Mr ENTSCH (Leichhardt-Chief Opposition Whip) (11:27): In speaking to this private member’s bill, the Marriage Amendment Bill 2012, I certainly would like to reconfirm my commitment to removing financial and legal discrimination against same-sex couples. I have been a very, very strong and a very public advocate on this issue since-from memory-about 2002, at a time when legislation was put forward in this place reaffirming the Marriage Act.
While I had no issue at the time with the Marriage Act, I was somewhat puzzled that there was a decision to put it forward at that time. I asked what it actually did in relation to the debate. I was told that, really, it was just reaffirming it; it was not going to make any changes. That caused me some concern because, in my view, if there were not going to be any changes and all you were doing was bringing it out into the public sphere again then all it was going to do was provide the opportunity for those individuals within the gay community to be subjected to more criticism or discrimination, which I thought was totally unnecessary. So, at that point in time, I spoke out against it.
I then had the opportunity of meeting some very fine Australians: Rodney Croome was one that came to see me, an activist from Tasmania, and David Scammell, was another one, from Sydney, who came to see me. They gave me some information in relation to problems associated with the gay community which at the time horrified me. I spent the next number of years raising these concerns and trying to get support, initially from within my own party, which was in government at the time, and also from within the opposition. I found very strong resistance on both sides to addressing this issue, but there were people who would-and I have one here beside me; Mr Turnbull was a very strong supporter right from the beginning, and I always appreciated that-through advocacy and introducing individuals who had suffered this discrimination to the Prime Minister of the day and to other members who were prepared to listen.
We were able to work up a whole range of reforms which eventually came to this place in 2008 and were supported very ably by both sides of parliament. When I left in 2007 I was very proud of the fact that it was something I had initiated and actively pursued. To see that come through with those discriminations, particularly in relation to superannuation and legal stuff through Centrelink, it gave me a great deal of satisfaction.
However, I had a short break of 2½ years, and when I came back I realised that there were areas that we had missed. Of those areas we had missed, one was in relation to aged care, and there is still a lot of work to be done there. The first person I met when I came back into this parliament after my break was Rodney Croome, wearing a slightly different hat as one of the champions of the Australian Coalition for Equality. I met him in my office and we had a lengthy discussion about his campaign. At the end of that discussion I explained to Rodney that I could not support his campaign.
I could not support it for a good reason. In building support for the reforms we saw in 2008 I was certainly not identified as a member of the gay community-in fact, quite the opposite-but I found that the definition given to me through the media showed that people had the view that I was not pushing my own agenda but rather focusing on the interests of others. There were a lot of other family members of gay people who said that if somebody of my background-a Far North Queensland, crocodile-farming, wool-catching Liberal-was prepared to be publicly advocating on behalf of their family members they would be prepared to come out and support me as well. Many of my colleagues also decided to come out in support, and it was that support that eventually saw that legislation go through. However, in doing so I had to give some strong commitments to those colleagues that I was not using this as some sort of a Trojan Horse to introduce marriage. I made that commitment and I intend to continue to keep that commitment.
As I explained to Rodney when we had our meeting in late 2010, I have come to realise that there is another area of discrimination of which the surface has hardly been scratched: that is, the issue of transgender and intersex. There is a huge amount of work that needs to be done there, and with tripartisan support we have been able to establish the first Parliamentary Friendship Group for the LGBTI community. Graham Perrett is, of course, one of my deputies as is Senator Sarah Hansen-Young. We have already had one very successful function in the parliament and it is our intention to have another one very shortly.
In commencing that work and raising those issues I made a commitment that I would champion the issues, particularly the issues of transgender and intersex. I have been working with Peter Hyndal from the A Gender Agenda group, who has in a recent conference prepared a paper of priorities that need to be addressed. That will be available in the next couple of weeks and will give us an idea of the issues that need to be addressed and the priorities in which we set them. I intend to work with Graham and Sarah to have another function in the future to be able to launch this and, hopefully, get some support to see some changes there.
I am doing this because my experience over the last 10 years has been that as soon as you throw the ‘m-word’ into this debate everything else gets lost and the focus comes onto that. I believe it is important that we focus on some of these other issues. There are some very serious issues in the transgender and intersex community that have to be dealt with in relation to identity, which is causing huge problems with them. Sadly, if these issues are not addressed, we are going to see very high and unacceptable levels of suicide in those areas. I have to say that I found the comments of Jim Wallace from the Australian Christian Lobby suggesting that this was a lifestyle choice, like cigarettes, to be absolutely appalling and I was disgusted with such a comment.
I would suggest it is more of a personal comment than a comment from the broader Christian community. I have a lot of Christian people, including members of the cloth, who come to me and very strongly support the advocacy that I have taken.
I have also offered, as a means of, if you like, achieving another goal, to prepare a private members’ bill in relation to a civil partnership arrangement. I in fact had one prepared. It is not a civil partnership for gay people or transgender people, it is civil partnership per se that any person of any orientation has the choice should they want to go down that path. I had that prepared but I was asked by members of the Marriage Equality Coalition not to introduce it during the course of this debate, to allow this debate to run its course, after which I will give some consideration as to whether or not I introduce that private members’ bill.
I will continue to be a very strong advocate of the LGBTI community. I think it is important that people like me stand up. People like my good friend Malcolm Turnbull have also been very strong advocates, and more and more members in the coalition are very strong in making sure that these discriminatory issues are dealt with, and we will continue to do that. I personally will continue to pursue the transgender and intersex issues that need to be addressed. Hopefully, like we saw in 2008, we are going to see some very significant reforms introduced that will start to give people of these sexual orientations the recognition and the acknowledgement that they so desperately need and deserve. I will continue to pursue it and, hopefully, we will get to a successful conclusion. In the meantime, in relation to this particular bill, for the reasons that I have stated previously I will not be supporting it.