Second Reading – Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017

Monday, 4 December 2017

Mr PITT (HinklerAssistant Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment): I thank the Member for Hughes for his good grace in allowing me to jump in briefly for a short contribution.

I have listened with interest to a number of the contributions to this debate, and they have been by passionate people with personal connections and long-held views on both sides of the argument. As the Member for Hinkler, I find myself in a challenging position. Of the 80,197 ballots returned in the federal seat of Hinkler for the postal survey, the count was 40,649 for the ‘yes’ case and 39,548 for the ‘no’ case, a difference of just 551 primary votes would have changed the result. Approximately 23,000 constituents did not take the opportunity to have their say.

If we consider the national result against the House of Representatives’ 150 members, 61.6 per cent voting for would result in 92 members on the ‘yes’ side, and 38.4 per cent voting against would result in 58 members on the ‘no’ side. Clearly, the result has not been unanimous; however, it has been absolutely a vote for the ‘yes’ case. But I also want to acknowledge that these are just numbers and statistics in a matter which is deeply personal for many people. I did listen to the contribution today by Andrew Wallace, the member for Fisher, who is clearly conflicted as a devout Catholic with personal connections in his own family and the challenges he has found, and the contribution of Linda Burney, the member for Barton, who has absolutely been through a horrible personal issue only recently. I do acknowledge just how deeply personal this matter is for many Australians. However, the penultimate decision has been made. The Australian people have decided by a majority that same-sex marriage will be legislated in this country, and I have no doubt that the bill will be passed by the House of Representatives.

In my electorate I have supported the ‘no’ case consistently through two elections. I supported the postal survey. I held a consistent position throughout the public debate that I would vote no in the postal survey. However, I did not engage in pushing either side of the debate during that survey, because my view was quite simply that my constituents would make up their own minds. I have to say, it would be a lot easier if the vote had been a bit stronger one way or the other. It was almost literally fifty-fifty.

Since the survey results were announced I have clearly and consistently said that my vote in this place, as the federal member for Hinkler, would be—as it always is—based on the bill and the details of the bill. I know a number of members of the LGBTI community. They have spoken to me personally about marriage, and I consider a number of them to be my friends. I’ve also had discussions with those on the other side of the debate concerned about religious freedoms, parental choice and the right for them to raise their children as they see fit.

I’m not as eloquent as many in this House. If I can use the vernacular: I don’t have a horse in the race. I was raised in the Catholic faith. I attended public schools. I was married in the Catholic Church. I believe in the sacrament of marriage. I can’t claim to be a devout churchgoer. You won’t find me every six o’clock on a Saturday evening or 9am on a Sunday at mass. In fact, recalling the preparations for my own marriage, the priest said to me at the time that he thought, in relation to my church attendance, that I might be having a dollar each way.

As I’ve stated, this debate is about the bill and its details. Many members have spoken in this place about religious protections and freedom of speech, and I don’t intend to restate or reprosecute those cases. I’ll be supporting the proposed amendments for religious freedoms when they are introduced. I think it’s critical that the four million Australians who did vote no not only are represented in this place but have their views protected in this bill. I acknowledge the Prime Minister’s statement that Philip Ruddock will conduct a review and provide recommendations for consideration, but I can only make decisions based on the bill that is before the House. So my final decision to support or otherwise this bill will not be a reflection of the survey results or a reflection of those who’ve successfully lobbied for a change to the Marriage Act, because the change will take place. It will be simply a reflection on the bill which is before the House and a view as to whether it does or does not adequately address the concerns of many in my electorate.

I’m aware of the opportunity to abstain from the vote, but I’m one of those in this place who believe you should always have the courage of your convictions. I look forward to seeing the bill in its final form so I can make an informed decision, an informed choice, on the amendments or otherwise.

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