SPEECH - Do it now—that's what the people of Australia are saying

November 27, 2017

I rise to speak on the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and I do so with great hope for our country.

I thank the parliament and the people of Australia for the enormous courage that has been taken at some of the most personal and intimate levels for individuals across our country and here in our parliament: to put forward their views on whether it's yes or no—importantly, in a respectful manner. It is the courage of our nation—it is the description of who we are as Australians—when we say yes: to moving forward, yes. When the people of Australia voted so much in favour of yes, our parliament now just has to get it done. Do it now! Do it now—that's what the people of Australia are saying and that is our job here as parliamentarians.

I stood here during my first speech to the parliament to tell a very personal story. I called then on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to legislate in the parliament to allow same-sex marriage, because we could do it. Why did I say that? I said it from a very personal perspective, and I've heard so many of my colleagues in the chamber speak exactly like that.

I will share again with the Senate what I said on entry into the parliament about my family. It was about my cousin's sister: a young lesbian Aboriginal woman from the Gulf of Carpentaria who struggled with her sexual identity and who was made to feel that, as an Aboriginal woman, it was something she should not be talking about. The attitudes not just of those around her but also of our country reflected deeply in her life and in the way that she lived her life. But it all became too much and, at the young age of 23, she took her life. Our families have missed her terribly. Each time we talk about this issue, I know how it touches my family and of the frustration, recklessness and inability to be able to just say: 'Hey, it's okay. Who you love and how you live, it's okay.' Well, this week, this parliament is hopefully going to say: 'Yes, it's okay. It's okay'.

I commend Senator Smith for his courage in navigating through, no doubt, an incredibly difficult time on his side.

We want this bill passed before Christmas. Labor went to the last election with a clear and unambiguous policy: that, if elected, we would introduce legislation to make marriage equality a reality across our nation within the first 100 days of government. The plebiscite devised by those opposite, a policy devised by opponents of marriage equality and designed purely to delay the cause of marriage equality, was really not about progressing it.

Certainly leading up to the survey, I reflected and voiced concerns about the ability of all people in the Northern Territory to fairly participate in this postal survey. Historically in the territory we have a low voter turnout, and this is especially relevant for areas outside of Darwin. I raised in this Senate how many people live in the bush, on stations or in town camps, and that the very nature by which the postal survey was created and conducted did not support the people who live in these regions, many of whom do not have a postal address and, in some cases, don't even have a birth certificate. The immense amount of heartache caused by the 'no' campaign was prominent in the Northern Territory. The rumours, half-truths and lies spread rapidly, but, nevertheless, in the face of adversity, the people of Northern Territory stood strong and we got it done. 

In Alice Springs, the central Australian community got together to paint a mural to support the 'yes' vote. Despite being vandalised, the Little Mural That Could was repainted by the 'yes' volunteer community in a rainbow reincarnation.

All the hard work of the 'yes' volunteers paid off with the Lingiari electorate's 'yes' result of 54 per cent. Similarly, when anti-marriage equality graffiti appeared in Darwin, community members were quick to turn the offensive message into a statement for equality.

The NT News ran several campaigns in support of marriage equality, a view supported by the majority of Territorians, at 60.6 per cent. NT News in early August this year wrote: The time for talking is over. The public are sick of the bickering and political point-scoring about same-sex marriage. The Northern Territory in Australia need to move forward. This was what was being talked about in the Northern Territory. But there are other things that occurred throughout the same-sex marriage campaign, and I want to put on the record a very big thank you to other courageous people in the Jesuit community, in the schools of Saint Ignatius' College and in Xavier Catholic College and to the principals and rectors of both. In Saint Ignatius's newsletter, Viewpoint, Principal Dr Paul Hine rejected a warning from Melbourne Archbishop Denis Hart, which was revealed by Fairfax media, that staff at Catholic schools and parishes who entered same-sex marriage could be sacked. Dr Hine said it was a difficult time for same-sex-attracted people, who faced an onslaught from not only the media but also religious institutions: I do not know if Riverview has any LBGTQI teachers or parents in the college and if they have intentions of marriage: I won't be asking with a view to removing them from the school. Those of same-sex orientation who are part of our community are welcomed and valued as part of the greater mission of the church, and that is to bring God's love to the world and those in need of it. The rector, Father Ross Jones, also wrote specifically about the need for compassion, love and understanding. And it was an outstanding moment in the campaign for same-sex marriage. Outstanding why? Because those in religious institutions who believed and wanted to say yes were heartened and encouraged by the leadership of these leaders in the Jesuit schools. And I say thank you. As a former employee of Saint Ignatius' College I say thank you.

Before concluding my speech, I'd also like to share a story from a constituent about the needless anxiety and trauma caused by the postal survey: On the 15th of November after a long wait and sleepless night I sat in my car to find out how Australia had voted - was my relationship worthy of voting yes? I was in my car because I couldn't bear to be around others, what if it was a No vote what would I do? and what could I say? And I knew I could not console others and that the pain would run too deeply. Normally, I can find something in myself to support others but this one was personal it was my life and that was something very different. When I heard that Australia had voted yes I expected a huge sense of elation and that did happen, but mostly I felt relief. Relief the plebiscite was over, relief that maybe it would not take up all the dinner conversations with my friends and family, relief that I could drop the guard and just be a little bit angry with the No Campaign and the Coalition for marriage and every other person that had minimised the relationships of the LGBTI community. No one but the LGBTI community will know what it was like to have family members would probably vote NO and be terrified to discuss this out of fear of what that might mean to our relationship. Afterwards my blood boiled when I heard politicians pat themselves on the back and say the plebiscite was a good thing and positive thing and isn't it great that Australia said yes. That was insulting and no it was not a good thing it was never a good thing and as someone said the Government "outsourced" the decision to Australian citizens and thankfully they said yes, but there was a cost and that cost was a collective anxiety that never should have occurred. So I sat in my car and reflected and then my children rang, they were crying, laughing and of course asking when my partner and I were getting married. I was truly shocked at what the Yes vote meant to them. My partner and I have been together for 12 years and in that time we have gone through good times and bad, we have raised children and built a life together as a family and my children wanted our relationship to be solidified. They wanted it to happen, not because of economics, or legalities or because now we could but they wanted to be part of celebrating our relationship and because as my daughter said she didn't have to explain anymore. So now we wait again, our anxiety is not over it goes on. We just want to get this whole thing over with, we want our politicians to listen to the people and stop debating the validity of our relationships which is being mixed up in a "dog whistle" debate about where we can buy cake for our weddings which is insulting and discriminatory. The right to get married is so much deeper than where we buy our wedding cakes or which venue we go to. It is actually much simpler. This debate is about love, commitment and the right to our relationships. They are to be respected and valued like everyone else's.

Even in the face of an extremely unnecessary, expensive and divisive survey. Love is love. Love always wins.

That's the message from my constituents in the Northern Territory, that's the message to the Senate and that's the message to the Australian parliament: love is love. Let's just get this act together, hey? Thank you