SYDNEY federal Labor MP Tanya Plibersek used her speech in the House of Representatives on Tuesday night to encourage Prime Minister Tony Abbott to grant his Coalition MPs a conscience vote on marriage equality as a “present” for the LGBTI community for Mardi Gras.
Plibersek also highlighted the importance of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras festival season.
“It would be a great Mardi Gras present to the [LGBTI] community for the Prime Minister to announce that Liberal members of parliament will be allowed a conscience vote on my private member’s bill, a bill for an act to amend the Marriage Act 1961, to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples — and it would be even better if one of the Liberal MPs who I know supports marriage equality would second that bill.”
Last year, Plibersek won approval from her Labor colleagues to introduce a private members bill to legalise gay marriage. A similar bill in 2012 was defeated when 56 MPs voted against the measure. Plibersek and current Labor leader, Bill Shorten, voted in favour.
However, Plibersek said she would only introduce the bill to parliament once the Coalition were given a conscience vote on the matter.
Watch her speech in full:
“The Sydney Mardi Gras is now a festival that lasts for just over two weeks with film, theatre, visual arts and community events. It brings about $30 million into our local economy and provides an opportunity for many Sydneysiders and international guests to enjoy the beautiful sights of our city.
Just over a week ago I was at Victoria Park, in my electorate, for Fair Day — a day of fun and family; it falls at the beginning of the festival each year. I joined (NSW upper house Labor MP) Penny Sharpe, (Labor candidate for Balmain) Verity Firth and members of Rainbow Labor in planting our own hearts in the Sea of Hearts. This symbol of the fight for equality reminded me that Sydney’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has always contained within it, not just fun and frivolity, but a very serious message of demanding equality before the law. As well as Fair Day, I saw a terrific play at Belvoir Street, Blue Wizard by Nick Coyle—another example of the cultural events that are on for the whole period of Mardi Gras.
The first Mardi Gras march in 1978 was Sydney’s contribution to the international Gay Solidarity Celebrations. It was quite violent; it was met by police violence and many people were arrested. While few charges were laid, the Sydney Morning Herald published the names of those who were taken into custody. Many people who had not been out to friends and family were outed in the newspaper, and some of them lost their jobs because of it.
Of course, we live in a very different community now and the police in NSW, and Sydney in particular, take very seriously their responsibility to provide a safe opportunity for Mardi Gras participants to express their desire for equality before the law. Legal discrimination and social discrimination have reduced in many respects. It has long been unacceptable to discriminate against people in Australia on the basis of their skin colour or other personal attributes. I hope that we are moving to that time of reduced discrimination based on sexuality as well. Unfortunately, despite the fact that many laws have now been changed since the first Mardi Gras march in 1978, one remains unchanged and it must be changed by this parliament. That, of course, is marriage equality.
By the year after the first Mardi Gras the (Neville) Wran government in NSW had repealed the Summary Offences Act, under which the 1978 arrests were made. It was a major civil rights milestone for all citizens of NSW and it reminds us how very quickly things can change. Three thousand people marched in the second march in 1979, and last year there were 10,000 people watched by 300,000 people, celebrating diversity, inclusion and equality.
The Sydney Mardi Gras, as I said, is a major international tourist attraction and a huge boost for Sydney’s economy. Anybody who lives in Sydney or who visits during Mardi Gras season remarks on the terrific feeling on the streets — much like the celebrations we had during the Sydney Olympics, which I am sure you enjoyed very much, Madam Speaker. As we celebrate Mardi Gras in coming weeks, we should always remember that, while this is a time to celebrate diversity, it is always a time to fight for equality.
It would be a great Mardi Gras present to the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer community for the Prime Minister to announce that Liberal members of parliament will be allowed a conscience vote on my private member’s bill, a bill for an act to amend the Marriage Act 1961, to establish marriage equality for same-sex couples—and it would be even better if one of the Liberal MPs who I know supports marriage equality would second that bill.
I wish everyone a happy Mardi Gras.”