Openly gay Labor frontbencher Penny Wong has delivered an emotion-charged speech to the Senate opposing the government's plan to hold a plebiscite on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Below is an edited transcript of her speech.
This motion is not about giving Australians a say. This motion is about weakness and division on that side of the Parliament. This motion is about a government so divided that they have to handball a hard decision to the community to make it because they can't make it in their party room. That is what this is about. No amount of words can hide from the fact that this is one big massive handball, because this is a government without a leader, utterly divided on this issue. That is what this vote is about.
The reality is this is all a stunt and everybody knows that. Now, I have a lot of regard for Senator Mathias Cormann. He is generally a very decent person to deal with and he is trying valiantly to create some logic over what is an utterly ridiculous position. It is a stunt and an expensive stunt. There are a lot of things you could do with $120 million: GP visits, more teachers. I am sure we can go through a whole range of things that $122 million can be spent on far better than a vote that is not going to be binding.
We talk a lot about democracy and Australians having their say. But Eric Abetz is not going to change his vote if this is successful. Senator [Cory] Bernardi is not going to change his position. It is like one big opinion survey to get over the fact the Liberal party room can't make a decision because they are so divided on the issue and because Malcolm Turnbull, regrettably, has not had the courage of his conviction. This is a vote whose sole aim is to stop the members of this Parliament being given a chance to do their job and vote. This is a vote because some in the Coalition can never countenance equality and they are never going to change their minds. They simply cannot countenance people like me and others being equal. Simple as that. They are not going to change their minds on this issue. If you just bring on a vote, we can save the country $120 million and frankly, put us all out of our misery of having to keep talking about this issue, because, frankly, the country has moved on.
I would also make this point - we do live in a parliamentary democracy. We are elected to do a job. Sometimes we do it well, sometimes we do it less well. We are elected to come here and vote, to make decisions. This country didn't have a plebiscite or a postal ballot on the Racial Discrimination Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, native title legislation, scrapping of the white Australia policy, whether women should get equal pay. I don't think Tony Abbott took to a people's vote cutting billions out of health and education. I don't think the government took to a people's vote whether corporations should get a big tax cut, but on this they want us to have our say.
I want to comment on the comment by Senator Cormann this could be a unifying moment and that people could be respectful. I hope that people watching me in this debate would not think I am a shrinking violet. I know what a hard debate is like. But I tell you, have a read of some of the things which are said about us and our families and then come back here and tell us this is a unifying moment. The Australian Christian lobby described our children as the stolen generation. We love our children. And I object, as do every person who cares about children, and as do all those couples in this country, same-sex couples who have kids, to be told our children are a stolen generation. You talk about unifying moments? It is not a unifying moment. It is exposing our children to that kind of hatred.
I wouldn't mind so much if you were prepared to speak out on it. If the Prime Minister was prepared to stand up and say "that is wrong". Maybe he can stand up for some people who don't have a voice. Because we know the sort of debate that is already there. Let me say, for many children in same-sex couple families and for many young LGBTI kids, this ain't a respectful debate already.
Labor will be opposing this motion and we do so because of our long-standing position, which has been considered by the party, and our opposition to a plebiscite. What I would say to the crossbench is you made the right decision last time. Please make the same decision on this occasion.