On this matter of public importance, I want to note up-front that this is a very personal and very heartfelt question for many people.
I want to start by quoting someone else, someone who a few years ago said: 'On the issue of marriage, I think the reality is there is a cultural, religious and historical view around that which we have to respect. I do respect the fact that's how people view the institution.' That was a quote from the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Penny Wong, in July 2010, defending her then position in favour of traditional marriage. I do not begrudge anyone the right to change their view, after consideration, and obviously Senator Wong did that in the intervening five-year period. But she had a different view five years ago, and I still have a view—I have not changed my view over that period—in support of keeping the current definition of marriage. I respect other views. I am not going to try and make any comment on the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, but I do note that, from senators opposite, sometimes I do not feel that respect coming through in their contributions in this chamber on this debate, including from some senators who have changed their views in very short spaces of time. There is almost this view that it is a moral issue, that you must be immoral if you hold a different view, that you must be cast out if you do not agree with their view, when only a few years ago they held the very same view as me. That to me seems anomalous and something that cannot be held up to right and proper scrutiny in this debate.
I would also say that there are still Labor senators who support traditional marriage, and I speak to some of them sometimes. Sometimes they freely admit that they continue to support traditional marriage, except you would never hear them say that in this chamber.
Senator Bernardi: "They're not allowed to speak."
Senator Bernardi is right. They are not allowed to speak. We hear from the other side that they do support, at the moment, a free vote, but where are the other speakers for this side of the debate from the Labor Party on this issue? I would suggest that they are silenced by the Labor Party; they are not allowed to have their voice.
When you look at the position the Labor Party adopted at their recent convention, they are not showing any clarity over what their view is on this issue, because their position at the moment is that the Labor Party will have a free vote until the next election and then, after the next election, their members will be bound to support their party's policy in favour of a change to the Marriage Act.
Senator O'Sullivan: "How does that work?"
Through you, Chair, to Senator O'Sullivan: I do not know how it works, because they come in here and call on us to adopt a free-vote policy but their free-vote policy has a time limit on it and then they will adopt a binding vote after that. So I am not exactly sure where their criticism is coming from for our position of maintaining a party policy on this issue.
I noted that the first speaker on this MPI today was Senator Gallagher. I was not here for her contribution, unfortunately. But a few months ago she very succinctly summarised the dichotomous view here of the Labor Party. She was asked in a press conference a few months ago, 'Do you support a conscience vote in the Labor Party on this issue?' Senator Gallagher in response said, 'Well, I do. I do support a conscience vote.' Later on in the very same interview, she said, 'Myself—I do support a binding vote in the party.' Then she was asked the logical question after those two seemingly contradictory positions: 'Are you saying you support a binding vote or a conscience vote within the Labor Party?' Senator Gallagher said, 'Well, I support both.' I do not know. I am not getting any clarity from that position, but that is actually the Labor Party's position right now. Senator Gallagher was criticised quite strongly for it at the time, but that is what the Labor Party actually ended up adopting at their conference only a few months ago.
What the coalition adopted last week was to maintain our party position, which has been a position for some time, in support of a view that marriage is between a man and a woman, as it has been for centuries. That is how we believe it should be defined and remain defined. We do have different views in our respective political parties, the Liberal and National parties, and I have no problems with that whatsoever. It is a great thing. We should celebrate the fact that there are different views from time to time. But of course it is also the case that in our party it is the proper jurisdiction and power of the party room to establish the policy of the party room. There was a lengthy debate last week, where every member got to speak. This is an important issue, in my view. Everyone was allowed to make their contribution. At the end of it, the clear majority was in favour of maintaining our party policy position. I actually think that there should be great respect given to our Prime Minister because he gave that time of his—it was about six hours—to hear all of his party members' views and then respected the views that were in the party room and they were adopted as the party room's policy.
We have also said that there should be a people's vote after the next election on this issue. It is really important—it is such a significant issue—that we should be deliberative about this change. It is not something we should rush into. We hear from the other side that this is just delaying and it is taking too much time. Every culture known to man has had a position that marriage is between a man and a woman, for more than five centuries—and apparently taking five years to make a change to our Marriage Act is too long. I reject that view. I think the Marriage Act is very important and the definition of marriage is extremely important. I believe the nurturing of a child in a relationship between a married mother and father is the best outcome, the ideal outcome, for a child. Notwithstanding that there are other very, very good parents, the ideal outcome is to have the biological mother and father remain married and provide the care for that child. That is not something I believe from any religious or personal view; it is something I believe from a very extensive and clear-sighted look at the literature in this area. The technical literature in this area is very, very clear: the best outcome for a child's development is to be nurtured by a mother and a father who remain married.
In my view, that is one of the key reasons why this institution has evolved. We come into this place sometimes and think we know what is best for humanity and the world, without due respect for the institutions that have evolved over time in our human culture to properly reflect the problems of humanity.
This institution is something that has evolved over decades and centuries to form around the relationship of a man and a woman. I believe it has been formed for one very clear reason: while it is the right and proper institution for children to be raised today, it was the right and proper institution for children to be raised five centuries ago as well. That is why it has been adopted. We should be very careful before we tinker with an institution that has lasted the test of time. I believe it is right to allow the Australian people to make that choice after a lengthy and considered debate.