Marriage Matters of Public Interest

I also rise to speak on this matter of public importance. I notice that the focus of the MPI is on leadership. I think it is important to understand what good leadership is about. At its heart, good leadership is about integrity. One of the things that I think this Prime Minister has demonstrated in this issue is that he has maintained the integrity of the position he took to the Australian people prior to the last election. In fact, he came out and made a very specific statement prior to the last election that, were this issue to be raised during the life of this parliament, he would bring it to the coalition party room to be dealt with in the normal manner. That is exactly what he has done. If there is one thing that you look for in a leader—I speak as someone who has served in the military for a couple of decades—it is integrity and consistency. That is what the Prime Minister has shown here.

The senator opposite was talking about things that are important and about the community asking us to deal with things that are important. I go to a number of opinion polls that have been conducted by various polling groups around the country. They clearly show that the issue of same-sex marriage is not a first-order issue for the vast majority of Australians. They are concerned to have a government that will deal with the economy, the creation of jobs and opportunity, and national security—whether that be securing our borders or dealing with the foreign fighter threat, dealing with the terrorist threat and countering violent extremism. They are concerned about things like the environment and having emissions targets in place that are effective and also will not cripple the economy by causing disincentives to people investing and employing—and, in fact, things that destroy jobs and shift manufacturing and other things that create emissions offshore in places where there will be much worse outcomes. In this Prime Minister I see leadership both in terms of this issue—in being consistent and maintaining faith with his promise to the Australian people—and also in terms of providing very clear direction and leadership and, most importantly, achieving outcomes with the things that the Australian people have consistently rated as the top priorities that they want the government to be focusing on.

The senator opposite complained that the Prime Minister had not been inclusive. The very fact that he had promised to take this issue to the coalition party room, maintained faith with that promise and included those people in what was a very lengthy but robust and respectful debate indicates that he was prepared to be inclusive of all the people whom he had said, in this first step, he would engage with in that process. What is important here is that he listened to that—as any good leader should. He is often criticised for making decisions without adequate consultation. Now that he has put in place a process whereby he has consulted and listened to the members of the coalition party room—which is exactly what he promised he would do—he is now being criticised for listening and not taking decisions off his own bat. As a result of that listening, he has indicated that he will include not only the coalition party room but the broader Australian society.

Going down the path of having a plebiscite means that people will have their say. It is instructive and important, I think, to look at what a plebiscite means. If you go to the commentary that the Australian Parliamentary Education Office have on their website, they call it an ‘advisory referendum’ as an alternative name to a plebiscite because it does not change the Constitution. There have only been three previously. Importantly, the PEO identified that there are no specific rules around a plebiscite. In fact, in the act that the government puts in place, it will set the rules for the plebiscite. It is important that, when those rules are set, we do have a plebiscite that is compulsory and is also one that will be binding. It being compulsory is important because that means we will avoid the situation that occurred in Ireland, where we saw a massive investment of funding from an individual in America to target and influence an active group within the Irish society so that they became the majority of those who did turn out to vote, even though the actual turnout was only around half the society in Ireland. If we are going to get a true reflection of the views of the Australian people, then that does need to be a process that all Australians are involved with.

The binding side of it is also important. The Prime Minister indicated in a couple of the media interviews he has done recently that he would be looking for a process where the parliament would be bound by the outcome of that plebiscite. That is important, because this parliament has decided. There have been several votes on the issue of same-sex marriage, and they have been defeated. But those who are actively pursuing this have not accepted that and keep bringing back more proposals. If the people speak with a voice to say that they support it, it should be binding; it should go through. But if they speak with a voice that says it is not supported, then, equally, the parliament should listen, and that should be the end of the story. There should be no more bills coming through the parliament seeking to overturn a binding plebiscite that the people of Australia have put forward.

The leadership this Prime Minister has shown is consistent. It has kept faith with what he promised to the Australian people before the election, not only on this issue but, most importantly, on that list of issues that people have consistently identified in polling as being important to them, such as the economy. Growth of the Australian economy is equally as good as, if not better than, that in most developed countries at the moment. The rate of jobs growth in the last measured period is 10 times greater than it was for the same period under the previous government. Australia is generating more jobs and is well on track to achieving the one million jobs in five years that the Prime Minister promised prior to the last election. I will note that the one exception to that is my home state of South Australia, where we are in dire circumstances because of the consistent decisions in nearly 14 years of a Labor government that have destroyed the environment that gives employers and businesses confidence to invest and grow and employ.

The Prime Minister has met the commitments we made prior to the election to restore security to Australia’s borders, despite the last government, which opened the borders, saw over 1,000 people drown, saw 50,000 people come here and, importantly, went from having no children in detention when it came to power to having over 1,900 in detention in July 2013. This government, under the leadership of the Prime Minister, has stopped the boats coming and, importantly, has also stopped people drowning and reduced the number of children in detention to under 120 on the last figures I saw. That is a significant outcome, delivered through the leadership of this Prime Minister from both a national security and a humanitarian perspective. People should never forget that he achieved, with his team and with the same departments and the same resources that were available to those opposite, an outcome they said could never be achieved.

In terms of national security, we saw $21 billion either deferred or taken completely out of the Defence budget; we saw no decisions taken to contract new shipbuilding. In fact, regarding the one decision that was taken—to buy a large ship—members opposite bought a second-hand ship from the UK. In the one decision that was taken to build vessels, they sent the contract for 12 smaller vessels to Spain. When industry came to the members opposite with an unsolicited proposal to build the future supply ships, they did nothing. And they now have the hide to say that they did not have to take a decision, because the shipyards were working at capacity under them. Well, they were working at capacity because of the leadership of the Howard government, which signed the contracts for the LHD and the AWD. And in the future they will be working because of the leadership and commitment of this government to bring forward future shipbuilding programs to give Australia and Australians a secure future.