of legislation, the best law, possible. We have to make sure that there are no unintended consequences. We have to make sure that concerns are heard and that, where possible, we address them. That’s what we’re paid to do in this place and that’s what we should be doing through this debate, as long as it may take—but hopefully it doesn’t take too long.
We know that senators have indicated that they will introduce amendments and so we will be considering them. We can’t pretend that we’re not going to be considering amendments in this debate. We need to do it, and I hope it is a respectful debate. But the job we have is to make sure that, at the end of this debate, the final product that we send off to the House of Representatives, the other place, is the best possible piece of legislation to do exactly what we need it to do and that it doesn’t have any unintended consequences, whatever form that actually takes.
I want to touch on a paragraph in the speech made by my good friend and colleague Senator Dean Smith, the proposer of this bill. Towards the end of his speech, Senator Smith said:
Many Australians voted no because they fear a world where they won’t be able to live their identity, where they can’t fully express who they are. They fear a world where they will be shamed for who they are. They fear a world where their faith will be questioned by internet mobs and government tribunals. They fear a world where they mightn’t be promoted at work if people knew what they believed or how they lived. They fear a world of ostracism for who they are and what god they follow. They fear a world where violence might be directed against them by a mad few for no reason other than the faith they profess, the place in which they choose to worship.
Senator Smith then went on to eloquently outline how what he’d just explained—with reference to the fears and the concerns held by those who voted no in the postal survey—mirrored the fears and anguish that the LGBTI community have experienced in the many years leading to this point in time. That is why it’s so important in this debate and the debate that will take place in the other place that we ensure that this discrimination against any part of our community—any minority—is not repeated in any way. We have to listen to the concerns that have been raised by members of our community—the people who did vote no. We have to hear them. We can’t ignore them. We need to make sure that, in completing debate on this legislation and in sending something off to the House of Representatives, we do so with a package that is inclusive and that does deal with the issue of discrimination, as we promised it would when we began this debate.