THE HON. BILL SHORTEN MP
LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION
SHADOW MINISTER FOR INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS AND ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDERS
MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG

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Marriage equality is important, and it matters.

It’s not the biggest challenge Australia faces and it’s not something that requires a three-month campaign and a $122 million optional survey.

We can and should vote for marriage equality in the parliament. Just as we do on national security, on Medicare, on education, on the matters that touch the lives of every citizen of our nation.

But this government has decided that gay people should be subject to a different law-making process. They think LGBTI Australians should have to ask permission to be considered equal to other Australians.

This is a ridiculous waste of time and taxpayer money. We could put 1900 new teachers in our schools with this money. We could train 4,500 new nurses or fund the 1800 RESPECT domestic violence service for more than a decade.

But because of his weakness the Prime Minister is spending $122 million to try and save his own job.

We have already seen the ugliness this debate holds for LGBTI Australians and their families. Extremists are re-running their old smears against same-sex couples and their children.

This Prime Minister has gone from promising to call out extreme voices, to saying they’re entitled to their view. He’s gone from guaranteeing ‘a respectful debate’ to saying ‘it’s up to individuals’.

He calls that ‘strong leadership’. Strong leaders don’t need to say ‘I’m a strong leader’, they prove it with their actions. By acting on their convictions, by fighting for what they believe in.

Now we have learned that the Australian Electoral Rules won’t even apply to this vote. No protection against ballot fraud, electoral bribery, intimidation, interfering with the electoral roll, publishing misleading and deceptive material.

Now Malcolm Turnbull is giving his blessing to billboards, websites, pamphlets, TV advertising and online material that will vilify and demean LGBTI Australians and their children.

We know this bile will end up in the playground, the schoolyard and the sporting field. The slogans will be shouted at the children of same-sex couples, young people who are gay will be confronted by it on social media, every day.

I expected more from Malcolm Turnbull, I really did. I hold him personally responsible for every hurtful bit of filth that this debate will unleash. Not because the Prime Minister has said it, not because he agrees to it, he clearly doesn’t. But he has licensed this debate.

He is the leader, and he has given permission. For that, I will never look at Malcolm Turnbull in the same light ever again.

I can understand that an LGBTI person receiving a survey with the Australian coat-of-arms on the corner of the envelope asking everyone else to decide if you are equal, I can understand if you just wanted to just chuck that insulting question in the bin.

But let me say to you, that is exactly what they want you to do. The strongest supporters of this survey have always been the most vocal opponents of marriage equality.

They have stacked the deck against young people, against expats, against Australians who support equality but regard this vote as a waste of time. The opponents of marriage equality have set this process up to fail.

But the most powerful act of resistance and defiance is to vote yes for equality.

Maintain your hope, maintain your enthusiasm. Vote yes and make sure that your friends and relatives and colleagues and classmates and teammates vote yes too. Get your name on the electoral roll today, make your voice heard.

Voting yes is not about endorsing this illegitimate process, it’s about refusing to walk past our fellow Australians when they need us.

It is time now to get involved. It’s time to organise and fight for equality.

This survey is costly, unnecessary and places unfair pressure on one group of Australians to justify their relationships.

But there is one thing this survey will not do. It will not change Labor’s support for marriage equality. If this is not resolved by the next election, a new Labor government will legislate to make marriage equality a reality within the first 100 days. No slew of discredited surveys will deter us.

But in the end this isn’t a Liberal vs Labor debate – it is about our fellow Australians.

So my final message is to LGBTI Australians around our nation.

I know this has been heartbreaking. I know you are frustrated and angry and sad and bewildered by how it has come to this.

But I want you to know you are not alone in the fight ahead. We support marriage equality – and we will stand with you to make it happen.

It shouldn’t be happening like this, there is a better way and I wish it had succeeded.

And there will be times over the next few months when you will hear and read terrible things about you and your families, about your lives and your identities, and I am sorry for that.

But I can give you this solemn promise: when you feel like you don’t have a voice, we will speak up for you. When you feel attacked, we will defend you. When we hear prejudice and discrimination – we will call it out.

I will be voting yes in this plebiscite – and I will be campaigning for a yes vote.

I will do my bit, and I encourage people to join the movement for marriage equality, because no true leader is every too busy to fight for a fair go in this country.

And to young Australians who are gay, let me say that I will be voting yes in this plebiscite because of you – because you are equal, because you are Australian.

Because it’s not you who has to change – it’s our laws.

I will be voting yes because when you find someone you can’t imagine life without, someone you love with all your heart, then you should have the right to marry them.

I’ll be voting yes, because of you – and I will be asking my fellow Australians to vote yes too.

www.alp.org.au/bill_shorten

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