darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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June 25, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:20): I have spoken in the past on the issue of same-sex marriage and I intend to remain consistent in both the tone and content of my contribution here today. I am opposed to same-sex marriage but I recognise that there are very strongly held views to the alternative and I acknowledge that this issue does have the potential to become quite divisive in the wider community.

In relation to the tone of the debate, I take my lead from the previous speaker. I think his contribution was very respectful in tone and I think that is the manner in which the debate should be held. It is my intention to participate in this debate along those lines and to listen to both sides. As I said, I think there is a real risk of this debate becoming very divisive in the community. I think some, particularly some on the Left, have deliberately used inflammatory language, portraying people who do not support same-sex marriage as being somehow bigoted and homophobic. I think that is terribly unfair and not the way we should allow this debate to develop.

On the weekend, there was a great example of how this debate should be pursued when the Nationals had their state conference in Bowral. A motion on this very issue was narrowly defeated, but it was a very mature and constructive debate. It is fair to say, perhaps, that a lot of the younger members of the party were advocating change, but I do not think same-sex marriage is an issue which neatly divides on the basis of age or any other basis.

I have had the chance to ask a lot of people in my electorate for their views and I have often been surprised by their comments and the level of passion they have about this issue. Many people are quite ambivalent about this issue and think that there are far more important issues for this parliament to be considering at this time in our history. However, there are others, on either side of the debate, who have very passionate views. I understand that. I am not trying to belittle the issue. But it is fair to say that a significant number of people who contact me on this issue want us, in this parliament, to focus on other things. That is what brings me to my conclusion—that I am not sure how much longer we should continue to have this debate. The issues have, I believe, been well and truly canvassed both in this place and in the broader community and surely it is time to bring on the vote. Bring on the vote and let us see where we stand on this issue. Get a clear indication of where we, the 43rd parliament, stand on this issue and then move on to the other issues which people in the community regard as being of greater importance to their lives at this time.

In relation to the substance of the issue, I do support the recognition of legal rights within same-sex relationships but I do not support the proposed changes to the Marriage Act. I think that is the only politically consistent position and the only position of integrity I can take, because it is the position I took to the people of Gippsland at the last general election. Importantly, that position is also entirely consistent with the broader view of my party. We took a position of being opposed to same-sex marriage to the voters at the last election and we are consistent in the application of that policy position in a very open and transparent manner. There have been no surprises in relation to the view of the Nationals and my own personal view. If we wanted to adopt a different position, I think it would be incumbent upon us to take that back to the people who elected us in the first place.

I think that stands in stark contrast to this Prime Minister and her breach of trust on the carbon tax. This Prime Minister explicitly ruled out introducing a carbon tax prior to the last election, yet only weeks or months later she had a change of mind. But she did not take it back to the people of Australia. That is where this Prime Minister and her fundamental breach of trust have caused so many problems for the current government. I think this issue is the opposite of the approach I have taken—I took a position to the people of Gippsland and I am going to be consistent with it. That is the openness and transparency I think you need to show as a member of parliament. If we are going to restore community confidence in the integrity of our democratic system and restore faith in the parliament and the people who serve here, this is a very important principle to remember and one I intend to adhere to whenever it is humanly possible to do so.

As I said, I had a position of opposition to same-sex marriage at the last election campaign and I will continue to maintain that position for the remainder of the 43rd parliament. I certainly do not intend to change my mind on this issue and, even if I did, it would be after I had given my constituents the chance to vote at a general election. So I say again: I think we should bring on the vote on this issue. We need to have the vote and move on to other issues of importance to the Australian people. I acknowledge that this is an issue about which members of parliament clearly cannot please everyone in the electorate or in the broader Australian community. Some people in my electorate will be very disappointed with my view and others will be very pleased. I fear that we may have to agree to disagree on this particular point. I would like to reassure those who may be disappointed by the position I have taken here today that I will continue to work in support of other efforts to improve outcomes for gay and lesbian people in the Gippsland community, but I will not be supporting changes to the marriage act.

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