Mr BUCHHOLZ (Wright) (20:31): We all have landed in a spot, but not all of us have travelled on the same road to get here with regard to the marriage amendment debate that has landed. Before I start my commentary this evening, I want to acknowledge those who are here in the gallery—the dwindling mob who are here. They were strong in numbers earlier on this afternoon. I just want to acknowledge you for the longevity that you have shown in your commitment to this cause. I don’t know if you’re going to like what I’m going to say, but hopefully you’ll applaud me! When I was in the Speaker’s chair, I was instructed to throw you all out for clapping, because it’s against the standing orders. But you clap as hard as you want.
We all travelled to this place from a different spot. I come from a strong conservative electorate—an area from the Gold Coast hinterland over to Toowoomba. It’s predominantly a farming area, where old Germans and old Scots tilled the land—Protestants, Catholics, hardworking. It is generational; there are streets named after them, with those heritages. The largest contributor to GDP in my electorate is agriculture. They all go to church.
On every marriage bill that has come into this place—every marriage bill—I have voted no, and I’ve led the charge on it, because my party, as part of party policy, said that the traditional definition of marriage was that it was between a man and a woman. That was my position.
When I stood for preselection as an LNP candidate, I stood out in front and was asked questions by no less than 200 preselectors. There were seven other candidates looking to stand in my seat. One was an ex-minister of the Howard government. When asked what my position on marriage was going to be, I said that I would uphold the party position and that it would be that marriage was between a man and a woman.
I’m a Catholic. I go to church. I have the fortunate privilege of catching up with the archbishop of our diocese occasionally. And, without telling you which diocese I’m in, he likes a scotch, and we will talk about these things. My Catholic priest in my electorate is a great mate of mine. When I’m getting communion, I ask him: ‘Is the local Rugby League squad, the Fassifern Bombers, playing at home this weekend? If they are, come and pick me up after church. We’ll go to the football. You drive my car; I will drink beer, and then you drop me home afterwards.’ It’s a great relationship.
So I’m in line with my party position. I’m in line with my church’s position. What I’m not in line with is this. After the plebiscite, I’m not in line with the views of my greater constituency base. That has become the basis of my ethical dilemma. Who is my master? Is it my church and my God? And I’ve already established to you: they’re great mates of mine. Is it the party to which I owe the privilege of being able to stand in this place? Are they my master?
Tonight I had a phone hook-up with no fewer than 10 of my executives throughout my electorate. My electorate has an area of just under 8,000 square kilometres and is very diverse. We have branches and hierarchical structures, and I had 10 of them on the phone tonight. I sought their counsel and said: ‘This is my ethical dilemma. Where do I land?’ The results from my electorate of Wright were that we had a participation rate just on 80 per cent, and it was 57 per cent yes and 43 per cent no. I would have backed, as confidently as I could have, that my electorate was going to say no, because that’s the circle of friends I associate with. So I was surprised when the result came back the way it did. It makes me question my judgement now: am I a good member or not? I misread it because the blokes in the pub told me what their position was, and it was similar to mine. My people at church told me what their position was, and it was similar to mine. The people in the party told me. But I got it wrong. It came back the other way.
I drew counsel after speaking with my 10 executives. In my maiden speech, I made a commitment to the people of Wright, my electorate, that amongst other things I would be the voice of the silent majority, because so often, with the minority groups, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. I don’t know if I said that wrong. I meant to say I would be the voice of the silent majority. The silent majority in this case have whispered in my ear. Some are passionate, and I tie it into the passion and commitment you have shown on your cause and your journey. For the benefit of Hansard, I refer to those in the gallery still. There will be some who have voted because they’re just sick of hearing it and they want it dealt with; they just want the government to get on with business which has greater effect on their lives. I don’t know what that percentage breakdown is. I don’t know what the split is, but it doesn’t matter; the number still stands.
I don’t have any emotional story. I have a cousin who is part of the gay community. I don’t have those tear-jerking stories; I just don’t. I have my faith and I have my party. In the next day or two, I’m going to need to come into this chamber and cast my vote. My party have unleashed me. They have allowed me to vote in line with the electorate’s wishes, because how can one be the voice of the electorate if you turn a deaf ear to what they are saying? How can one lead? Even though it is against my principles, I will come into this chamber and I will support it.
I have the caveat that I will try to get the protections—through minor amendments, not the complex amendments we saw in the Senate—for those religious freedoms. I’m going to speak briefly to the protection of religious freedoms, because everyone runs off in this crazy domain. I want to find the happy fulcrum between religious freedom and freedom of speech. At the moment, if you say one thing, you’re in breach of the antidiscrimination act, and the freedom of speech is still untested in that space. I want to find some place where we land that omits Australia from the Supreme Court decision or decisions which will be handed down on a virtually identical case in the US—we should have those findings in the next day or two—and from a virtually identical case in the UK. I want to spare the communities here in Australia from those cases by making sure that we just grind our teeth and get it right to avoid that hardship.
I acknowledge the previous speaker’s commentary on the hate that happens in certain areas, but in my area there was no hate speech. Country people are so respectful. They may not like you, but you’ll always get a cup of tea and a scone. You’ll always get a feed—absolutely. I acknowledge the electors of Wright, who have asked me to be their voice, to be their casting vote in this place.
Others have acknowledged many in this place; before I wrap up, I’m going to acknowledge two people, because I think without them we wouldn’t be having this debate. I acknowledge Tony Abbott, the former Prime Minister, who made a contribution to this debate by giving a commitment that he would ask the Australian public for their opinion, because without that opinion I would’ve walked into this chamber every day of the week and voted no, without question. It’s only because I have this solid data in front of me that I have found a different position. I acknowledge Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who could’ve taken a juxtaposed position to what the former Prime Minister did, because not all of their political ideologies are aligned—and they’re not in this space—but the vehicle for passage, shifting my mind through the support of evidence, has got me to the place where I am.
I look forward to the days ahead, and I ask Labor, through my good friend and colleague from the seat of Perth, not to dismiss the journey I have taken to get here, when I try to find reason in my heart to get an amendment to protect that other 43 per cent, who are scared and frightened of this. Help me take them on the journey. Don’t say no to the amendments; have a good look at them first. I’ll debate you on the floor in good conscience, my friend.