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Mr CHESTER (Gippsland—Minister for Infrastructure and Transport) (15:22): It’s a sad day when the Leader of the Labor Party comes to the dispatch box and basically says he doesn’t trust the Australian people to have their say on an important social issue. He comes to the dispatch box after saying himself, in 2013, ‘I’m completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite’—the Australian people making their view known. The Leader of the Labor Party, who used to believe in giving the Australian people a chance to have their say, is now cynically trying to divide Australians with his tactics in this place, and this MPI today says a lot about the hypocrisy and the double standards of this Leader of the Opposition. He doesn’t trust Australians to have their say. He will sink to any low and throw away any previously held view to secure some sort of political advantage. He would rather try to win a debate in this place than deliver a social change that he claims to support. He had six years in government to deliver this reform, and he failed miserably. He is a complete phoney when he stands here with his confected outrage, instead of engaging in this process and supporting the Australian people in their chance to have a free vote. Now, Mr Deputy Speaker—

Mr Snowdon: We had a free vote, you idiot!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Coulton ): The minister will take his seat. The member for Lingiari will withdraw.

Mr Snowdon: I withdraw.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Thank you. I call the Minister for Infrastructure and Transport.

Mr CHESTER: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. Throughout—

Mr Snowdon interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Lingiari will leave under 94(a). He knew why I asked him to withdraw
—and not an explanation.

The member for Lingiari then left the chamber.

Mr CHESTER: Throughout Australian history, it has been not uncommon for the Australian people to say they don’t trust politicians, but I think it’s the first time in Australian political history that the Leader of the Labor Party has said he doesn’t trust Australians. I find it quite extraordinary that people on this side of the House actually back the Australian people to have their say, while the Labor Party is sending a message to all Australians that we don’t believe you’re capable of having a respectful debate on an important issue. The Leader of the Opposition wants a free vote for 226 members and senators, but he wants to deny a free vote to millions of Australians.

On this side of the House, we believe we can have respectful, moderate and responsible debate on this issue. There will be times during this debate, over the next couple of months, when some people will express views that the Leader of the Opposition won’t agree with, and I won’t agree with them either. We will call them out. It’s called freedom of speech though. We have to exercise that freedom and right with a great deal of responsibility. I encourage all Australians to get themselves involved in this debate, in a respectful and moderate way, as the vast majority of Australians will.

The Leader of the Opposition’s position on this issue is a little bit confusing for the Australian public to follow. He used to support a free vote for all Australians. I refer to this article in The Australian newspaper last year. I quote the headline:

Federal election 2016: Bill Shorten flips on gay marriage plebiscit

In the opening line he says he’s completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite …

The article goes on to say:

Mr Shorten told the Australian Christian Lobby forum in his electorate that he preferred “the Australian people make their view known” to the 150 MPs in federal parliament. “Personally speaking, I’m completely relaxed about having some form of plebiscite,”

He goes on to say:

But in terms of a plebiscite—I would rather the people of Australia could make their view clear on this than leaving this issue to 150 people.

It is worth reminding the House about the facts on this issue—and the Australian people might be listening today. The Commonwealth has the necessary constitutional power, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Statistician have the necessary statutory power to request information from Australians, who are enrolled on the electoral roll, about whether or not they agree the law should be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry. The appropriation to the ABS has been made by the Minister for Finance, from the finance minister’s advance, which had been appropriated by the parliament under the appropriation act of 2017-18. The ABS will make arrangements for the secondment of officers from the Australian Electoral Commission to assist the Australian Statistician with this process as required. Before we get caught up in all the emotion, these are the facts surrounding the decision that was made by the government this week. The ABS, supported by AEC officers, as appropriate, will make relevant announcements about timetables and practical arrangements. All Australians will have the opportunity to update their details on the Commonwealth electoral roll until 24 August 2017. I, like many other members in this place, would encourage the Australian people to make sure they do update their enrolment details to make sure they are enrolled, to make sure they have the opportunity to have their say on this important social issue.

The Prime Minister has made it clear that in the case of a positive result in support of change, under either approach, the Turnbull government would enable consideration of a relevant private member’s bill and the vote on such a bill can occur before the end of the year.

In relation to some of the commentary regarding legal protections in place for a postal plebiscite, I want to stress that, under the Telecommunications and Postal Services (Transitional Provisions and Consequential Amendments) Act 1989, it’s an offence to tamper with the mail, including: stealing mail bags from Australia Post employees, stealing mail from Australia Post, tampering or interfering with mail bags, tampering or interfering with letters or other articles that are being delivered by Australia Post, obtaining a delivery item by deception, helping someone else obtain a letter or other delivery item by deception, using the postal service to harass or threaten someone else, or interfering with a post box or stamp vending machine. There are protections in place to make sure the postal plebiscite can be conducted in an orderly way. Quite frankly, I trust the overwhelming majority of the Australian people, to act responsibly and to conduct themselves in a respectful and moderate way. Frankly, I am disappointed that those opposite don’t have that level of trust in the Australian people. We call on every Australian to participate in this debate with courtesy and respect. I believe Australians will judge anyone very harshly, on either side of this debate—for same-sex marriage or against same-sex marriage—if they pursue inappropriate and offensive arguments. Rather than trying to scare voters, I urge Labor to encourage all Australians to have their say, so this issue can be resolved once and for all.

The Leader of the Opposition says he wants a free vote on this issue. I am confused as to why he thinks the Australian people aren’t entitled to have a free vote on the issue, given it was the policy the government took to the last election. It was successful in that election. This is all about politics, when it comes to the Leader of the Opposition; this is nothing about policy. He is seeking to divide the coalition rather than progress this issue in a way that would achieve the reform he claims to support.

Dr Aly: They are not doing anything; you are doing it to yourself!

Mr CHESTER: I said this on radio last week when I was interviewed by Fran Kelly: if we’d had the vote in February and if the Australian people had supported the plebiscite, gay couples would be on their honeymoons right now. If we’d had the vote in February, and if the majority of Australian people had supported it, gay couples would be on their honeymoons and we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the chamber today. The Leader of the Opposition and those opposite like to claim this is too divisive, as if Australians are not capable of having a debate on a sensitive social issue. He’s got to get fair dinkum on this issue. If the issue has the support of the leader of the Labor Party—he claims he does support it—and it has the support of the leader of the Liberal Party, it has the support of the leader of the Greens—

Ms Plibersek interjecting—

Mr CHESTER: That is a very good point, Member for Sydney. It has all that support and the support of some National Party ministers, and those opposite are telling me we can’t win the debate. These people have the largest megaphones in the country. These people have had more opportunities to prosecute their case in support of samesex marriage than anyone else. Let’s get fair dinkum about it. The leader of the Labor Party, the leader of the Liberal Party, the leader of the Greens and some National Party ministers support it, and yet we’re led to believe by the Labor Party that we’re not capable of having this argument in the public eye in a respectful manner. I call on those opposite to put away the hyperbole and focus on the merits of the issue.

This plebiscite is about keeping a promise. In the last election, the members on this side of the House and our candidates throughout Australia campaigned on giving the Australian people a chance to have their say on this issue. The Leader of the Opposition doesn’t get to decide which promises we can and cannot keep. When politicians across Australia are faced with an ongoing deficit of trust with the Australian people, the best thing we can do is to keep our promises. We promised the Australian people they would have their say on this issue. We promised the Australian people they would have the chance to have a vote. The only people who are stopping the Australian people having a say on this issue are those opposite. Those opposite do not trust the Australian people to have their say.

Ms Husar interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The member for Lindsay will remove herself under 94(a) for that comment. She will withdraw, then remove herself.

Ms Husar: I withdraw.

The member for Lindsay then left the chamber.

Mr CHESTER: We took a promise to the Australian people that we’d let them have a chance to have their say on this important issue. Australians want to have their say. We trust them and want to give them that opportunity.


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