SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

TRANSCRIPT

16 November 2017

JOINT DOORSTOP – CANBERRA

TOPICS: MARRIAGE EQUALITY, MARRIAGE EQUALITY PLEBISCITE

E&OE - PROOF ONLY

SENATOR DEAN SMITH: Ladies and gentlemen, Advance Australia Fair. This is Australia’s day. Not only did Australians participate in the strongest of terms in the Australian postal survey, with almost 80 per cent, but they have been emphatic and clear on two things. Emphatic and clear that equality before the law for same sex couples before the law is important to them. Emphatic and clear because they have said to Parliament it is now time for you to act, for you to uphold your end of the bargain.

This is, in our long history as a vibrant democratic and free nation. The most important electoral mandate we have seen. Stronger than the 1996 mandate that elected the Howard Government, stronger than the plebiscite rejection of military conscription in 1917. This is by any and every measure a huge democratic achievement for our country.

I thank those people for participating because many, many people participated who didn’t want to. It was not my first choice. But I accept that Australians have embraced it and given us a clear outcome, a clear result. It is now up to Parliament to do what it has always been expected to do – and that is to legislate, and I am arguing this afternoon to legislate on a bill that is fair, that is considered, dare I say it the sensible centre. But one that is born out of a comprehensive, careful Senate committee process.

If I can indulge for one moment, it is Australia’s day, but it is the Australian Senate’s day. This is a process that began many, many months ago. It began in December of last year with my colleagues Senator Janet Rice and Senator Louise Pratt, Senator Skye Kakoschke-Moore and myself in that Senate committee process. Yes, it is true. I took that report and I laboured over it with my Liberal colleagues and produced what we thought is a very fair, a very sensible bill that I think and that I hope will be the architecture that gives aspect to same-sex marriage.

Finally, thank you to Western Australia recording the second-highest vote of any Australian state. Thank you to all those West Australians who participated so strongly in seats like Pearce and Moore and Canning and Curtin and Brand who have made it crystal clear what their view is and how they want this done.

Ladies and gentlemen, Advance Australia Fair, I am proud to be a Senator, I am proud to be West Australian, I have never been more proud to stand up and represent Australian people than I was this morning when I listened to that result. Thank you.

SENATOR PENNY WONG: I wanted to start by saying one thing, thank you, Australia. Thank you for standing up for fairness. Thank you for standing up for equality. Thank you for standing up for gay and lesbian Australians, the LGBTQI community everywhere. Thank you for standing up for our families. Thank you for standing up for the sort of Australia we believe in, an Australia that is decent, an Australia that is fair, an Australia which is accepting an Australia that turns its back on exclusion and division. Thank you, Australia.

And now Australians have done their part, it is time for the Parliament to do our part and together we will. Together this group gathered here today from across the political spectrum. We will do our part and I hope that everyone in this Parliament has heard the resounding voice of the Australian people today. A mandate for change, a mandate for fairness, a mandate for equality because it is time. It is time to change the marriage law. It is time to remove discrimination. It is time for equality.

A final comment I want to make is to our community, the LGBTQI community across Australia. You didn’t want this process and it has been really hard for many of you. I know that because I have moved around the country and spoken to many of you. And I hope from this you can take a message of solidarity, of support, of decency from your fellow Australians. Thank you.

SENATOR RICHARD DI NATALE: I also want to thank those millions of Australians right around the country who today have said that they want this Parliament to legislate for equality and for love. At a time when this Parliament is perhaps at its lowest ebb, what we have seen through this process is the Parliament at its best. People working across party lines in the national interest. And I want to pay tribute to all of my fellow MPs gathered here today who have shown leadership. They have decided to put aside their partisan squabbles and to recognise that what we need to do is begin legislating in the interest of all Australians. This is a resounding result and we are so proud to be standing here today with such an emphatic result that says yes to love and yes to equality.

I just finish by saying I spoke to my two young boys last night and they asked if we were voting on anything. And I said, well, soon we will be voting on who can marry each other. I said we will be voting on whether boys can marry boys and girls can marry girls. And my young boy said, “can’t they do that already?” And I said no, they can’t, but we are going to change that. Then of course, the youngest boy said “great, I am going to marry Jessie”.

This is a great result not just for the people standing here, not just those communities who have experienced discrimination, but for young people, for future generations, who now no longer have to walk in a society that says to them that their love is different to the love that other people experience.

We are very proud and now the job of this Parliament is to get on and legislate to recognise that Australians today said no to discrimination and any legislation that comes before this Parliament needs to ensure that we respect that and that this bill can’t be used as a Trojan Horse to entrenched discrimination. Thank you.

SENATOR LOUISE PRATT: Well, today I want to say thank you to Australia, but a particular thanks to everybody who has campaigned their hearts out for this Yes result.

As a member of the LGBTQI community myself, I know that this has not always been easy. It has been hard to go head-to-head with the No campaign on many of the things that have been said about our lives and our families. Australia has responded with resounding support for us and our community and for that I am incredibly grateful.

We wouldn’t be here today though if it were not for the fact that there are many lesbian and gay people in our community, and many who are long gone, who campaigned for lesbian and gay rights in much, much harder times when it was criminal to be gay or lesbian and when our identities were entirely stigmatised. So I want to say thank you to those brave people from decades past because we would not be here today without you. Thank you.

SENATOR SKYE KAKOSCHKE-MOORE: Well, I was at a marriage equality rally in Adelaide last month and while I was there I saw a woman holding up a sign and it said “I wasn’t going to ask her father, now I have to ask the whole country”. Well, to that woman and her partner, and all the other gay and lesbian partners out there, guess what, the country said yes.

SENATOR JANET RICE: I just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who voted yes, who voted for equality, for respect, for fairness and above all for love. And I want to say thank you to my fellow members of the lesbian gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community who have been put through a lot in the last two months. It has been a really difficult process having their human rights put to a public vote and to at least know, having got to the end of it that it was worth it. We should not have had to have been put through the process but we have got through it and now it is so wonderful to know that we have got the overwhelming support of the Australian community.

And I know through my marriage to Penny, 31 years of being married, this result won’t change it we’re going to stay married. But it means that others can join us. And I know that from Penny’s and my marriage, there is no difference between heterosexual marriage and a same sex marriage, and I know how much it means to people, all people, you know, lesbian, gay, the bisexual, the intersex community, the trans and the gender diverse community as well to know that they are valued and respected. Their love is celebrated just like anyone else and that is a wonderful thing.

I am looking forward to continuing the cross-party work that has been a real highlight of my time in the Senate, to be working with the team that has got our Senate Inquiry up and now we have been working together with this cross-party legislation and getting it through the Senate in the next few weeks really so that we can achieve this magnificent change for Australia.

SENATOR DERRYN HINCH: Well, last and certainly in this company least, most certainly. I stand here as a person who believed that marriage was between a man and a woman because it just was. It wasn’t until 10 years ago that I realised that my argument supporting that premise was so shallow that it was no argument at all. And that is when I changed my mind.

I say to the gay community what I said to Senator Wong four minutes before, as those long minutes ticked by, I said to her it is a disgrace that we are even here, that your lives are being judged by other people who have no right to decide how you live your life. But now, thankfully, Australia has endorsed your lives.

All I will say now is that a quote from when New Zealand voted in favour of same-sex marriage, marriage equality, four years ago. The morning after my heterosexual brother said, “New Zealand voted for same-sex marriage last night, the sun came up this morning and my life didn’t change one little bit.”

JOURNALIST: Senator Smith did the Prime Minister call you this morning after the results?

SMITH: There’s been lots of SMS’s and I’m sure there have been lots of phone calls and you’ll excuse me if I’ve not checked my phone. I do have a number of phone numbers though, but as far as I’m aware, no.

JOURNALIST: Senator Smith, I will start with you but it’s actually a question for all of you. Mathias Cormann at that press conference with the Prime Minister a moment ago made it very clear that he thinks your Bill should be amended in order to strengthen religious protections. Do you agree with that proposition and the question is for the group: at what stage do amendments to your cross-party bill mean that the bill gets sunk?

SMITH: I will start with that, if I may. I’ve not seen Senator Cormann’s comments. But when the Government established a process on which to deal with this, which included the Australian postal survey, it made it very clear that they would be free votes that would govern the management of this issue and the substantive issues around how amendments would be included.

Whether amendments to the bill are included requires the support of not just one Parliamentarian, not even five Parliamentarians but Parliamentarians across the Senate in the first instance and perhaps even across the House of Representatives. If there are amendments, let’s see them. Let’s see them early but let’s be very clear about this: Australians did not participate in a survey to have one discrimination plank removed, to have other planks of discrimination piled upon them. They said no. They said no clearly.

For those that were paying particular attention to the detail, they saw a bill that was sensible, that was fair, that was on the public record for three months, that was born out of a Senate Committee process, that has, at its core, transparency. It is a sensible, fair way. It is a starting point but amendments must be agreed not by one, not by five, but by the Parliament.

WONG: First as a matter of process, if we are successful in the motion we’ve jointly moved today, we will commence the second reading of the bill tomorrow. We won’t move to the Committee stage until we return to Parliament in the next sitting period which is when we will consider amendments.

I would make a couple of points about amendments. The first is, as Dean also referenced, Australians voted for equality. Australians did not vote to licence more discrimination. Certainly, I can speak for myself, that’s the basis on which I will be considering amendments.

The second thing I would say is this: I think Australians would look very unkindly upon people who seek to move amendments that they know are about trying to sink the bill because that would be a breach of faith with the Australian people and the result that has been announced today.

RICE: This legislation has to get through the Parliament, and so anything that happens to it that jeopardises that just can’t be supported. Australians have voted Yes for equality, they want to have legislation that reflects that. We’ve been consulting with the community over the last months and my reading of where the LGBTIQ community are at is that there are existing religious exemptions in our laws and they don’t want to see any further religious exemptions beyond our existing laws and so any amendments that we are considering will be to confirm that we are not extending religious exemptions beyond where our current laws are at.

HINCH: On the same issue as a part of the crossbench I totally endorse what Senator Smith has said and we are really aware that, in my view, Senator Paterson is being used as a naive stalking horse by the No voters in the Senate and the lower House and it won’t be tolerated. Any amendments will be minimal and I hope that the party room has the guts to withdraw his bill and just put up the amendments and they’ll be slaughtered.

JOURNALIST: Question for Senator Wong and for Senator Di Natale, Labor and the Greens are generally against guillotining debate in the Senate but we do have some time pressures here. Is that what we’re going to have to see in order to keep this on a timetable?

WONG: No, what we have done in terms of how we have drafted the motion – and you’ll see this if you look at the detail of the motion that will be voted on today – is that we’ve allocated a great deal of time. We recognise, notwithstanding the time that there are people in the Parliament who have different views and people are entitled to put those views, they’re not entitled to frustrate that bill on an ad nauseum basis. So what we have said is we’ve cleared out a range of hours on the next sitting week but the bill has to be dealt with finally by that sitting Thursday and we will sit until it is done. So that will get a lot of debate but we will sit in the next sitting week on that Thursday, and continuously, until it is done.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong just on the breakdown of the numbers, 17 of the seats, only 17 of 150 voted No but of those, 11 are Labor seats and 9 are in Western Sydney. So do you think there’s any political risk for your colleagues in the long run with this or do you think they’ll be able to vote Yes and safely retain their seats?

WONG: I think this demonstrates the political principles and courage of many of my Labor colleagues and we knew when we changed the party’s platform and they knew that there were members of their communities who didn’t support their position. But in the tradition of the Labor Party’s commitment to equality, it was logical that we proceed to extend equality to gay and lesbian Australians. So I thank my colleagues for their commitment to principle, to Labor principle and for their courage and I think that’s been demonstrated consistently in recent times.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, you’ll probably hate this but the cameras catching your very emotional reaction on the announcement, could you please describe for us?

WONG: – More? Seriously? Well you know, I apparently cried in front of millions of Australians and I’m just going to have to get over it alright?

HINCH: You weren’t the only one.

WONG: I wasn’t the only one. I think it’s relief isn’t it more than anything? It’s been a very emotional process, not just for me – cameras happen to be on me – but I suspect for many people around this country it’s been a hard process and for me, there was a lot of relief and tension. I think frankly, I’m kind of glad it’s over. We’ve just got to get it done in the Parliament, that’d be good.

DI NATALE: Can I just say quickly- the Greens are going to be supporting the hours motion today, we do want to see the debate continue and give people an opportunity through the next sitting week and we’ll facilitate that and people do deserve to have their right, of course, to put forward their view.

We don’t want to see this debate turn into a Trojan Horse for entrenching further discrimination and that’s the concern here. We know what the motivation is of some of these MPs who vehemently oppose marriage equality and they do see this as an opportunity to look at further entrenching discrimination when Australians today said we want to end discrimination. You don’t end discrimination by expanding it and entrenching it in law and so we can’t use this debate as a Trojan Horse to further expand discrimination in law.

And can I just say, if you can’t get emotional over an issue like this, I mean, Australians have said we want you to change the country. We want the country our children grow up in to be a very different country to the one we grew up in. That is a profound change that the Australian community have said to every Member of Parliament and if that’s not something to be emotional over I don’t know what is.

WONG: Thanks.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong, Tony Abbott put down a marker last week that 40% would be a moral victory for traditional marriage. We didn’t even get that result, can the No campaign claim any sort of solace out of this at all?

WONG: The first thing I would say is amongst those Australians that voted No, I think there are many Australians who might have a sense of uncertainty so they trusted No rather than Yes. That doesn’t mean they support or promote discrimination. It doesn’t mean that they don” want to be better reassured that this is a good deal. So I think that in that 38 or 39 percent Andrew, there are lots of different people with lots of different attitudes and it’s beholden on us to do the best that we can do to reassure them over coming weeks.

But importantly, as others have reflected, the sun will come up not on one day but on many, many days and it will go back down again but when I started this process I was very, very, clear – and this is a word I use with Janet and Louise often- our task is to reassure people that the fears some have used to get a No vote out are unfounded, are unreasonable, are unnecessary.

HINCH: And don’t forget that in Warringah the Yes vote was 75 per cent.

JOURNALIST: Senator Wong I know this is a bit of a cheeky question but will you be popping a question any time soon to Sophie?

WONG: Thank you very much but I think that’s something she and I can discuss in private.

Thanks everyone.