Yes or No, respect the decision of our nation
BY THE time most Queenslanders arrive at work this morning the outcome of the same-sex marriage voluntary postal survey will be announced by the Bureau of Statistics. According to every piece of statistical evidence, the result should be a “Yes” vote with the only possible unknown being the margin. At the same time, it is likely as many as four million Australians will vote “No” and their views should be respected and not ignored simply because they could be in a minority. This means that, when the issue reaches the Parliament, it should not be waved through without debate and courteous discussion.
This has been a long and winding journey dating back more than a decade. Former Prime Minister John Howard amended the Marriage Act to confine this ceremony to a union between a man and woman, something prompted by the Australian Capital Territory moving to legalise same-sex marriage in Canberra.
Following this, Labor was elected with Kevin Rudd as prime minister with a pledge not to change the Marriage Act in his first term. Mr Rudd kept his word and nothing occurred when Julia Gillard succeeded him. Ms Gillard, who has held a confusingly contradictory set of positions on same-sex marriage, allowed a private member’s bill to go ahead, but without the support of leading Labor figures, it was always doomed.
The Coalition has also wrestled with the issue after sticking with a solid party room stand to oppose any changes under Tony Abbott. Mr Abbott’s tricky move to delay any change was one further contributor to his downfall in September, 2015, but new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was forced to pledge adherence to the policy of only moving ahead after a popular plebiscite. After this plan hit a hurdle in the Senate, a compromise was put in place to have a voluntary postal ballot, overseen by the Bureau of Statistics.
This ballot finished a week ago and today we will find out the result. We should acknowledge this process has been a resounding success, whatever opinion people might have had of it before the ballot being held.
We have set something of a world record for a voluntary ballot – almost four in five Australians have filled out their voting forms and sent them in. This is not that far off the regular turnout for a general election in Australia, which is a compulsory ballot. It shows a refreshing endorsement of the democratic process by the public.
What we need now is to act on the outcome. If, as expected, it is a “Yes” outcome, the Parliament should get on with it, without delay. Western Australian Senator Dean Smith has a Bill drafted, which was first published three months ago, and he is prepared to put it before the Senate tomorrow.
As Mr Turnbull said yesterday, this should then allow anyone to move amendments and have then debated. This is the normal process that should be followed.
After this week, the Parliament sits for a further fortnight, during which Senator Smith’s Bill could be dealt with and it should be. The Government has said that if there is a “Yes” vote it will be honoured and this is exactly what should occur. The expectation of the Australian people is that this matter will be over and done with by Christmas and it is best for everyone if this occurs.
The last thing we need is to have this issue run into the new year. We have talked enough, there has been enough debate, almost all of it civil and respectful, and every Australian who wanted to have a say has had one.
That overwhelming weight of opinion, whether it is “Yes” or “No”, should be acted upon. It can be done in the coming few weeks and that is what should occur. There are other issues the Australian people want this Parliament to act upon.