Posted on Wednesday, 6 December, 2017
Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (17:57): It was Churchill who told us that democracy was the worst form of government, except for all of the rest. So it has been with our postal survey: democracy has been celebrated. It has shown that it can succeed, with a postal survey to assess the country's desire to legalise same-sex marriage. Despite all the warnings of confrontation in the streets; despite the efforts to derail the process in the High Court, sponsored by no less than the Labor Party; and despite the distrustful statements that Australians could not be trusted to debate this issue in a civilised manner, it was, and has been, a resounding success.
This policy, this process, has provided a way for all Australians to accept the results in a way that the parliamentary process probably could never have done. It was 79.5 per cent of the Australian population, just a slither below four in five eligible Australians, who participated in what was a voluntary process. They embraced the postal survey and loaded up the postboxes, which, according to some critics, they would not be able to find. Most importantly, after a couple of fairly scratchy weeks, active participants in the campaign came to realise that, where they sponsored confrontation and attempted to vilify others, they were losing public support. Yes, there were a number of conflicting situations that were lifted into the national profile. But we could all see mainstream Australia turning its back on that type of campaigning, and so it was that the most strident campaigners toned it down.
In that way, the postal survey was a victory for middle Australia. They insisted the debate be conducted in a civilised way. We should always hold the intelligence of the Australian people in high regard. That is why I made a commitment to follow the advice provided to me by the people through the plebiscite, taking particular note of the wishes of the Grey electorate. It is well known that my personal view was to oppose change to the current arrangements, and I voted against it. But I did also commit to following the advice of the Australian public and, in particular, the Grey electorate. And so it was that 61.6 per cent of Australians voted in favour of change, 62.5 per cent of South Australians vote in favour of change and, most importantly, 53.3 per cent of the Grey electorate voted in favour. True, the vote in Grey was almost 10 per cent below the national and state averages, but it was still in favour. I cannot with a clear conscience deny that majority, so I will support change in this area. To those who have campaigned for this change: congratulations. To those wonderful families and individuals who have come to me seeking change over the years: while we may have disagreed, I have recognised your genuine intentions. I also recognise all of the wonderful constituents who have come to me seeking that the current act be maintained in its current form. But I urge all to respect others who have differing views and to work together.
The next 48 hour in this place will be very interesting as we seek to find a form of words with suitable protections for others directly affected by changes to the Marriage Act to allow them to exercise legitimate choices, and I am carefully examining the amendments which have been circulated. My chief concern has been in the areas of education, where I fear Commonwealth support for independent—mainly religious based—schools may be threatened if they choose not to teach same-sex marriage as equal in every way, in direct contravention of their religious tenets. At this time, I am confident that most parties in the parliament are determined that that should not happen—at least, that is what they say. But who can say how it will all end?
I am not convinced that any protections for schools' rights are best placed in the Marriage Act; in fact, I am pretty confident they probably aren't. Perhaps those types of reforms would be better placed in the education funding structures or even the antidiscrimination act. That is why I am pleased the Prime Minister has appointed Philip Ruddock to review religious protections. Mr Ruddock, a former Attorney-General, a former Father of the House and a former member for Berowra—which is a very multicultural electorate—will report by the end of March. I expect that further work will need to be done in this area at that time. But today I congratulate those who have brought about change, and I celebrate the democracy that we live in. I thank the Australian people for their engagement and involvement in the process, and I'm determined that we should celebrate the country that we live in, with all of its diversity.