06 December 2017

Delivered in the House of Representatives

I'm voting for this bill, the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017, and it is a fact that the electorate of Greenway, which I represent, voted no. I would like to address some of the commentary that's been circulating about seats in Western Sydney that voted no, including Greenway, where the split was 46.4 per cent yes to 53.6 per cent no in the marriage equality survey.

It was not an overwhelming no, but it was a no nonetheless.

Many experts have emerged on the result of the marriage equality survey as it applies to Western Sydney. There's been a whole lot of analysis about why a bloc of Western Sydney seats voted no. Some of the reasons given are religion and ethnicity—sometimes even citing alleged correlations with low educational attainment. We've had case studies of people from ethnically diverse backgrounds who voted no. I must say that much of the commentary about Western Sydney treats it like some amorphous, homogenous zone, not of people but of labels.

I hear the blanket statement that migrants voted no coming mostly from the same people who talk about this thing called the ethnic vote or the migrant vote. That term is ignorant and insulting, and I scorn it. It's disrespectful. It consigns people to be defined not for who they are as an individual. I, in fact, know many local residents from migrant backgrounds who voted yes. It is such a simplistic and erroneous notion to suggest that everyone from a migrant background voted no. In the moment of excitement when the results of the survey were being revealed, my electorate and others around it were being analysed by people who don't know Greenway, and they showed great disrespect both for people who voted yes and for people who voted no. The people of Greenway deserve better than some of these people, some of these armchair experts—some of those people who also sit in this parliament.

I would like to point out, for example, the republic referendum in 1999. Have a look at the way Western Sydney seats voted. On socially conservative issues, Western Sydney seats have, by and large, voted no. Greenway voted no in the 1999 referendum. It was a 'no' of something in the order of 55 per cent, a 'no' to Australia becoming a republic. There were other seats in Western Sydney that voted no on that occasion: Blaxland, Chifley, Parramatta and, whilst there has been a redistribution, the then seat of Prospect and the seat of Werriwa.

The suggestion that we can define what has resulted from the marriage equality survey in Western Sydney by ethnicity alone is very erroneous. There is definitely a correlation of a socially conservative vote, and it's been there for a long time. I for one am not at all surprised by the marriage equality survey result, because in fact it reflects almost to the exact percentage my own surveys—my own mobile offices, my own consultations with the electorate—that I have done in the electorate of Greenway over many years.

You only have to look at the latest census results for Greenway to see that, yes, we are a very ethnically diverse area. In fact, 45.5 per cent of residents in the electorate of Greenway were born overseas, well above the national average of 33.3 per cent, and the percentage of people in Greenway with both parents born overseas is 55.8 per cent, compared to the national average of 34.4 per cent. So, in effect, what commentators are saying when they try to equate the results in Greenway with the level of ethnic diversity is that just about everyone born overseas voted no. I don't buy that for a second.

I think the notion that some people are trying seriously to assert, that every one of those people who voted no did so because they were of migrant background, is simply erroneous. I think it's right up there with what a lot of people, not from ethnic backgrounds, say about why we don't need protections against racist hate speech. It's right up there. So I think it is incredibly disappointing that there was an immediate look, an immediate conclusion, about this so-called migrant vote in Western Sydney, and that many people drew conclusions just to claim that these people who voted no were homophobic. Many people voted yes. Religious reasons were one factor, cultural reasons were another factor and socially conservative reasons that have been there for a long time were yet another. I'll tell you what it comes down to: it comes down to respect. That's exactly what I said on the day the survey results were announced. I said this:

I acknowledge that many residents have strong views one way or the other for or against marriage equality based on factors such as personal experience, religious beliefs or cultural norms. Each and every one of those people should be respected for their views.

In mid-2015, when I was asked about these matters—and this goes to something that I've held very dear, particularly since I had the honour of serving as shadow minister for citizenship and multiculturalism in the last parliament—I said this:

As I’ve been going around for the last 18 months, around the country talking about inclusiveness, I find it increasingly difficult to reconcile the whole gamut of inclusiveness and people being part of our society and being able to contribute to it without having a negative approach to marriage equality. That’s a view that I have formed over the last 18 months, but I made a commitment to my electorate that I would go out, listen to their views and as I have a conscience vote that’s how I’ve decided I will exercise that vote …

I was also asked whether that meant I was leaning towards a 'yes'. And I said:

That’s correct, but I’ve given you an example of some of the arguments that have been put to me and look, there’s other people who have told me they have no objection to many of the laws or any of the laws that Labor put in place to assure equality on different points, but for them, the stickler is on the issue of marriage. They see marriage as an institution that is particularly defined as between a man and a woman, and for these people their minds are not going to change. So as a Member of Parliament I need to be respectful of all these things, but again at the end of it I realise the way in which I vote is not going to make everyone happy. I just want it to be an informed decision that is also as representative as it can be of my constituency.

Lastly, I was asked about whether diversity and multiculturalism has an impact on this issue. And I responded:

I think you should never stereotype people based on their ethnicities. I have had people from a variety of cultural backgrounds give me very different views on this matter. Not only in the last couple of days but in the last couple of years. I think it is very wrong to simply pigeonhole people based on their ethnicity for any reason and on this issue of marriage equality I don’t think you should be pigeonholing people either. You need to listen to them, but I think Members of Parliament should inform their views based on what they believe to be right, but also be informed by their constituency.

And that is exactly what I have done in leading to my declaration, some time ago, that I will be voting yes on this matter.

I would also like to point out the large number of people in the electorate of Greenway who enrolled to vote as a result of this postal survey being conducted. When you have a look at the monthly statistics for new enrollees, we had 580 just before the cut-off cycle. On the cycle afterwards, after the survey cut-off date, we had 394. But on the cycle for the cut-off date—new electors who enrolled in Greenway, one of the fastest growing regions of New South Wales and Australia—we had a massive 1,557 new enrollees. I want to congratulate all those people. I know many of them would have been young people who were exercising a vote on a matter for the first time. I would like to thank them for enrolling to vote.

I would like to end with some comments around the issue of religious freedoms. I want to start by quoting the instructive words of Vincent Long, the Bishop of Parramatta. As a Catholic myself, I find Bishop Long inspirational. In his pastoral letter on the postal survey he said:

It is important to remember from the very outset that the postal survey is about whether or not Australians want the legal definition of civil marriage changed to include same-sex couples. It is not a referendum on sacramental marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.

Many years ago, divorce was legalised in Australia; but this change did not alter the law of the Church. Therefore, whatever the outcome of the survey or the eventual legislation by the government, the Church will continue to hold that marriage is a natural institution established by God to be a permanent union between one man and one woman …

It is very clear, and I know well, that many people have concerns that their freedom to practice religion might be impacted by a change in the law in relation to marriage equality. On this side of the House we have made it very clear that we are committed to ensuring that religious freedoms are appropriately protected. We don't believe that religious freedoms and marriage equality are mutually exclusive, and, on that point, I would like to highlight that there has been a panel appointed. It is chaired by Philip Ruddock and includes other eminent people who will be looking at this issue. It should be looked at—it is important, as Australia becomes more and more culturally and religiously diverse, that we ensure our laws keep pace with that.

I want to end by thanking the mother who approached me in Seven Hills some time ago. She gave me a very important perspective. Her son is on active service in the Navy and wants to marry his partner. This man is putting his life on the line in service to Australia, and that woman asked me, 'Who are you to deny my son, who is serving the nation, the right to marry the person he loves?' She is right.