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Brandis denies plebiscite will lead to hate speech

Janet Rice 14 Sep 2016

Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:20): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. Yesterday a group of 'rainbow families' came to parliament from around the country to talk to the parliament about the impact the plebiscite on marriage equality would have on them. One child told The Guardian that they were worried it would encourage posters saying, 'Children deserve a mother and a father' or 'Two mums are weird.' Can you detail any discussions that you have had with members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community about the potential impact of the plebiscite, and have there been discussions with the LGBTI community in other countries who have experienced similar experiences?

The PRESIDENT: Attorney-General, did you hear the entirety of the question?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:21): I think I heard the gravamen. Senator Rice, yes, I have and, yes, I can. I have had very lengthy discussions with members of the LGBTI community and I have had lengthy discussions as well with people who take a conservative, traditional view of marriage. Among the discussions I have had with members of the LGBTI community are discussions with Australian Marriage Equality and discussions with Australians for Equality, the two principal bodies promoting the marriage equality cause. I have had several discussions with those people, as recently as yesterday, and they are not the only ones of the LGBTI community I have spoken to, but I mention them in particular because, as you would be aware, Senator Rice, as somebody who follows this issue closely, they are the two peak bodies campaigning for marriage equality.

Now, Senator Rice, we have discussed the issue to which you have referred. We have discussed all the issues relating to marriage equality and the plebiscite. One of the things I said to those spokespeople, as I say to you, is that there is now a clear and immediate path to marriage equality in Australia, and that is to submit to the judgement of the Australian people on 11 February next year a plebiscite so that they can have their say. You read the opinion polls just as closely as I do, Senator Rice, and you know—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Rice, a point of order?

Senator Rice: Mr President, my question asked about the details of those discussions, not just if the Attorney had had the discussions, and whether he had had any discussions with members of the LGBTI community from other countries who had been through similar experiences.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Rice. They were elements of your question, but I do believe the Attorney-General is being directly relevant throughout his answer.

Senator BRANDIS: I am sorry, Senator Rice; I forgot that last bit, and the answer to that question is yes, too. I have in particular had several discussions with Mr Tiernan Brady, who ran the 'yes' campaign during the Irish referendum. It is not my practice to detail confidential conversations, because people are entitled to speak to ministers, and indeed shadow ministers, in confidence. I hope I might be able to elaborate a little in answer to your— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, a supplementary question.

Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:23): Attorney-General, you mention the Irish example. I refer to a letter from the co-director of the 'yes' campaign for the Irish referendum, Dr Grainne Healy, which was sent to every member and senator, that urges us not to have a plebiscite if we can avoid it, describing it as a 'brutal affair'. The letter reports that posters which declared that every child needs a mother and a father were deeply hurtful and upsetting for LGBTI-headed families. Do you expect we would see similar material here under your plebiscite?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:24): I am not familiar with the partcular material to which that letter refers. However, the short answer to your question, Senator, is no, I do not, because, unlike you, evidently, I have a much more optimistic view of the Australian people than you seem to have or that Mr Bill Shorten or Senator Wong seem to have. I believe that this is a country of decent and tolerant people. I believe this is a country in which we can have a civilized and respectful debate about a vexed social issue. I believe this is a country in which we do not merely accept dictation from the political class; that on certain core issues about the nature and structure of our society, of which marriage is one, there is no greater wisdom in this chamber than there is on the streets of any city or town in this country; and that every Australian, every single Australian, has a right to have their say.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Rice, a final supplementary question.

Senator RICE (Victoria) (14:25): The government wants to give $7½ million to fund the 'no' campaign, most of which, one expects, will be spent on advertising of one sort or another, including the type similar to what we saw in the Irish referendum, described as a 'brutal affair'. Can the Attorney-General confirm that messages from the 'no' campaign will be classed as political advertising and therefore will not be monitored by the Advertising Standards Bureau and not be required to be factually correct?

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:25): Senator Rice, before coming to that, I should add a little more information to the answer to your primary question. As well as Australian Marriage Equality and Australians for Marriage Equality, I have also had meetings with the New South Wales Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, with Ms Shelley Argent at PFLAG, with Victorian gay and lesbian community advocates and others.

Senator Wong: They oppose it!

Senator BRANDIS: That is not correct, Senator Wong. The principal advocates—

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. Senator Rice, a point of order?

Senator Rice: My point of order is on relevance. My question was about whether the advertising would be covered by the Advertising Standards Bureau or classed as political advertising.

The PRESIDENT: I will remind the Attorney-General—although he did indicate up-front that he was going to address some other remarks before he got to the substance.

Senator BRANDIS: Senator Rice, I accept your good faith on this issue, so I just wanted to give you more information in relation to your primary question. In relation to the subject of the supplementary question, as the Prime Minister, Senator Ryan and I outlined yesterday, the plebiscite will be conducted as closely as possible under the Referendum (Machinery Provisions) Act, which governs issues including the authorisation of advertising. (Time expired)

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