The question put to the Australian people in the postal survey was this:
'Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?'
The answer given was a clear yes. Nationally, 61.6 per cent of the population responded yes; 38.4 per cent of the population responded no; and nearly eight out of 10 eligible Australians expressed their view.
When we look at the vote by parliamentary seats, 133 of the 150 federal electoral divisions recorded a majority 'yes' response. My own electorate of Canning, in Western Australia, recorded a 'yes' vote, with 60.2 per cent voting yes and 39.2 per cent voting no. I also note that 21.5 per cent of enrolled voters did not respond at all in Canning. Indeed, almost a quarter of my electorate remained silent on this question. So, I begin by acknowledging the clear victory won by those advocating for a 'yes' vote, and I congratulate them on their successful campaign.
For many gay Australians, this is a time of joy, celebration and fulfilment for them and for their families and friends, and I wish them every happiness. It is a moment made special because this social change does not draw its authority from above, but rather from below. The mandate for this change originates from our local communities all around Australia. This is important, as we organise ourselves in Australia from below, not from above. We organise ourselves in our immediate communities. We start with the family, and then we move out to our local municipalities, to our states, and then we come together as one country in our bond as the Commonwealth of Australia.
Therefore, the postal survey has granted the change as both a cultural and a legal mandate. The Australian people have given us clear direction to legalise same-sex marriage. Now we must legislate for same-sex marriage, as this government has committed to doing so, with all Australians having had the opportunity to give voice to their convictions on this question. And I must say that it is an immense privilege to represent the people of Canning during the final stages of this process.
I have been very clear with Canning electors about where I stand on the question of marriage. I have always held the position that marriage is a union between a man and a woman, entered into for life and to the exclusion of all others. My view on marriage is founded on religious conviction. I am a Christian, and I see marriage as a religious ordinance—an institution that is entered into before God. This is the orthodox position of the common historical tradition of Christianity held by many Australians across our vast continent. I affirm it and believe it.
I also recognise that man-woman marriage is an institution that is not strictly confined to Christianity or to Western civilisation. It has been present in every culture and religion throughout history. People of no faith at all hold to man-woman marriage as well. I acknowledge the culture of our Indigenous Australians, many of whom came together and signed the Uluru Bark Petition on 1 June 2015 in this House. Those Indigenous elders, whilst recognising that they do not speak for the entirety of their language groups or country, declared:
'… the union between man and women is deeply a part of our ancient and continuing culture across all of our communities, and that our Fathers and Mothers provide the foundation for those communities.'
My point is very simple: man-woman marriage is common to all cultures, particularly to our First Australians. It is my view and the view of 4.87 million other Australians. It has endured because it is, indeed, beautiful, true and good. That is why I argued the 'no' case during the campaign and that is why I voted no in the postal survey.
But the people of Canning and of Australia have voted that the law should be changed to include same-sex couples in the institution of marriage, and I must respect that. That is why I have been clear with my electorate—since the 2016 federal election and several times since on the public record—that, in the event of a 'yes' vote in the postal survey, I will abstain from voting yes in the House. In other circumstances, I would vote against this bill, but I respect the will of my electors and the Australian people and I will not seek to vote it down. At the same time, I cannot go against my conscience on this question of marriage. This is why I will abstain. In the words of Christ, I must render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.
Individual conscience is central to my political vision. That is why I am a Liberal member of parliament. I believe in the freedom of conscience, speech, expression and association. They are the lifeblood of our Western democratic tradition. That is why I will defend the right of Labor MPs to vote with their conscience, against the wishes of their electorates. They must do what is right for them. I do, however, oppose the Labor Party binding their members to vote against amendments to this bill. This is nothing more than an attempt to wound this government and stymie our attempt to enhance and strengthen the Smith bill so that it protects all Australians, including those of religious faith.
Many people like to think that the idea of conscience exists on its own—that it is something that occurs naturally to our civilisation. I take the view of a Scottish theologian who once wrote that 'the great shadow on the conscience of the modern West is the shadow of the cross'. Christianity has had an outsized influence on the formation of our Australia—our culture, its norms and its institutions. That is not to say that we are a Christian nation, but we cannot ignore the marks of that tradition around us, from the prayers at the commencement of parliament to the preamble to our Constitution. Our entire of system of government, with all its attendant checks and balances, can be seen as a project to preserve and uphold the dignity and worth of the individual in Australia.
The source of that project lies in the central tenets of Christianity—the profound idea that every person bears the mark of their maker and is worthy of respect. It is on that basis that we can disagree with one another and have a politics of compromise. This is never more important in an increasingly diverse nation, with many Australians practising religious faiths including Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and many others. We also have an increasing number of Australians who declare no religious faith at all. We are at a time in our history where we need to live alongside each other with greater understanding and empathy, particularly when we cannot agree. As Robert Menzies said in 1942:
We are a diversity of creatures, with a diversity of minds and emotions and imaginations and faiths. When we claim freedom of worship we claim room and respect for all.
Many of our great charities, hospitals, schools and local institutions—the ones that are formational in our lives and that sustain us at our lowest ebbs—are faith based and, indeed, many are Christian in character. Many of them, except for a few outliers, hold to the tenets of traditional Christian teaching, including that of marriage. They need room to teach, practise and live out their convictions without interference from the state.
I am very concerned that the Smith bill does not protect those Australians who hold to a traditional definition of marriage, nor institutions of a religious character that hold the same. The Smith bill focuses exclusively on the wedding ceremony, while ignoring the larger reality that people of conscience and religious faith seek to live out their convictions on a daily basis. I, therefore, will be moving an amendment during the committee stage, a freedoms amendment, that seeks to safeguard sincere Australians who, for either religious or conscientious reasons, hold to a traditional view of marriage and associated beliefs on parenting and sexuality.
This amendment will shield Australians who express such views—with the limitation that those views must not be hateful, harassing or threatening—from the vexatious misuse of state or territory anti-vilification laws. We have already seen the example of Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous, who was targeted by a complainant and dragged before an antidiscrimination tribunal for doing no more than expressing the long-held position of the Catholic Church on marriage. This amendment will protect individuals like him who publicly express a view of traditional marriage from vexatious litigation. It is important to note that the shield will only be enlivened when people who hold a sincere and relevant belief in traditional marriage are attacked. It is not a sword to be wielded in the service of bigotry.
This amendment will also protect individuals and entities such as charities, schools and not-for-profits from discrimination because of a sincerely held belief in traditional marriage. It will protect them from detrimental treatment by a public authority, whether it is a Commonwealth, state or territory authority or a local government authority established by the Commonwealth, states or territories. This protection will prevent them from delicensing or defunding, as we have seen with universities, schools and charities in international jurisdictions that have legislated same-sex marriage. Importantly, it will allow faith-based schools to teach marriage and sexuality in accordance with their religious tradition without fear of detriment. It also respects the rights of parents to raise and educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions. It will also allow parents to withdraw children from classes that do not accord with their beliefs on marriage. This amendment is designed to protect the 4.87 million Australians who voted to retain the traditional definition of marriage. It does not allow for discrimination or hate speech. Rather, it preserves conscience and religious freedom.
I'd like to finish by acknowledging that I love my country and I want to see our democracy flourish into the future. This was a long process. It was hard for many people. But it has delivered change for those who sought it, and I respect that. And as Christmas comes ever closer, I'm reminded that we have great cause for optimism and hope—a hope that transcends this political sphere. I will continue to serve the people of Canning regardless of their sexuality, religion, gender or ethnicity, and it remains an honour to do so.