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Second Reading Speech: Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Protections) Bill 2017

I rise today in the chamber to speak in support of the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and I want to make three points. Firstly, this has been a good process, reflecting the best elements of Australia's democratic traditions. Secondly, this good process happened with no thanks at all to the Labor Party. Thirdly, it is important to respect the views of all Australians as we go through this process.

Why has this been a good process? The Coalition took a promise to the 2016 election that, before putting same-sex marriage to the parliament, we would give the Australian people the chance to have their say, and we delivered on that promise. Nearly 80 per cent of eligible voters participated.

That's a very high level of participation for a voluntary exercise, a good sign for our democracy and a particularly good sign is the number of young people who participated, far in excess of some of the gloomy predictions.

There was a clear result nationally with 61.6 per cent of Australians voting yes, and a clear result in my electorate of Bradfield. In Bradfield, 60.6 per cent of respondents voted yes, very close to the national average. This is an outcome which is important in achieving community acceptance of what is a significant social change.

I take a classical Liberal position: the harm principle articulated by John Stuart Mill, which states:

'The only purpose for which power can be rightfully extended over any member of a civilised community, against his will'— Today we would say 'against his or her will'— 'is to prevent harm to others.'

It is in accordance with that position I voted yes in the postal survey. In accordance with the position that I have consistently stated given that both the Australian people and the people of Bradfield have, by majority vote, expressed their support for the law being amended to permit same-sex couples to marry, I will be voting yes on this bill.

This good process and this outcome have been achieved with no thanks at all to the Labor Party. When you saw the opposition leader on 29 November turning up at the rally in Melbourne proudly proclaiming that today we celebrate, tomorrow we legislate, you would think this was a man seeing his own painstaking work come to fruition. But you would be naive and credulous to think that because the facts are clear: the Leader of the Opposition didn't want the law to change in December 2017. He wanted nothing to happen until after the election in 2019 so he could use this as a campaign issue.

His most recent position has been trenchant opposition to the Australian people being given a say. He said,

'… we will oppose this ill-conceived, ill-thought-out plebiscite.'

But the Leader of the Opposition has been as inconsistent and slippery on this issue as he was on the issue of whether he supported Kevin Rudd or Julia Gillard for the leadership. Remember the Leader of the Opposition told the Australian Christian Lobby on 13 August 2013 that he

'would rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people'.

The facts are also clear that Labor had six years in government and did nothing to deliver this important social change. In fact, Julia Gillard was adamant in 2012 that the Labor government would not be introducing legislation to change the definition of marriage.

The Turnbull government has carried out a process which has allowed the Australian people to have their say in the face of trenchant and politically cynical opposition from Labor.

In yet another slippery display from the Leader of the Opposition, having said earlier this year Labor was calling for a free vote in parliament, what Labor is actually doing now is not allowing Labor MPs a conscience vote on amendments whereas the Liberal Party has a free vote on every aspect of this issue.

We have had a good process but it is very important we respect the views of all Australians, including the more than five million who voted no. They were motivated by a range of factors, including concerns about the maintenance of religious freedom. This is a very important issue, which is why the Turnbull government has committed to hold a separate inquiry into the protections of religious freedom in this country to be led by the Honourable Philip Ruddock.

A number of my constituents have raised concerns with me that religious leaders and institutions may face restrictions on maintaining teachings about marriage which have been core principles of their faith over centuries, indeed, millennia. There are, of course, provisions within the bill before the House designed to address these issues. In addition, a number of amendments have been put before the parliament on these issues and I will examine these amendments on their merits before finalising my position.

A number of my constituents have also raised concerns with me about the social engineering agenda being pursued in schools by people like the Marxist educator Ros Ward. Many parents very much disagree, for example, with the idea that primary school children should be required to engage in workshops about gender identity and same-sex attraction. While that is not the subject matter of this bill, it is important to acknowledge the very real parental concerns on these issues.

Let me conclude by returning to the subject matter of this bill. The Turnbull government has carried out a process which has allowed the Australian people to have their say in the face of trenchant and politically cynical opposition from Labor. The outcome, which we are arriving at, reflects leadership by the Prime Minister. I also want to congratulate the members for North Sydney, Brisbane, Goldstein, Leichhardt and Senator Dean Smith on the work they have done to get to the point that we are at today.

This is a matter which is of considerable importance to gay and lesbian Australians. The Australian people have by a clear majority stated their opinion that the institution of marriage, this powerful force for good in our society, should be available to Australians in a same-sex relationship as it is to Australians in a heterosexual relationship. I welcome that decision and I am pleased to have the opportunity to express my support for this bill.