National Issues

Same Sex Marriage

The government believes people should have a direct say in the form of a plebiscite consistent with our election policy.

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, introduced the Plebiscite (Same-Sex Marriage) Bill 2016 into the House, prescribing for the date of the vote to be February 11, 2017.

Unfortunately, the Labor Party denied the Australian people a vote on this important social issue.   I’m disappointed that Bill Shorten doesn’t trust in everyday Australians to have their say on this important social issue.

Now that the plebiscite has been rejected by the Labor Party, I cannot see a credible pathway in this term of Parliament.   Coalition Members of Parliament took a clear position to the election and won government, which in effect endorsed our policy position to hold a plebiscite.

I supported that policy at the election and continue to support that position.

Please be assured that I will continue to encourage those participating in this debate to be respectful of others’ views.

2012 JUNE 25 – Marriage Amendment Bill 2012


June 25, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (13:20): I have spoken in the past on the issue of same-sex marriage and I intend to remain consistent in both the tone and content of my contribution here today. I am opposed to same-sex marriage but I recognise that there are very strongly held views to the alternative and I acknowledge that this issue does have the potential to become quite divisive in the wider community.

In relation to the tone of the debate, I take my lead from the previous speaker. I think his contribution was very respectful in tone and I think that is the manner in which the debate should be held. It is my intention to participate in this debate along those lines and to listen to both sides. As I said, I think there is a real risk of this debate becoming very divisive in the community. I think some, particularly some on the Left, have deliberately used inflammatory language, portraying people who do not support same-sex marriage as being somehow bigoted and homophobic. I think that is terribly unfair and not the way we should allow this debate to develop.

On the weekend, there was a great example of how this debate should be pursued when the Nationals had their state conference in Bowral. A motion on this very issue was narrowly defeated, but it was a very mature and constructive debate. It is fair to say, perhaps, that a lot of the younger members of the party were advocating change, but I do not think same-sex marriage is an issue which neatly divides on the basis of age or any other basis.

I have had the chance to ask a lot of people in my electorate for their views and I have often been surprised by their comments and the level of passion they have about this issue. Many people are quite ambivalent about this issue and think that there are far more important issues for this parliament to be considering at this time in our history. However, there are others, on either side of the debate, who have very passionate views. I understand that. I am not trying to belittle the issue. But it is fair to say that a significant number of people who contact me on this issue want us, in this parliament, to focus on other things. That is what brings me to my conclusion—that I am not sure how much longer we should continue to have this debate. The issues have, I believe, been well and truly canvassed both in this place and in the broader community and surely it is time to bring on the vote. Bring on the vote and let us see where we stand on this issue. Get a clear indication of where we, the 43rd parliament, stand on this issue and then move on to the other issues which people in the community regard as being of greater importance to their lives at this time.

In relation to the substance of the issue, I do support the recognition of legal rights within same-sex relationships but I do not support the proposed changes to the Marriage Act. I think that is the only politically consistent position and the only position of integrity I can take, because it is the position I took to the people of Gippsland at the last general election. Importantly, that position is also entirely consistent with the broader view of my party. We took a position of being opposed to same-sex marriage to the voters at the last election and we are consistent in the application of that policy position in a very open and transparent manner. There have been no surprises in relation to the view of the Nationals and my own personal view. If we wanted to adopt a different position, I think it would be incumbent upon us to take that back to the people who elected us in the first place.

I think that stands in stark contrast to this Prime Minister and her breach of trust on the carbon tax. This Prime Minister explicitly ruled out introducing a carbon tax prior to the last election, yet only weeks or months later she had a change of mind. But she did not take it back to the people of Australia. That is where this Prime Minister and her fundamental breach of trust have caused so many problems for the current government. I think this issue is the opposite of the approach I have taken—I took a position to the people of Gippsland and I am going to be consistent with it. That is the openness and transparency I think you need to show as a member of parliament. If we are going to restore community confidence in the integrity of our democratic system and restore faith in the parliament and the people who serve here, this is a very important principle to remember and one I intend to adhere to whenever it is humanly possible to do so.

As I said, I had a position of opposition to same-sex marriage at the last election campaign and I will continue to maintain that position for the remainder of the 43rd parliament. I certainly do not intend to change my mind on this issue and, even if I did, it would be after I had given my constituents the chance to vote at a general election. So I say again: I think we should bring on the vote on this issue. We need to have the vote and move on to other issues of importance to the Australian people. I acknowledge that this is an issue about which members of parliament clearly cannot please everyone in the electorate or in the broader Australian community. Some people in my electorate will be very disappointed with my view and others will be very pleased. I fear that we may have to agree to disagree on this particular point. I would like to reassure those who may be disappointed by the position I have taken here today that I will continue to work in support of other efforts to improve outcomes for gay and lesbian people in the Gippsland community, but I will not be supporting changes to the marriage act.

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2012 JUNE 18 – Marriage Equality Amendment Bill 2012


June 18, 2012

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (12:17): In joining this debate, I do intend to participate in a very respectful and moderate manner, which is the tone that I believe is required in our community on this very sensitive issue. For the record, I support the recognition of legal rights within same-sex relationships, but I do not support proposals to change the Marriage Act. I am also on the public record in the past as having expressed my support for all political parties to actually grant their members a conscience vote on this issue. My view of a conscience vote may be different from some other members, but it is my view that a conscience vote is not that straightforward. I believe that members should examine their own personal views on a topic but also recognise the views of their electorates, and recognise their role, duty and responsibility as members of parliament.

I think in all good conscience, as a representative of a particular seat, we need to recognise that different electorates have different views on this issue and we need to balance those two issues—our personal views and those of our electorates—and, if there is a conflict, maybe face a tough decision as an individual. I have previously sought the views of my electorate in relation to this issue in a community survey. Like other members, I have received petitions both for and against this topic. My own survey attracted about 700 responses. But I do point out that the survey was self-selecting; it appeared in a newspaper so it should not be regarded as a scientific opinion poll by any stretch. I did receive strong feedback and 64 per cent of respondents to that survey in my electorate were opposed to the same-sex marriage. I am not using that today as a reason to justify my position; I am just putting it out there as a matter of course that different electorates have different views.

The Gippsland electorate, overall, is opposed to same-sex marriage as it stands today, and they support the current system that is in place. I have received many emails both for and against the topic. The majority of emails from within my electorate have been supportive of my position—that is, to continue with the current system and to oppose to same-sex marriage. But that is not the sole basis of my opposition to the changes to the Marriage Act. I believe that as a matter of political consistency and as a reflection on my own role here and my own personal integrity, it would be inappropriate for me as the member for Gippsland to support any changes in this current term of parliament, because I expressed a view in opposition to same-sex marriage in the lead-up to the last election. Unlike the Prime Minister and her breach of trust in relation to the carbon tax, if I intend to change my position the only fair thing to do for the people of Gippsland would be to take a principled course of action and campaign on that basis in the lead-up to the next election, and then adopt that position in a future parliament, just as the member of the Melbourne has done in his own seat. The member for Melbourne, who has put forward this bill today, to his credit had a principled view. That is his view. He took it to his voters and they voted for him, so I have no grudge to bear against the member for Melbourne for taking his position forward. But the position I took forward—and I will be principled in that position for the people of Gippsland—is to remain in opposition to changes to the Marriage Act.

There is only a short amount of time to examine the issues here today, and I am sure there will be future opportunities to debate this issue, but I want to refer to one area of concern that bothers me in relation to these proposed changes, and that is this issue of retrospectivity. I believe there is an element of retrospectivity in the proposals to change the definition under the Marriage Act, and that is because there are millions of Australian couples today who signed up to marriage under the current definition. If we change the definition of marriage under the Marriage Act, we are fundamentally altering the nature of the contract that they have entered into, so I think there is an element of retrospectivity to this debate and to the legislation that is proposed. I know that for a lot of people that is of no consequence whatsoever, and I acknowledge that. They are completely comfortable with such a change, and that does not affect their definition or their own relationship. But for others in the community this is a very big deal indeed, and they have expressed that opinion to me quite strongly. They signed up for marriage under the current definition, and they believe in the sanctity of that definition and the traditional view of marriage as being between a man and a woman.

I also do not accept the view put forward by others that it is some form of discrimination against same-sex couples to maintain the consistent approach of the current definition and protect the position of couples who have already been married under the existing Marriage Act. I also do not accept the view of some people who have contacted my office, who try to infer that being opposed to same-sex means you are bigoted or homophobic. I do not believe that is a fair assumption to draw. I think it is possible to be opposed to same-sex marriage and still support the urgency of some ongoing efforts, both within my community and more broadly, to work together as a community to support same-sex couples, particularly in regional areas, where younger gay people are over-represented in the incidence of self-harm, mental illness and suicide.

So I will continue to participate in this debate. I believe it is an important debate, and I believe it is critical for members to be very moderate and respectful in their language and not to inflame what can be a very divisive issue in our communities.

(Time expired)

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2011 AUG 24 – Same Sex Marriage


August 24, 2011

Mr CHESTER (Gippsland) (11:19): In joining this debate the first point I would like to make is that really, as members of this place, we do not need to be told by the Greens or the member for Melbourne in particular when we should consult with our electorates on issues and what issues we actually need to raise with local people. I think that is something as members of this place we do on an ongoing basis. I personally often distribute surveys in my electorate. I attend many functions. I have street corner meetings, like a lot of other MPs, and am available to people to raise any issues of concern whatsoever. For their own sake to avoid being seen as hypocritical on this issue perhaps the Greens will submit a motion calling on all members to consult their communities on the carbon tax and then provide that feedback to the parliament.

Whilst this motion is not about whether MPs are for or against same-sex marriage, I want to state my position from the outset. I support the recognition of legal rights within same-sex relationships but I do not support changes to the Marriage Act. Although there is no legislation currently before the parliament, if such a bill were presented, I believe that all political parties should grant their members a conscience vote. It would be my intention to vote against such legislation.

Having said that, I hasten to emphasise a few other points. I believe it is also extremely important that we continue to work as a community to eliminate discrimination against people on the basis of their sexuality, just as it is important to eliminate discrimination against other minority groups in our communities. I think it is also critical that we support homosexual people, particularly younger people, as they often grapple with their sexuality in regional areas and are heavily overrepresented in incidences of self-harm, mental health issues and, most tragically, in taking their own lives.

Finally, I would like to make the point that today’s debate is not the end of the issue and I do not believe it should be. There are many people in my community who will be bitterly disappointed with the views that I have expressed and there are others who will see this as a cause for celebration.

It is a divisive issue in our community and I believe we need to respect each other’s views as we discuss the merits of same-sex marriage and other issues facing homosexual people in our communities. I think it is particularly unhelpful for people on either side of this debate to descend into name-calling and abuse. We need to have a very moderate and a very respectful discussion in our broader community. I believe it should be possible to be opposed to same-sex marriage and not be typecast as being bigoted or homophobic, as some in my community have tried to portray my position. I do reject that assertion and argue that nothing could be further from the truth. I have several gay friends and gay relatives and I respect them as I respect people who support the traditional definition of marriage. Even amongst the gay people that I know there is a divided view on whether same-sex marriage is actually that big an issue for them. If I can recall conversations where we put that forward as an issue of debate amongst ourselves, their feeling was that there are other, far more important, issues facing homosexual couples in the community than this issue of same-sex marriage. But as I said, there are divided opinions in the community.

In terms of undertaking my own consultations in Gippsland, any person who has contacted me and asked for a meeting to discuss this issue has been given that opportunity. I have listened to their concerns and accepted many of the valid points that they have sought to raise with me. I have met with parents and I have met with friends of gay people and listened to their views as well.

I also note the formation of an online forum, a friends’ group for supporters of same-sex marriage in Gippsland, which has several hundred followers and has been a constructive debate, I believe, in my community. Like other members, I have received petitions both for and against same-sex marriage. My own recent survey distributed in newspapers throughout the electorate of Gippsland attracted 700 responses.

I will stress at the outset that being a newspaper based survey it should not be construed as some sort of scientific opinion poll, but I did receive strong feedback from the community and 64 per cent of respondents were opposed to same-sex marriage. I do not use that to justify my position in any sense, but merely to indicate as a matter of interest in the electorate of Gippsland that 64 per cent of respondents to a survey preferred to keep the current system in place. That varies very significantly to other opinion pools I have seen in other electorates around Australia.

I stress again that I have also received many emails and petitions on this issue. The majority of people who have contacted me from actually within my electorate have been opposed to same-sex marriage. As I have done so to date, I intend to continue to participate in this public debate because I think it is an important one and I will participate in a very moderate and respectful manner. I am hopeful that the issue will not become unnecessarily divisive in the wider community.

My position on this issue is not meant to be disrespectful to people who hold strong views to the contrary. Having consulted with my community I believe that the majority of Gippslanders support a more traditional view of marriage. I thank the House for the opportunity to provide that feedback.

(Time expired)

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August 24, 2011

Federal Parliament has been told that the majority of Gippslanders who responded to a recent survey, were opposed to same sex marriage.

The survey which was distributed in all local newspapers by Federal MP Darren Chester was returned by 700 people with 64 per cent of respondents opposing same sex marriage and 26 per cent in favour. A further 10 per cent were unsure.

Mr Chester told Parliament that he didn’t support proposals to change the Marriage Act.

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