Wednesday, 24 August 2011
This motion is being debated because a weak Labor government is once again dancing to the tune of the Greens. Faced with a deep division on their own side, the Labor Party negotiated a compromised motion to request members to go off and consult with their electorates about the issue. I wish to make just three comments about the motion. First, this motion is presumptuous. Members of parliament on all sides consult their constituents on all manner of issues on a regular basis. They do it in a variety of ways and if they did not then they would not be elected in the first place and they would not be re-elected.
The purpose of the motion is really different. It is to provide a voice to the Greens and their left-wing supporters to promote their cause and, like clockwork, the left-wing lobby group GetUp emails its supporters with draft petitions to MPs. In the absence of the GetUp campaign very few people in my electorate had urged me to support changing the long-held definition of marriage, despite regular surveys of my constituents. The number increased after the campaign, but it is still small compared to the many people who responded by writing and emailing their support for the traditional definition. If letters, emails and petitions from my constituents are any indication, the overwhelming majority support the longstanding definition of marriage.
While all Australians are encouraged to express their views, the reality is that there is no widespread agitation in the Australian community for changing the definition of marriage, and if, to the extent I have been able to follow this debate today, I think it is reflected in the debate in this place.
Moreover, the GetUp petition is open to manipulation. A person can enter any name, any email address and postcode, real or fictitious, and an email is generated to a member of parliament. When I responded to the anonymous GetUp generated emails asking the correspondents to indicate their address so that I could check that they were, indeed, constituents of my electorate, just a handful responded, yet the member for Melbourne would have us make laws on this basis. This brings me to my central objection to this process. This parliament is a deliberative assembly, not a congress of delegates. In the famous words of Edmund Burke to the electors of Bristol:
It ought to be the happiness and glory of a representative to live in the strictest union, the closest correspondence and the most unreserved communication with his constituents. Their wishes ought to have great weight with him, their opinion high respect, their business unremitted attention.
He then set out what I believe to be the duty of a member of parliament:
Your representative owes you not his industry only but his judgment, and he betrays instead of serving you if he sacrifices it to your opinion.
As Burke said:
Parliament is not a congress of ambassadors from different and hostile interests, which interests each must maintain as an agent and advocate against other agents and advocates, but parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation with one interest that the whole, where not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole. You choose a member indeed...
he said to the electors at Bristol:
... but when you have chosen him ...
and we would add these days, 'her':
... he is not member of Bristol, he is a member of parliament.
The idea that whatever group can send the most emails to MPs should be the determining issue when making national decisions is misplaced. Equally, the idea that a poll should determine our decisions is inadequate. The member for Melbourne tells us that we should listen to polls. If it is proper that polls should determine our position then I would expect him to vote against the carbon tax, as polls indicate a majority of Australians are opposed to it.
I expect that the member for Banks' motion on the notice paper on the death penalty, if it comes to a vote, the member for Melbourne will vote against it, as polls repeatedly indicate, over many years, support for the death penalty in this country. If, as I suspect, he votes for the carbon tax and against the death penalty, his argument about polls is exposed for what it is, nothing more than a self-serving argument for his cause.
We do not need to be instructed by the member for Melbourne to consult our constituents. I have been doing so for 20 years and I will continue to do so. When the leader of the Greens, Senator Brown, condemns people who come to this place to voice their concerns as whingers, it exposes the hypocrisy of this motion. It seems that the Greens only want to hear the opinions of those who share their views. It is another instance, regrettably, of their totalitarian impulse.