Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt) (10:13): I present the explanatory memorandum to this bill and move:
That this bill be now read a second time.
Mr Speaker, as I'm sure you are well aware, I've been a long-time advocate for changes in this area and initially I found the journey to be very lonely, but it was something that I was absolutely determined to do. In 2004, when the parliament changed the definition of 'marriage' to exclude LGBTI Australians, I stood in the Liberal party room and questioned the decision. I didn't understand why we needed to do this. Hadn't LGBTI Australians been through enough? Why did we have to kick them on the way out the door? To me, it didn't make any sense.
Denying any Australian equal status and the same level of dignity is in my mind completely un-Australian. For me it was really quite simple. I don't understand how one section of our community should be treated any differently to any other. Life is tough enough and sometimes very hard, and if you're lucky enough to find someone to join you in the good and the bad, well, in my mind it's fantastic. I strongly believe that couples seeking wedlock are strengthening the institution of marriage.
There has been a lot of commentary about the length of my advocacy and some very flattering remarks. In the media, I was labelled a 'fiercely heterosexual Far North Queensland crocodile-and bull-catching Liberal'.
However, the 12 or 13 years I have been raising this issue and seeking to remove legal and financial discrimination within the gay and transgender community, and also advocating for the right to marry for same-sex couples, has
been relatively short compared to those Australians who have had to endure these inequalities for their entire life.
In 2007, I worked tirelessly to remove the financial and legal discrimination that gay and lesbian Australians faced.
In 2010, I came back from retirement because I felt that I had unfinished business. I hope that some of that business can be dealt with this week, because a clear majority of Australians back this because they believe in a
fair go. They are sick of politicians playing games with real people and real lives.
In endorsing this legislation, I would like to dedicate my advocacy to a number of very special people who have come forward, shared their life stories with me and helped to reinforce my commitment to why these changes are so necessary.
The first person I'd like to dedicate this to is Alana-and Alana: you know who you are. When my interest in dealing with discrimination in the same-sex community was first reported in the mid-2000s, there were a number
of news articles that focused on the motives behind my advocacy. One, by Glenn Milne, ran: 'MP Warren Entsch tells why he supports gay rights. “How my mate became a woman.”' While I didn't actually participate in that interview, he clearly made assumptions and had an interesting description of me, and made reference to the friendship that I'd made many years before when I was living in western Queensland. Imagine my surprise when I received an email. I'd like to quote comments from that email: I was humbled to hear your/our story in today's Sunday Mail. Later in the email Alana states:
For the sake of those families that differ in composition to the Prime Minister's ideal I hope you are successful in your campaign. As you and I know, there is absolutely no family in the country that can assume it will be immune to having a child/grandchild/relative that is gay or transgender. There was certainly never a straighter family/community than the one I was born into. Hopefully, these families would then want that person to have the same rights in their relationships that other Australian's take for granted. In closing-she said-
I will just give you an update on my life since we last saw each other. I went back to school and university, graduating from medicine at The University of Melbourne and am now working as a doctor in Victoria. A great success. I have to say, Alana, it was very inspirational and moving for me, and many times when I felt pretty lonely on this journey in this place I would often pull out your email and read it, and that reinforced my commitment to what I was doing. I say thank you to Alana.
I'd like to also acknowledge two others, possibly the oldest gay couple in Australia, according to media reports- John Challis and Arthur Cheeseman. John was another of those who reached out to me in the early days to share
his story with me. John and Arthur have been together for more than 50 years in a totally committed relationship. They reinforced the question in my mind-why shouldn't two people who have shared a life together in a strong
and committed relationship have the right to choose how they express their commitment to each other? I want to thank John and Arthur for sharing their story and inspiring me, and I dedicate my advocacy to you both. I understand that wedding plans are on the way, possibly in January. John, you actually look like you're going to be married before your 90th birthday! My heartfelt congratulations to you both.
Finally, I dedicate my advocacy to another very special person, Kate Doak. Kate came to me as a journalist trying to understand my advocacy in this arena and over an extended period of time in my office she eventually shared
with me her own personal story, a story that I had the privilege of being the first person to hear. Subsequently, both myself and my staff-in particular, Heather Beck in my office-have been there for Kate. I thank you, Kate, for your inspiration and again I dedicate my advocacy to you.
I'd also like to mention Rodney Croome and David Scammell. When the media articles first appeared about my advocacy, I received many responses from family and friends of the gay community saying they wanted to come out and support me as well. But Rodney Croome and David Scammell travelled to Canberra, sat down with me, and, for the first time in my life, provided me with an insight into the inequalities and discrimination that gay people faced. I thank them for the opportunity, because without their contribution I may never have been aware of the issues and I may not have started on this journey.
I'm not going to go into the technicalities of the bill, other than to say there has been a huge amount of effort put into it. The bill, which the Senate passed, is a robust bill. A whole range of religious protections are already in place. As Senator Dean Smith said when he was tabling it: this bill reflects the most fundamental liberal and conservative values which our party stands for: 'liberal' because it delivers freedoms for couples to marry and 'conservative' because it strengthens the social fabric and the vital institution of marriage. This bill is about marriage and only about marriage. Nothing in this bill takes away existing rights or freedoms; it doesn't create different classes of marriage. What it does is give same-sex couples the same legal rights as other couples.
We have made sure that we have removed any element of discrimination in this bill while ensuring that religious freedoms are protected. LGBTI couples will be free to marry the person that they love in a civil marriage; the freedom of ministers of religion and religious marriage celebrants to only perform religious marriages in accordance with their religious beliefs remains unchanged. There may be amendments proposed on free speech, discrimination law, education, charity law, tax law. These are all worthy causes and important debates, but they don't need to form part of this bill today. Australians are sick of excuses and they're sick of delays.
The majority of Australians voted yes on same-sex couples being able to marry in front of friends and family who love them in this country that they call home. They did not vote for a new form of discrimination. Amendments about unrelated issues, amendments that seek to delay same-sex marriage for the 61.6 per cent of Australians who made their preferences clear or amendments that seek to unwind or remove any legal rights or discrimination protections will be opposed. Australians did not vote for fairness and equality only to see other legal protections peeled away in this bill.
I announced my intention to introduce a bill back in 2015, but, unfortunately, that didn't occur because of decisions that were made to commit the coalition to a plebiscite. I didn't agree with the plebiscite and I was disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to introduce my bill to the floor of the parliament.
However, rather than focusing on the process, I did everything I could to focus on an outcome. That plebiscite was taken to the 2016 election. It was during this period that there were a number of very special individuals who entered
the parliament, providing an opportunity for us to work as a collective determined to get a vote on marriageequality in the 45th Parliament. I would like to acknowledge my good friend and colleague here beside me Trent
Zimmerman. The last time I wore this rainbow tie was at Trent's maiden speech. He's the member for North Sydney. In front of me here I've got Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein. And of course fellow Queenslander Trevor Evans, the member for Brisbane, is also here-all kindred spirits in this advocacy. Together we committed ourselves to making sure same-sex marriage was on the agenda and that we'd have the opportunity to vote for it in this place.
Special mention to my friend Senator Dean Smith, who was a member of the Senate Select Committee on the Exposure Draft of the Marriage Amendment (Same-Sex Marriage Bill). He did outstanding work in incorporating the findings of the consenting report from the committee into the bill that we are now debating, which has already passed the Senate. I have to say I was not happy with the postal survey, and I expressed that view, but I have to congratulate Peter Dutton for this initiative. When he approached me, I suggested to him that it would never work, and I honestly didn't think it would.
However, there's always-always!-a benefit in hindsight. It probably was the best thing that we did in so much as the participation rate was extraordinary: almost 80 per cent of registered Australian voters, and the fact we got a vote of almost 62 per cent shows that an absolute majority of Australians have come along with us on this journey. It certainly provides us with the opportunity to celebrate inclusion and diversity, and is one of the biggest political mandates in the history of our nation.
While there were great celebrations in Australia, when the result came through I was in New York. Let me assure you that this result wasn't just celebrated in Australia: it was celebrated around the world. I remember driving home after a function in lower Manhattan not long after the results were announced and seeing the Empire State Building lit up in rainbow colours to acknowledge this historic event.
I'd like to acknowledge the team from the Equality Campaign who've been invaluable in their assistance. I value their support and their friendship. They are Alex Greenwich, Tom Snow, Anna Brown, Janine Middleton, Tiernan
Brady, Clint McGilvray, Lee Carnie, Corey Irlam and, last but not least, Claire Dawson. There were so many others, too numerous to mention, who made the 'yes' campaign such a success: I thank them for that.
In this place we all come here to make a difference, and we do in so many ways through our electorate work and in assisting national policy. However, it is rare that we have the opportunity to make a change such as we have achieved through this legislation and the profound, positive impact it will have on so many lives, not only those within the same-sex community but also on their family and their friends. We have a responsibility to the Australian people this week: we must do what we believe is right. Who is it to say that another person should
be denied equal rights or that their love is in some way lesser because of who they love? This bill will take from no-one; it simply makes our nation a kinder and a fairer place.
Delaying equality for every Australian, whether they be from Bundaberg or Fremantle, simply is not good enough. At the end of day, life is too short: we must vote on this and get on with it. I know that there are many weddings planned in the near future, once this legislation is carried through. I wish all of those brides and all of those grooms the very, very best in their marriage in the future.
Leave granted for second reading debate to continue immediately.
The SPEAKER: Is the motion seconded?