Will Hodgman

Premier of Tasmania

Parliamentary Debate on Same Sex Marriage

18th November 2015

Parliament House, Hobart

Mr HODGMAN (Franklin - Premier) - Madam Speaker, the debate today is indeed one in which all members have a free vote. Firstly, I want to confirm that all members of the Liberal Party have a conscience vote on this motion as they have in the past when this matter has been debated. I note that the mover and Leaders have been allocated 20 minutes to make their contribution. Neither has thus far used their entire allocation. In the interest of equity, nor will I, because I want to ensure there is more time available for all members to speak on this issue.

I will make some comments about matters contained within the broader debate and provide some context to the Liberal Party position on those matters. Like all members, I will take the opportunity to express my own views on same-sex marriage - as all Australians will be able to do in due course when the national plebiscite takes place.

In affirming that all Liberals will exercise a free vote, there are some things upon which we are agreed and which I will endeavour to insert into the debate today. I want to inform members of the House and the Tasmanian public that we have completed and released a new whole-of-government framework for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Tasmanians.

On coming to office, I reconvened the whole-of-government LGBTI reference group and asked that they review the existing framework. The aim was to identify where whole-of-government action is required to ensure that LGBTI Tasmanians have consistent interactions wherever they connect with the Government. The result is the production of a new 2015 Whole-of-Government Framework for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Tasmanians. It will inform the way the Tasmanian Government supports LGBTI Tasmanians to participate in every aspect of social, economic, political and cultural life. It aims to ensure that Government policies, programs and services are accessible to and inclusive of LGBTI Tasmanians, their friends and families. This is a significant development. It is indicative of my Government's commitment to working toward a more inclusive community where all Tasmanians are treated with dignity and respect and have equal access to Tasmanian Government programs and services.

I take the opportunity to thank the members of the reference group and particularly LGBTI organisations who have contributed to the development of the framework. I look forward to an ongoing and productive partnership with them as this new strategy and framework is implemented.

It is the Liberal Party view that this motion today and the debate on it deserves and warrants a respectful debate - not just here but also in the broader context. There are divergent views on this subject. It is important to recognise and be respectful of that. It has been determined by the Federal Government that every Australian of voting age will have the opportunity to express their view and vote on a plebiscite. In due course, we will all get the chance to express our view on this matter. The debate has been well underway for some time now. It will continue to the plebiscite and no doubt probably beyond.

I and all members of the Liberal Party hope that the debate, including the debate in this House but also outside, is respectful. It is equally important that people who are not afforded the protections we have in this place are also free to express their views in accordance with their own beliefs and values, not just today and in here but outside and into the future.

My equal hope is the there will be a respectful, ongoing national debate about this matter in which there is an ability for people to speak freely. I believe our society and democracy thrives on the basis of freedom of speech that is not unfettered. My equal hope is that any debate can occur in a way that is not clouded by prejudice or is unlawful, discriminatory or in breach of reasonable community expectations. The ability for people to express a point of view reasonably and in accordance with their values and beliefs is very important. We need to make sure there is that appropriate balance.

I am very conscious that there is a matter underway current before the Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner involving Archbishop Porteous and the Catholic Bishops Conference. I am mindful of that and needless to say I would not wish to comment on that matter nor compromise its progress. What has emerged is considerable public concern about the right to free speech. There is serious concern that this could become a landmark case - one with significant implications for those who want to participate in debate including this debate, as we head towards the national plebiscite. I am sure that all members of parliament are receiving significant representations on this issue which is an issue of concern.

My point is that it is important to ensure that there is an appropriate balance and that the very important feature of our society - free speech - is preserved. As a government and as a community, we would want to ensure the balance is right and we need to consider the adequacy and appropriateness of current laws and protections because I believe they will be tested in this debate.

Another Liberal Party position that remains constant is that the Marriage Act is a Commonwealth act and marriage is the responsibility of the Commonwealth of Australia. It has been our consistent view. It was one that was validated by the High Court. It has been a material factor in how members of the Liberal Party have voted on previous occasions in prior debates in the past. It is not a minor matter. We are legislators and we must be conscious of legal and constitutional matters and cognisant of our limits as well. Today's debate does not have such constraints for our members, nor do previous election commitments in the case of the Liberal Party. It is true and both Liberal and Labor Parties have previously been bound by pledges that were made to the people of Tasmania as part of election campaign commitments, typically to uphold that marriage be between a man and woman.

In previous debates, Liberal members have, quite properly, in my view, held to their word - myself included - because we place a high value in what we say to people at elections. We place a high value on our word. However, today there is no such limitation.

Since previous debates, there has also been a shift in the federal arena with the Coalition Government determining that there will be a plebiscite on the issue of same-sex marriage and every Australian will have a say on whether they agree or not.

To my position and as one of the Australian people who will have a say in this plebiscite, I intend to vote in support of same-sex marriage. I have previously voted in support of legislation to provide for the registration of significant relationships, including same-sex couples. I have supported changes to the law that remove legislative provisions that were discriminatory of same-sex couples or that did not adequately provide for same-sex couples - for example, where a partner was unable to attain a legal entitlement to a partner's estate, property or financial or superannuation benefits, or indeed better provision or protections for children who are part of a same-sex relationship. While it is true that back in the early 2000s when I supported this legislation I did believe that significant relationship registration adequately dealt with the interests of those in same sex relationships, in 2015 my perspectives and views have progressed. On reflecting on what I said in this place in that debate in June 2003, just a year or so after being elected, predominantly they are things that I still hold true to today, such as promoting a fairer, more accepting and tolerant society. As I said, I believe our society these days is more understanding and accepting as a community and I believe today that extends to same-sex marriage.

In 2003 I expressed a view that registering same-sex relationships would not jeopardise the concept of marriage. I do not believe that same-sex marriage will either; in many respects it will strengthen it. Particularly when a couple uphold the values and the integrity of their marriage vows, they are displaying a great commitment and their relationship is strengthened by doing so. Our community contains many healthy and stable de facto relationships and as I said in 2003, these so-called non-traditional relationships can and do involve perfectly committed and secure individuals. The fact that I am married does not automatically attribute greater standing or make less significant the relationship between those de facto or less traditional relationships, many of which have far outlasted formal marriages.

We live in a world that contains non-traditional relationships, de facto, single parents, significant relationships, same-sex relationships. If I paraphrase what I said in 2003, I do not believe that the legislation before us then, nor do I believe that same-sex marriage in 2015, will affect the sanctity of the institution of marriage and those who choose that institution, like myself, and I would sincerely hope that many more will continue to embrace and revere it. For those who do not or cannot, why should we judge their relationship as any less valid or important?

I intend to vote in support of the motion today. I intend to vote in support at the national plebiscite in support of same-sex marriage. I believe it will allow a same-sex couple to strengthen their relationship and validate it in a way that Nikki and I are able to do. It will provide the same responsibilities, protections and entitlements that Nicky and I have, and in my view it will strengthen the institution of marriage.

I am offended by the notion that our community says same-sex couples are less capable of love and commitment and marriage than heterosexual people. It will remove a disadvantage that currently exists for those same-sex couples who want to marry and it will allow them to be treated equally. I believe it will also provide better protections for children being raised by same-sex couples who want to marry. I believe it will remove discrimination and inappropriate community attitudes that gay and lesbian people suffer by accepting their diversity and validating their relationship, their choice, their decision and commitment to marry a lifelong partner.

I will table an amendment to the motion which will incorporate key elements of the matters I have raised today. We recognise that marriage is defined in the Commonwealth Marriage Act, that every Tasmanian should be able to enjoy full freedom of belief and freedom of expression and a respectful debate leading up to the national plebiscite proposed by the Australian Government. In my case I give my in-principle support to same-sex marriage and the proposed amended motion which I now table.