I support the Marriage Amendment (Definition and Religious Freedoms) Bill 2017. This parliament passes legislation on almost every day that it sits. Some bills are forged into laws in the fiery furnace of partisan politics. Most legislation passes without much debate, controversy or fanfare. But this bill is neither of those; nevertheless, it will be long remembered.
It comes to this place after consultation with the Australian public by way of a national postal survey. The ability to settle matters of national significance peacefully at the ballot box is a feature of our nation that we should all be justly proud of. The survey process that led to this bill being introduced to the House of Representatives this week saw a national participation rate of 79.5 per cent. Australians were keen to be heard on this issue. In Calare, 78.1 per cent of voters returned their forms. This high participation rate is important for two reasons. Firstly, it can't be argued that there isn't a national mandate for this change to how our society defines marriage. Secondly, no Australian of voting age can say that their voice wasn't heard. Nobody can say that their opinion wasn't counted. Every Australian got their say. That's democracy.
As you would expect from a country electorate in the heartland of the nation, the debate in our part of the world was, for the most part, very respectful. In central-western New South Wales and around the nation, the result was clear and conclusive. In Calare, 54,091 people, or 60.2 per cent, voted in favour of changing the definition of marriage, and 35,779 people, or 39.8 per cent, voted against. These figures were very close to the national result. As those figures also highlight, there are significant numbers of people on either side of this issue.
With the nation having delivered its verdict, the will of the Australian people now needs to be passed into law, and that responsibility falls to us. This is the moment for the Australian people to see their parliament at its best. I followed the passage of this legislation through the Senate and I was impressed with the respectful and constructive manner in which the debate was conducted. I'm confident that the remainder of this debate will also be conducted in the best traditions of the communities we all represent.
Some in our region may find this change in how marriage is defined difficult to accept and reconcile. It is a significant change, but I ask those people to try to accept it because now is the time for the nation to come together. We should unite across city communities and country communities. Everyone, no matter how they voted, across Calare and across Australia, should now unify. There are same-sex couples currently waiting to get married in the Calare electorate. They should now have that opportunity, without delay or bitterness, and they should be treated with respect and dignity by all—and I know that, in Calare, they will be.
Before the last general election, I undertook to respect the will of the Calare electorate on this issue. I said it and I meant it. I honour that commitment today. To those same-sex couples in Calare waiting to be married, to their families and friends and to those same-sex couples in Calare who may marry in the future: you have my congratulations and best wishes and those of the electorate. Above all, we wish you happiness in the years ahead. I cast my vote in favour of this legislation for you.