BILL SHORTEN: Voting 'Yes' is not about endorsing this illegitimate process

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Bill Shorten: "I know that LGBTI Australians are frustrated, they're angry, they're sad, and they're bewildered that it has come to this. But I want you to know: you are not alone." (Image via @GetUp)

"They have stacked the deck against young people, against expats, against Australians who support equality but regard this vote as a waste of time. The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail. But we cannot let illegitimate tactics deter us; we cannot sit on the sidelines."

~ Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, Matter of Public Importance speech to the Australian Parliament, 10 August 2017

MARRIAGE EQUALITY is important and it matters.

It's not the biggest challenge that Australia faces and it's not something that requires a three-month campaign and a $122 million optional survey. We could be here right now voting for marriage equality as the elected representatives of the people of Australia, just as we do on national security, on Medicare, on education and on the matters that touch the lives of every citizen of our nation, but the Government have decided that gay people should be subject to a different law making process. They think that same-sex couples should have to write to everyone else in this country for the permission to get married. They think that LGBTI Australians should have to ask permission to be considered equal to Australians who will not even see the law they are casting an opinion on. This is wrong. It is a ridiculous waste of time and taxpayer money.

On Tuesday, we remembered Dr G Yunupingu, who died of kidney disease, yet $122 million would fund dialysis in remote communities for decades. It's National Homelessness Week, and $122 million would provide 2,000 new beds for people currently sleeping rough. We could put 1,900 new teachers in our schools, we could train 4,500 new nurses or we could help auto workers find new jobs and new industries. But because of his weakness, the Prime Minister is spending $122 million to try to save his own job.

"This is a method of voting which is calculated to disenfranchise Australians, particularly young people and people not that well off."

That last paragraph is a direct quote from the Prime Minister, back when he used to believe in something — before his ambitions seduced his ideals. We have already seen the ugliness this debate holds for LGBTI Australians and their families. Extremists are rerunning their old smears against same-sex couples and their children. The member for Warringah is out there claiming this is a vote on political correctness and on religious freedom. The disgraced former Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, has spoken about polygamy, bestiality and killing children with disability.

Every hateful ideological hobby horse will be saddled up for this vote. And it is clear who is responsible: in less than 48 hours the Prime Minister has gone from promising to call out extreme voices to saying they're entitled to their views. He's gone from guaranteeing a respectful debate to saying it's up to individuals. He calls that strong leadership. Strong leaders do not need to say, "I'm a strong leader"; they prove it by acting on their convictions, by fighting for what they believe in and even by taking a political risk. Strong leaders lead; they do not stand by and allow children of same-sex couples to be treated as pawns.

And yesterday we learned that the Australian electoral rules will not even apply to this vote. There will be no protection against ballot fraud, electoral bribery, intimidation, interfering with the electoral roll or publishing misleading and deceptive material. Who can forget that pathetic red-faced public tantrum from the Prime Minister on election night, when he sooked about one text message. Now he is giving his blessing to billboards, websites, pamphlets, TV advertising and online material that will vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children. We know this bile will end up in the playground, in the schoolyard and on the sporting field. The slogans will be shouted at the children of same-sex couples. Young people who are gay will be confronted by it on social media every day. I loathe the trolls and the haters, but I expected more from the Prime Minister. I hold the Prime Minister responsible for every hurtful bit of filth this debate will unleash. That is not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because the Prime Minister agrees with it – he clearly doesn't – but because the Prime Minister has licensed this debate. You are the leader, Mr Turnbull; you have given permission. I will never hold you in the same light again. I hold the Prime Minister responsible and Australians will too.

LGBTI Australians have every right to feel let down by their parliament today, every right to consider this postal survey the latest in a long line of insults. I don't blame them for that. I can understand why an LGBTI person receiving a survey – with the Australian coat of arms on the corner of the envelope and asking for everyone else to decide if you are equal – would want to chuck it in the bin. I wouldn't blame you. But let me say to you that that is what they want you to do. The strongest supporters of this survey have always been the most vocal opponents of marriage equality. They have stacked the deck against young people, against expats, against Australians who support equality but regard this vote as a waste of time. The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.

But we cannot let illegitimate tactics deter us; we cannot sit on the sidelines. I can understand LGBTI Australians' sense of frustration and of betrayal by the Parliament. But the most powerful act of resistance is to vote yes for equality. Maintain your hope, maintain your enthusiasm and vote yes. And make sure your friends, relatives, colleague, classmates and teammates vote yes too. Get your name on the electoral roll today; make your voice heard.

Voting yes is not about endorsing this illegitimate process, it's about refusing to walk past our fellow Australians when they need us. This is my message for business leaders, sporting clubs, the union movement and community groups: it's time to get involved; it's time to organise and fight for equality. This survey is costly, this survey is unnecessary, this survey places unfair pressure on one group of Australians to justify their relationships. This survey is a political contrivance from a Prime Minister who spends all his time counting Newspolls. This survey denies the parliament the chance to lead. We didn't need a survey to tell us to say sorry. We in this parliament led; we did the right thing and the community backed us.

This $122 million survey denigrates the parliament. It risks putting Australia in a hell of a place, further behind the rest of the world. But there is one thing this survey will not do: it will not change Labor's support for marriage equality. If Prime Minister Turnbull stops blocking marriage equality legislation from coming into this parliament, the men and women of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party will vote for equality in overwhelming numbers; and if it is not resolved by the next election, a new Labor government will legislate to make marriage equality a reality within the first 100 days. No slew of discredited surveys will deter us.

Parliament created these laws. It is time for parliament to amend them. We didn't have a survey for the other 20 changes to the Marriage Act, and we don't need one now. The Prime Minister has abdicated responsibility for change. He has declared himself too busy to campaign for it, but he's prepared to unleash this public farce on the citizens of Australia, but not prepared to take responsibility for its outcomes or its consequences. In two years of a prime ministership defined by moral cowardice, this is a new low — but, in the end, it is not even about what the Liberals or the Nats or Labor think; it's about our fellow Australians.

My final message to LGBTI people is this: and it's a message to their parents, and their siblings, and their children and everyone who loves them: I know this has been a week of heartbreak, following years of disappointments. I know that some Liberals worked hard not to have this outcome and I respect them for that. I know that LGBTI Australians are frustrated, they're angry, they're sad, and they're bewildered that it has come to this. But I want you to know: you are not alone. You are not alone in this fight ahead. Over the next few months, terrible things will be said about you and your families, about your lives, your identities and your choices, and the Prime Minister will not stand up for you. I am sorry you have to endure this. But Labor will stand up for Australians. I give you this promise: we stand with you. When you don't feel like you have a voice, we will speak up for you. When you feel attacked, we will defend you. When we hear prejudice and discrimination, we will not cross the road and pretend it is not happening; we will call it out.

I will be voting yes. I will be campaigning for a yes vote. I will do my bit, and I encourage people to join the movement for marriage equality, because no true leader is ever too busy to fight for the fair go in this country. Equality is not a diary appointment that you meet in three or six or eight months time. We say to young Australians who are gay: we are voting in this survey, we are participating in this survey, because of you — not because we respect the process, but because the Labor Party will not let gay Australians and young gay people cope with this survey, this evaluation of their relationships, on their own.

I say to LGBTI Australians: while ever there is a Labor Party, you are never on your own.

Watch the speech in full:

(From Hansard, 10 August 2017, lightly edited only for style.)

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