(Matter of Public Importance, Thursday 10 August 2017, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
I am grateful that this afternoon the Parliament is discussing this matter of public importance on marriage equality, which has had the nation's attention this week. I am also grateful for the way in which the New South Wales Parliament has always dealt with issues like marriage equality. We have always been able to have respectful debates in which we share and acknowledge our own opinions and differences. This Parliament is not afraid to bring these issues to a vote, and even when we disagree with each other, we work towards finding a resolution.
Obviously it is disappointing that this has not been the experience in the Federal Parliament this week. It is very disappointing to supporters of marriage equality and same-sex couples across the country that there is continued inaction on the part of the Federal Government with its refusal to do its job by allowing a vote in the Parliament. Members of the Federal Coalition Government should be allowed a free vote or a conscience vote on same-sex marriage. Indeed, during the Howard years there were five conscience votes. In fact, 20 members of the current Federal Government have voted according to their conscience at a certain point in their careers, including 10 Cabinet Ministers.
It is despairing that at the end of last Monday's Federal Coalition party room meeting a decision was made to reintroduce the failed plebiscite policy, to engage in a flawed postal vote plebiscite, and to delay this important and straightforward reform even longer. I thank and acknowledge those Government members who stood up for the Australian values of fairness and equality. They stood up for a nation that truly values equality for everyone and wants to celebrate it. Those members stood up for freedom for the individual, for our ability to debate, and to allow such debate come to a vote. Those members were of course Tim Wilson, Trent Zimmerman, Trevor Evans, Warren Entsch and Senator Dean Smith, who drafted a same-sex marriage bill.
We now face the threat of a postal vote plebiscite. We cannot underestimate the impact that this has had on supporters of marriage equality across the country. We have been working long and hard, hoping that Parliament would do its job and allow a vote on this reform. Sadly, we have been disappointed. In response to that, a strong legal challenge is being mounted against the Federal Government highlighting that it should not be able to spend $120 million of taxpayers' funds without parliamentary oversight. That challenge will continue. An urgent injunction is also being sought to stop the postal vote plebiscite.
In this past week, I have been asked by community members, constituents and members of the media about what we should do next. Obviously, we fight the legal challenge and try to win it. However, we must also acknowledge the impossible situation that supporters of marriage equality are in, and particularly same-sex couples. We are facing a prospect of a national plebiscite to determine our rights and dignity. That sets a horrible president. We must acknowledge that, but at the same time we must continue to campaign for marriage equality despite the challenges.
This reform will bring our nation together. It brings unions and corporate Australia together. It brings councils across the country together. It brings members of every political party together. It brings together all who truly believe that in Australia nothing should stop people being able to marry the person they love in the country that they love. So we fight on. We will fight this in the courts. We will campaign long and hard until this reform is finally achieved, and I hope that will be this year. Voting on this reform will be a unifying moment for our Federal Parliament, just as it was for the New Zealand Parliament, the Maltese Parliament and the United Kingdom Parliament. Our Federal Parliament can deal with this and should deal with it. It is time our Federal parliamentarians did their job so that we can all celebrate this reform, which will truly, truly make our nation proud.
Read other members' contributions HERE.
In reply: I thank my colleagues who contributed to this debate: the member for Summer Hill, the member for Davidson, the member for Newtown, and the wonderful interjection from the member for South Coast. I thank them for their strong commitment to this matter, hopefully one day soon, being resolved by our Federal Parliament. It is critical that it is because we must not forget the debates about the politics of this matter, the process and the people that this reform will impact. Those people include Dawn Hawkins, who is running a strong campaign for marriage equality in the South Coast electorate; Peter Duval, who recently lost his partner of 50 years, Peter Bonsall-Boone; and the couples across Australia who want to get married in the country they love, respect and value.
I particularly thank the tireless campaigners for marriage equality who are part of the Equality Campaign, and Australian Marriage Equality, and grassroots campaigns across the country. They are actively involving themselves in social media, contacting their members of Federal Parliament, speaking at forums, and speaking in the media. They are leaders and passionate supporters of marriage equality and work for the equality campaign in the most dedicated way that I have ever seen.
It is their campaigning and their committee to an Australia that truly values fairness and equality that inspires many to keep on campaigning. It is because of the commitment of so many people that we must pick ourselves up, brush ourselves off, and keep on going.
As I said, we must make sure we are campaigning for marriage equality in any challenge or context we are given. We must make sure that our Parliament finally resolves this as soon as possible. We need to move forward. Marriage equality will be a wonderful reform for our Parliament to achieve and to celebrate. But there are many challenges and opportunities that we need to face. This is a critical challenge and one that I hope will be dealt with so that we can all move forward and celebrate together. Whether it is in Nowra or Oxford Street, there will be parties across the country celebrating the achievement of a reform that is all about, as Madam Speaker said, making people happy.