October 10th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Will drought and falling dollar spike food prices?

CANBERRA OBSERVED Nationals extract good deal in Turnbull takeover

EDITORIAL Obama's climate gambit: do as I say, not as I do!

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Turnbull divides party in Cabinet reshuffle

RURAL AFFAIRS FTAs eat away at our food and agriculture surpluses

RELIGION IN RUSSIA Byzantine Catholics driven underground

FINANCE Hidden by a metaphor: the secret life of money

EDUCATION Proliferation of screens making kids no smarter

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cabinet door must be open to public service

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Child-support program under the microscope

PUBLIC POLICY Prohibition of drugs has the evidence on its side

CINEMA Kids will love pixelated Aussie classic: Blinky Bill: The Movie

BOOK REVIEW Hope for the Land of the Southern Cross

BOOK REVIEW Evaluating arguments against free will


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Senate committee says no to marriage plebiscite

by Terri M. Kelleher

News Weekly, October 10, 2015

The Senate committee inquiring into the matter of a popular vote on redefining marriage has come down against allowing the Australian people a say on the matter.

Dissenting senators Ian Macdonald

and Linda Reynolds

The committee recommended in its report tabled on September 15 instead that “a bill to amend the definition of marriage in the Marriage Act 1961 to allow for the marriage of any two people regardless of their sex is introduced into the Parliament as a matter of urgency, with all parliamentarians being allowed a conscience vote.” [1]

And not only is the recommendation that yet another same-sex marriage bill be introduced into Parliament after 16 unsuccessful federal bills since 2004, [2] and bills in all states except Queensland and Western Australia, but that such a bill be introduced “as a matter of urgency”.

In a dissenting report Liberal senators Ian Macdonald and Linda Reynolds recommended that the matter be resolved by a compulsory plebiscite. They quoted new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in Question Time in Parliament on September 15 saying: “Every single Australian will have a vote on the issue after the next election if we are returned to government. How can the Opposition seriously and credibly say that that is anything other than thoroughly democratic? When did it cease to be democratic to let the people speak?” [3]

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has said that if Labor wins the next election, he will introduce a bill “to legalise marriage equality” within the first 100 days in office. [4]

So, there was no need for the committee to recommend what really is unnecessary and to urge the introduction of yet another bill with such unseemly haste.

Similarly the WA Government has called on the Federal Government to abandon plans for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage and to allow a conscience vote in Parliament. Premier Colin Barnett was quoted as saying he believed a plebiscite or a referendum “would be very destructive”, that there would be “acrimony, personal insults, abuse and the like” and “you would see people marching in the streets on either side of the debate”. [5]

This would seem to display a lack of confidence in the ability of the Australian people to engage in a respectful debate or to express our opinions in an “appropriate” manner.

The marriage law is a question of fundamental social policy that will affect every member of society. All Australians eligible to vote should have a say.

Is same-sex marriage a right? In Schalk and Kopf v Austria, [6] the European Court of Human Rights held that the European Convention on Human Rights did not require European countries to allow same-sex couples to marry. And in Hämäläinen v Finland, [7] the court held that while some contracting states had extended marriage to same-sex partners, Article 12 of the convention did not impose any obligation to allow same-sex marriage. So there is no requirement in international conventions or treaties that same-sex marriage be legislated on human-rights principles.

Is it an issue of equality? In 2010, 85 amendments were made to federal laws to equalise treatment for same-sex couples, and any children such couples may be raising, in a wide range of areas including taxation, superannuation, health Insurance, social security, aged care and child support, immigration, citizenship and veterans’ affairs.

And all Australians are equally able to marry subject to the same conditions, including that one must seek to marry someone of the opposite sex, a condition that is not unreasonable or irrelevant but rather fundamental to what marriage is and the function it fulfils for society – a sexually complementary union (a man and a woman) naturally orientated to the bearing and raising of the children born of their union, intended to last and to be exclusive to ensure the care and nurture of those children.

Marriage has been understood to be the enduring union of a man and a woman throughout human history across millennia and across cultures to ensure the care and nurture of children of the union for their benefit and wellbeing and for the benefit of the state.

So it is really about the will of the people – whether the Australian people want the marriage law changed. Those who want the law changed have repeatedly brought the issue up with bills in Parliament and through parliamentary committees of inquiry over a considerable period of time. It keeps resurfacing. The issue needs to be resolved in a way that is democratic and seen to be so. A compulsory plebiscite or a referendum would give this closure.



[1] http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/

[2] http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/

[3] House of Representatives Hansard, 15 September 2015.

[4] http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/thousands-rally-for-samesex-marriage-20150815-gizr8a.html#ixzz3muUAjPMR

[5] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-09-24/wa-premier-colin-barnett-questions-same-sex-marriage-plebiscite/6800300

[6] No. 30141/04, ECHR 2010

[7] [GC] No. 37359/09, §62, ECHR 2014

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